The search for a new UCLA football coach has begun, even as current Coach Karl Dorrell awaits his fate.
Dorrell will be fired and a short list of candidates has been assembled, sources familiar with the athletic department said Sunday.
Boise State Coach Chris Petersen is said to be the first choice of Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, with Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach and former NFL coach Steve Mariucci considered among the other top candidates. Representatives on behalf of the UCLA athletic department have contacted all three, multiple sources said.
Former Washington and Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel will not be considered for the job, according to one of the sources.
UCLA officials will also to try to retain defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who has been contacted about the vacant Washington State head-coaching job. Walker was instrumental in the Bruins' recruiting efforts the last two years, and a number of current recruits are expected to honor commitments if Walker stays.
Guerrero will arrange official interviews after Dorrell is dismissed. A UCLA official said no news conference has been scheduled for today, and Guerrero was unavailable for comment.
Petersen, 43, forced his way into the national spotlight a year ago, his second as Boise State's head coach. The Broncos finished 13-0 with a dramatic victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and were fifth in the Associated Press poll.
Boise State is 10-2 and ranked 17th this season.
Petersen is under contract through the 2010 season, with a base pay of $935,000 per year. He is also believed to covet the Oregon job should it open up in the next few years.
Petersen spent six seasons as a Ducks assistant.
Leach, who has a 64-37 record in eight seasons at Texas Tech, comes with similar financial red tape. He will make $1.75 million next season, $1.85 million in 2009 and $2.15 million in 2010. He will also receive an $800,000 bonus for remaining at the school through 2009 and $200,000 if he is still the Red Raiders' coach after 2010.
Yet, financial hurdles are not believed to be a problem for Guerrero, as "the money will be there for the coach who is the right guy," a source familiar with the situation said.
Mariucci, who previously coached the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, fits a profile similar to Petersen and Leach. All are considered innovative offensive minds, though Mariucci preaches the West Coast offense, which has been ineffective for the Bruins under Dorrell.
Mariucci, though, comes with no strings attached. He is working for the NFL Network as an analyst.
He was the head coach at California for the 1996 season.
Neuheisel's name has circulated for the UCLA job, but UCLA officials are said to be reluctant to consider the former Bruins player and assistant because of problems he had at Washington.
Neuheisel was fired from Washington in 2003 for lying about participating in a high-stakes betting pool on college basketball.
He said he felt "vindicated" after receiving a $4.7-million settlement from the NCAA and Washington, ending a 21-month legal battle. He is the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.
Guerrero has said he would meet with Dorrell, one of six African American coaches among the 119 universities that play major-college football, early this week, but his decision was forged by the team's 1-4 finish to the regular season.
Dorrell has been UCLA's coach the last five seasons, during which the Bruins rarely lived up to expectations. He had a 35-27 record, highlighted by a 10-2 season in 2005. Yet even at that pinnacle, the Bruins lost two of their last three regular-season games, including a 66-19 rout by USC.
The Bruins began this season with 20 returning starters, 25 seniors and plenty of expectations. That dissolved into a 6-6 season after a 24-7 loss to USC on Saturday.
Sunday, the Bruins were invited to the Las Vegas Bowl, where they will face Brigham Young, a rematch of a Sept. 8 regular season matchup that the Bruins won, 27-17.
"I'm always down to play football," UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said. "Lucky me, I got one more game to play this year. I don't mind at all."
Dorrell's contract runs through 2011 but includes a buyout clause that would pay him $2.05 million over a two-year period.
UCLA officials may wait until the Bruins' team banquet Wednesday before making an announcement.
LAS VEGAS BOWL
UCLA (6-6) vs.
Brigham Young (10-2)
Dec. 22, 5 p.m., ESPN