The aftermath of the worst UCLA football season in the Terry Donahue era brought another change in the coaching staff Tuesday, but the biggest vacuum--offensive coordinator--remains unfilled.
Greg Robinson, who ran the offense in 1989, was given the new position of assistant head coach Tuesday, but most of the interest centers on his replacement.
The Bruins, coming off their worst season since 1971 with a 3-7-1 record, were criticized for their lack of creativity on offense last fall. Donahue also weathered a quarterback controversy with redshirt freshman Bret Johnson starting over sophomore Jim Bonds.
Both quarterbacks will return next season, along with 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Tommy Maddox, but Donahue will have a new offensive coordinator to help him evaluate the talent.
It has been speculated that Donahue wants to rehire Homer Smith, his highly respected one-time assistant, who coaches at Alabama. Smith, who is recruiting for the Crimson Tide, could not be reached for comment.
Other speculation centered on Mike White, the former Illinois and California coach, Paul Hackett, one-time USC assistant who is at Pittsburgh, and John Featherstone, El Camino College's coach.
After a two-year absence from coaching, White said Tuesday he hopes to return to the field, but has not been contacted by UCLA.
"I really miss football," said White, who is a consultant with the NFL's new World League. "I enjoy coaching and plan to continue in the profession. My options are really open. I've recharged my batteries.
"Terry (Donahue) and I are good friends. We've talked, but not about what he plans to do with his assistants. We haven't talked about a job."
Hackett could not be reached, and Featherstone--known for producing explosive offenses--is one of four finalists for the Cal State Long Beach coaching vacancy.
The staff shake-up began when Larry Kerr, a first-year assistant who coached inside linebackers and special teams, became defensive coordinator at Northern Arizona Monday. Kerr was hired by new Coach Steve Axman, who served as the Bruins' offensive coordinator in 1987-88, replacing Smith.
Sources who declined to be identified say two other first-year assistants--Dave Currey, who coached receivers, and Mike Waufle, who coached the defensive line--are on the way out, but no announcement has been made.
Robinson denied that any assistants had been fired.
Robinson, 38, was responsible for the Bruins' defensive line until last season. He said Donahue was moving him in an effort to reverse last season's dismal showing. His duties will include defense and the kicking game.
"I enjoyed the heck out of what I did this year," Robinson said of coaching the offense. "But I'm excited to go over there (to defense) and patch up things."
Donahue said his first concern was resurrecting the Bruin defense in announcing Tuesday's change.
Donahue said in a statement: "I asked Greg to move back to defense because I feel that the fastest way to turn the program around is to reconstruct our defensive staff.
"We have been very successful defensively throughout the 1980s and I felt that putting the staff back together would be great for the program."
Donahue said Bob Field will remain as defensive coordinator.
UCLA insiders said Donahue pondered the changes for three weeks.
"Terry wanted to put the defensive staff back together as much as he could," Robinson said. "Right now, he wants to get the defense and kicking game squared away. We had some young people, some injuries and problems early on that hurt our defense. But we have some people who have some talent."
Although the defense had its problems, the offense took the brunt of criticism this season. Robinson said criticism from Bruin fans did not disturb him.
"That's part of the deal of coaching," he said.
But one Bruin coach defended the offensive effort, saying: "There was a lot of creativity in our offense this year. But it wasn't hitting all the cylinders some of the time."
The misfiring was most noticeable in the running game, where the Bruins lost their leading rusher from 1988, Eric Ball, but were supposedly deep in talent. However, tailbacks Brian Brown, Shawn Wills and Kevin Williams struggled behind a veteran offensive line.
That could change with a new coordinator.
Smith twice was UCLA's offensive coordinator, leading teams that went 17-5 for Coach Pepper Rogers in 1972-73 and 59-19-5 for Donahue in 1980-86. With Axman as offensive coordinator, the Bruins were 20-4. Donahue had led UCLA to seven consecutive postseason bowl victories before this season.
Robinson, who served as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton from 1977 to '79, was credited with putting together the 1987 Bruin defensive line that gave up an average of 85.1 rushing yards to 11 regular-season opponents, fourth best in the country that season.
He said he hopes that kind of performance will return to Westwood where, at this point, change can only be for the better.