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McNown to Start; Fien Stays Quiet : College football: Donahue defuses any idea of a UCLA quarterback controversy.

October 17, 1995|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue announced Monday that despite quarterback Cade McNown's shaky performance against the Arizona Wildcats, the freshman will start Saturday's game against Stanford.

And don't expect any protest from Ryan Fien, UCLA's starting quarterback when the season began.

If Fien, a junior, has learned anything in this most frustrating of seasons for him, it is that keeping his mouth shut is the best way to keep his options open.

"It's tough being a backup," he said. "You never know when you're going to go in. But I'm just going to take it all with a grain of salt. The main thing is to get some victories."

Fien learned his lesson one afternoon in Pullman, Wash., when he thought his Bruin career might be over--not because of anything he did on the field, but what he had said in the locker room.

Fien had waited three years for previous starter Wayne Cook to move on. Then, after suffering two concussions in the first two games, he had had to wait a little longer.

Finally, against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman in UCLA's fourth game, Fien was ready to take what he felt was his rightful place. He got off to a miserable start in that game, however, and was replaced by McNown.

Feeling he had been unfairly treated, Fien reacted in anger.

"Put me No. 1 or put me No. 2," he demanded, while talking to reporters after the game. He also questioned the failure of the Bruin coaching staff to let him throw enough on first down.

Donahue, not surprisingly, did not take kindly to this and told Fien so in very clear terms. The quarterback feared the worst, that he might not be allowed to play again.

"I learned a lot from that," Fien said Monday. "I was immature. Coach Donahue and Coach [Bob] Toledo [the offensive coordinator] were in this game before I was born. No player should do that [go public with his complaints], especially a quarterback.

"I understood that I had to be punished. I should have just cooled it."

McNown started the next game, against Fresno State, and Fien wondered if he'd ever step on the field again.

"It would be a tough circumstance," he said, "for my career to end on opening my big mouth to make those comments. I know I can play at this level. If my career had ended because of what I said rather than, say, throwing four of five interceptions, it would have been something that would have eaten at me for the rest of my life."

Instead, Fien got in at the end of the Fresno State game, then was called on in relief of McNown last Saturday against Arizona after the freshman had completed only three of 18 passes and had one picked off. McNown was plagued by several dropped passes and a strong pass rush.

Coming in late in the third quarter, Fien completed six of 10 passes for 104 yards and the winning touchdown in a 17-10 UCLA victory.

That might have refueled the quarterback controversy that first erupted when McNown arrived, showing talent and poise rare in a freshman.

But Donahue effectively killed any controversy Monday. McNown is his starter, he said. End of subject.

Donahue made it plain that he has no qualms about using Fien if McNown again should falter. Fien's ill-timed remarks are a thing of the past. It's just that McNown has won over the coaching staff for now.

"I think Ryan has accepted where we are at right now," Donahue said. "He doesn't like it. He wants to be the starter. It doesn't mean this situation is forever. It doesn't mean it won't change. Ryan is working hard so that, when he does get his opportunity, he can do well."

Helping Fien to accept his current status are the two men he has always turned to for career advice--his father, Hank, and his high school coach, Royal's Gene Uebelhardt.

Fien spent time with both over the weekend and they both told him the same thing: "Take it one day at a time."

Hank Fien can tell his son all about broken dreams. He was a star receiver for Northern Arizona with visions of a pro career until a serious ankle injury ended his playing days.

Fien can at least take solace from the fact that last Saturday, in his fourth year at UCLA, on the 114th passing attempt of his Bruin career, he finally threw his first touchdown pass.

But to get to the end zone, tailback Karim Abdul-Jabbar had to take a screen pass from Fien on the Arizona 14-yard line and cover about 90 yards back and forth across the field before finally making it across the goal line.

"The way my career has been roller-coasting," Fien said, "it figured that would be the way I would get it."

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