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They Hear Him

The reserved Dorrell made noise against USC, and his Bruins have followed

December 20, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

It was a sight worth remembering.

UCLA football Coach Karl Dorrell, so often criticized for his lack of emotion on the sideline, was carrying on during the Bruins' 29-24 loss to USC at the Rose Bowl earlier this month.

Frustrated by a couple of calls, Dorrell went out onto the field, trying to get the officials' attention. Not only once, but twice, venturing nearly 10 yards off the sideline to get his message across.

"I know I was surprised to see him jump out there like that," sophomore running back Maurice Drew said. "It showed how much he cared. A lot of us are used to seeing head coaches act that way, and we got a chance to see how emotional he can get. When we saw him out there, he inspired the whole team."

With a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation and end a five-year losing streak to the Trojans, Dorrell got caught up in the moment and shocked even his wife, Kim, with his uncharacteristic behavior.

"He's not dull, but that doesn't happen very much, ever," Kim Dorrell said. "Unless he really gets mad, that's not going to happen.

"But that's Karl. He's not dull, he's a thinker. Many people, including myself, may not exactly know what's going on in his head, but he's gotten where he's gotten today this way. It works.... He's not afraid to make a stand. He's ready to stand up for his team any way he can."

Dorrell has not had it easy in his two seasons of coaching the Bruins, who will play Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday. The former UCLA wide receiver, who was nicknamed "Sweetness" by his teammates, has already faced adversity some coaches don't experience in a decade.

In his first season, UCLA's 6-7 team finished with five consecutive losses. Dorrell then lost backup quarterback Matt Moore and running back Tyler Ebell on transfers, and cornerback Matt Ware to the NFL a year early.

There were rough spots off the field as well. Dorrell fired offensive coordinator Steve Axman, who had given Dorrell his first opportunity as a coordinator at Northern Arizona and had to deal with personal relationships with former Bruins Jerry Robinson and Ken Norton Jr. through the media.

It also didn't help that he was coaching in the shadow of Pete Carroll, who was taking archrival USC to No. 1 in the country.

Still, the second-year coach has never wavered. Dorrell, who takes pride in appearances -- from his postgame outfit to his front lawn -- has never lost sight of his goal: turning UCLA into a national power. It's this type of commitment that has won over his players.

"Coach Dorrell came in being very observant," junior linebacker Justin London said. "He was just observing all of us and trying to get to know us.... He continues to do that now. Sometimes, he'll just be looking at you not saying anything. Just looking.

"At first, we were like, 'Hey, what's up, Coach?' and he wouldn't say anything. But now we know he's just looking at our mind-set and seeing where our heads are at. He doesn't miss anything. That's just one of the things that caught me off guard at first but has grown on me now. You know he's a Bruin in his heart."

Dorrell's closeness with his team stood out during UCLA's stretch run this season. After shutting out Stanford, 21-0, the Bruins needed a victory over Washington State on Nov. 6 to become bowl eligible. UCLA started flat and lost, 31-29, at home, a low point.

Instead of giving up on the season, Dorrell turned up the pressure and the Bruins responded with a 34-26 victory at Oregon. In the emotional locker room, Dorrell told his players how proud he was of them and they made sure that he felt reciprocation.

Then the Bruins came up with a strong effort against USC to close the regular season, giving them some confidence heading into their bowl game.

"I wouldn't say that Coach Dorrell was a guy who kept to himself, but he was someone that we did not get a lot of expression out of last year," junior quarterback Drew Olson said. "He always was very businesslike and everything....

"We got a lot more interaction out of him this year. He's often giving encouragement and coaching people up. It's like, he's not worried about whether he's doing something right or wrong ... he's just coaching like he always had. That's what got him here and how he's been successful."


To know Karl Dorrell, it helps to know where he comes from. The youngest of seven children in a military family, he had natural leadership skills growing up in San Diego.

"When we were 8 or 9 years old, Karl would make up playbooks for us when we would play football against other streets," said Craig Galloway, a close friend since they were 5-year-old neighbors.

"Karl was the quarterback and we would have a bunch of kids from our block challenge other streets. Karl was designing plays back then. We ran this one play, fake-option flat, that always worked. Man, that was one great play."

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