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Bill Plaschke

Dorrell Should Get to Take as Much as He Can Stand

November 22, 2003|Bill Plaschke

He'll be a bigger target than Mike Williams.

He'll be booed louder than Ohio State.

He'll be questioned more than parking cops, ripped more than ticket stubs, trampled more than hot dog wrappers.

And Karl Dorrell, darn him, will just stand there and take it.

If things go as expected in today's USC-UCLA block party, the easiest mark will take the biggest fall.

The Bruin coach won't show anger; it's not on his flip chart. He won't breathe fire; it's not in his headsets. He won't put up his dukes, the word "dukes" containing neither an X nor an O.

He won't say what he wants to say, what his supporters should have been saying long before now, so we'll say it for him.

Give the man a chance.

He has coached 11 games in a new league, won six of those games, and you already want to fire him?

Don't get your powder blues in a bunch.

He's coaching players he hasn't known for even a year, in a sport where a coach can only be judged after at least three years, and you're already e-mailing message boards with potential replacements?

Stick a virus in it.

This Bruin team, while earnest and hard-working, is not yet his team. He arrived too late last winter to make it his team. Only two of the players he recruited are making an impact.

Pete Carroll faced the same sort of obstacles in his first season as a college football coach way back in 2001. And if Dorrell loses today? He and Carroll will have the exact same rookie records of 6-6.

The idea that Carroll got a free pass because he smiles is as ridiculous as Dorrell being ripped because he doesn't.

Sedate Kirk Ferentz of Iowa won four of his first 23 games there before building a national contender.

Restrained Bob Stoops struggled to implement his defense at Oklahoma in his first season there, going 7-5.

This is not to say Dorrell has the hops to be a Stoops.

He could really lack it, and become another Hackett.

But could we at least give him a couple of more falls before making that call?

We interrupt this poet laureate moment to corner Dan Guerrero, the Bruin athletic director.

When asked last year to talk about Bob Toledo, Guerrero refused, and Toledo was fired a week later.

When asked to discuss Dorrell, Guerrero couldn't stop talking, so what does that tell you?

"What got me was that the criticism started almost immediately, it was amazing," he said earlier this week. "Karl never had a chance to get his footing, to get established, and already the talk started."

He added, "Nobody said Dennis Franchione [of Texas A&M] is not a good coach, but last I looked, he was getting beat by 77 points. I'm looking at a first-year coach, a brand-new coaching staff, a whole new system ... you have to assess the body of work."

On the field, that body has often been a cadaver this year, as Dorrell has futilely insisted on teaching a complicated West Coast offense to kids who were not hand-picked for the job. The results have been an offense ranked 106th, a somber Rose Bowl, and lots of criticism.

He says he's not going to change his philosophy -- "I drank the Kool-Aid," Dorrell said -- so he better change his roster.

He has also said he may start calling plays next year, to which we say, like, duh.

Off the field, it is clear that the responsibilities of being a college head coach have sometimes been overwhelming for this career coordinator.

"I'm not necessarily a coach anymore," he said. "When I was a coordinator, I had lots of time for Xs and O's. I don't have that time anymore."

That sounds so much like Paul Hackett, it's scary. He needs to figure out a way to fix that. The Bruins hired him for his football mind. He needs to fulfill that obligation first.

But he deserves time. The Bruins owe it to themselves to give him that time.

"I'm continually evolving," he said. "I'm continually learning."

If adjustments are made, this curious, quiet type will suddenly become a strong, silent type.

If adjustments are made, folks will stop looking only at the sidelines, and start listening to the locker room.

"I've heard him in that locker room," Guerrero said. "The eye contact. The strong feelings. Believe me, he is laying a very, very impressive foundation."

If the Bruins are waxed by 50 points today, that foundation will creak and groan, but it must be given a chance to settle.

Karl Dorrell started pouring it, at least he should have a chance to write his name in it.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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