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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

For UCLA, it's a crazy time to seek a football coach

With Rick Neuheisel fired at Westwood and Urban Meyer hired by Ohio State, the Bruins seek the right coach at the same time other major schools hunt for theirs. They need to think out of the box.

November 28, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Urban Meyer takes questions from the media after his introduction as Ohio State football coach on Monday in Columbus.
Urban Meyer takes questions from the media after his introduction as Ohio… (Jamie Sabau / Getty Images )

Ohio State introduced Urban Meyer as its new coach Monday about three hours after UCLA showed Rick Neuheisel its revolving door.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero wanted to make the move now on Neuheisel to get the jump on his coaching search.

Too late for that if Meyer was on your short list.

And scratch off Al Golden, who re-upped at Miami through the end of civilization and/or NCAA probation.

And if Boise State's Chris Petersen says no, well, then what?

It's a bad time for UCLA to be entering the head-coaching market right now. Things are crazy.

Arizona got a jump by firing Mike Stoops during an off week and then setting out after hot commodity Rich Rodriguez.

UCLA barely beat Arizona State's news release Monday to announce the firing of Dennis Erickson.

Penn State also announced it was forming a search committee charged with finding a new coach. The last time that happened was 1949.

North Carolina has a vacancy and Washington State may soon have one.

News of Neuheisel's firing, on a national scale, paled in comparison with Ohio State's hiring of Meyer.

Meyer is the kind of candidate UCLA dreams of hiring but has never had the chops, or chips, to procure.

Meyer is a rare bird — the known, can't-miss commodity. The chances of his success in Columbus are about nine on a scale of 10.

Ohio State had the lineage advantage over everyone in the race for Meyer, who resigned at Florida last season after winning two national titles in Gainesville.

Meyer cited burnout there, twice, but Columbus tapped into his weakness.

"I didn't realize I'd miss it so bad," Meyer said of coaching.

It didn't hurt that Meyer is Ohio-born, from Ashtabula. He grew up in a house where Woody Hayes' picture hung next to the pope's.

"We're fortunate to have a man who gets it," Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said in introducing Meyer.

Ohio State, even though it faces NCAA sanctions, had the pedigree and juice to entice Meyer, a former Buckeyes graduate assistant under Earle Bruce.

Meyer's six-year deal is worth $4 million annually. He will receive private jet privileges and a country club membership.

Meyer knows what it takes to win big after coaching at Florida in the Southeastern Conference.

"Obviously, the SEC right now is dominant," Meyer said. "It's a faster league than the Big Ten. Does that mean the Big Ten is that far behind? I don't think it's that far."

Ohio State probably hit a grand slam with the Meyer hire, but others won't be as lucky. Finding the right coach for the right program, at the right time, is the toughest job most athletic directors will ever face.

Lisa Love had every right to think Erickson was the right man for Arizona State. Erickson won two national titles at Miami, but he didn't win in Tempe.

Rodriguez, one of college's cutting-edge innovators at West Virginia, was a flop at Michigan.

Yet first-year Coach Brady Hoke, a Michigan man, has led his team to 10-2.

Bill Callahan led the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl and the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the trash bin.

Who knew?

The UCLAs of the world have it tougher. UCLA is sub-elite. It's a strange mix of upside and land mines. High-rent coaches window-shop at UCLA before moving on.

UCLA won't pay what Alabama pays but wants someone like Nick Saban.

The school, really since Red Sanders, has relied on its farm system. It got lucky with Terry Donahue for 20 years but hasn't been as lucky since. Neuheisel, in UCLA's powder blue, insular world, seemed the perfect UCLA hire — but he was no Donahue.

The school appears willing now to open its checkbook, but even that's no title guarantee.

The smarter bet is to pretend you are not UCLA and think, out of the box, like an energetic mid-major. UCLA needs to be Utah when it found Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, or Cincinnati when it culled Brian Kelly from Central Michigan. Stanford discovered Jim Harbaugh minding his own business at the University of San Diego.

By the time these guys become stars, it's too late — they're at Notre Dame or in the NFL.

Trolling the Mid-American Conference for the next great coach is never a bad idea. The coach at Bowling Green right now might be the guy. Do you think UCLA knows his name?

Few couples are ever as perfectly suited for each other as Meyer and Ohio State.

Any administrator can identify the top five college coaches in America, but most don't want to coach at your school.

Finding the right one who does is UCLA and Guerrero's last hope.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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