Is Karl Dorrell the West Coast Ray Goff?

Nestor, my SportsBlogs Nation colleague over at Bruins Nation, is an avid U.C.L.A. fan who regularly and repeatedly has expressed his concern at the direction of his alma mater's football program under the leadership of fellow alumnus Karl Dorrell.

In a recent diary at Bruins Nation, a guest weblogger articulately expressed this growing displeasure among U.C.L.A. fans, summarizing his point in a forthright declaration:

I will pretty confidently say that there is not another major football program in the entire country which would not fire a head coach who had three six-loss seasons in his first four years. Not one.

A fellow weblogger with a foot in both camps shares Bruins Nation's view, noting that, at Georgia, "reduced expectations never reared their ugly head" the way they have at U.C.L.A.

In the course of previous exchanges with Nestor, I have promised to be more attentive to West Coast football and offered a two-part look at Ray Goff, the Georgia alumnus who was fired following seven mostly mediocre seasons as his alma mater's head football coach.

Because Bruins Nation has drawn the analogy to other programs and the subject has come up before, I thought I would take a few moments to look at Coach Dorrell's time in Westwood and see how it compares to Coach Goff's tenure in the Classic City.

Both coaches got off to inauspicious starts, with each posting one .500 record and one losing season in his first two campaigns. Coach Goff began his career at Georgia with a 10-13 record, going 6-6 (with a Peach Bowl loss) in 1989 and 4-7 in 1990. Coach Dorrell commenced his stint in the City of Angels with a 12-13 ledger, going 6-7 (with a Silicon Valley Bowl loss) in 2003 and 6-6 (with a Las Vegas Bowl loss) in 2004.

Neither coach was helped by the fact that each opened with an 0-2 run against his local rival, as Georgia Tech peaked in the second half of the 1989 campaign before going undefeated in 1990 and Southern California claimed the A.P. national championship in 2003 before going undefeated in 2004.

In the finest seasons compiled by either of them, Coach Dorrell and Coach Goff each went 10-2 and claimed victory over a Big Ten squad in a bowl game with a fair degree of historical pedigree, as the 1992 Bulldogs beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl and the 2005 Bruins beat Northwestern in the Sun Bowl. Nevertheless, both seasons were marred by losses due to defensive lapses and the latest in a series of setbacks to conference rivals Southern California and Florida, respectively.

Coach Goff's last autumn on the job resulted in a 6-6 record in 1995, when the Red and Black concluded the regular season with a close win in a defensive struggle against nearby rival Georgia Tech but squandered the momentum thereby gained when they dropped a 34-27 decision to an A.C.C. squad, Virginia, in a Peach Bowl game played in their home state.

Coach Dorrell's fourth season on the sideline produced a 7-6 ledger in 2006, when U.C.L.A. wrapped up its scheduled slate with a close win in a defensive struggle against nearby rival U.S.C. but squandered the momentum thereby gained when the Bruins dropped a 44-27 decision to an A.C.C. squad, Florida State, in an Emerald Bowl game played in their home state.

Obviously, the analogy between the two coaches is imperfect, as Ray Goff spent seven seasons at his alma mater, posting records of 9-3 in 1991, 5-6 in 1993, and 6-4-1 in 1994.

However, the resumes of the two men are comparable, as the first four years of Karl Dorrell's stay at U.C.L.A. produced a 1-3 record against resurgent rival Southern California, just as the first four years of Ray Goff's time in Athens produced a 1-3 record against resurgent rival Florida . . . a team Coach Goff would not beat again for the remainder of his coaching career.

Furthermore, I sympathize with Nestor because I remember the point at which I came to the same conclusion about Coach Goff that a growing number of Bruins fans are reaching about Coach Dorrell.

The date was October 2, 1993, and the opponent was Arkansas. The Bulldogs' loss to the Razorbacks in Sanford Stadium that day---which Ray Goff would later describe in a speech at a Bulldog Club meeting I attended as the poorest effort with which he ever had been associated---dropped the Classic City Canines to 0-4 in S.E.C. play for the first time in the program's proud history.

I knew then that Ray Goff would have to go and, from that day until the day he was fired, I never wavered in that conviction. Following that loss to Arkansas, Coach Goff had a career record of 30-22. Following the Bruins' recent loss to the Seminoles, Coach Dorrell has a career record of 29-21.

The firing of Ray Goff was a divisive issue in Bulldog Nation at the time, much more so than the firing of Jim Donnan would be five years later, and much of the controversy was attributable to the fact that Coach Goff was a Georgia graduate. So it is, I am sure, with Bruin fans who are hesitant to pull the trigger on sacking a U.C.L.A. alum.

There are, of course, coaches who turned the corner in their fifth year or later . . . Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is one; Auburn's Tommy Tuberville is another. 2007 may be Karl Dorrell's time to shine. If next season is another autumn of discontent among the Bruin faithful, though, Coach Dorrell will have been given adequate time to demonstrate his fitness for the job.

Given the similarity of their respective resumes and the propriety of the regrettable fate that awaited Ray Goff, it is appropriate for U.C.L.A. to impose an expectation of "significant improvement" upon Karl Dorrell, much as Vince Dooley demanded of (but did not receive from) the man who succeeded, but could not replace, him.

If Coach Dorrell's Bruins underachieve next year as they have in three of the last four seasons, it will be time for a regime change in Westwood.

Go 'Dawgs!

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