The agency soon named Guerrero as its executive director. While earning a master's degree in public administration at Dominguez Hills, he ran across an old baseball friend, Andy Lopez, who coached there.
"We went to lunch one day and I was groaning about having to raise money," said Lopez, now at Arizona. "Danny said, 'Man, I do this for a living.'"
Not many athletic directors come to their jobs by way of politics and community work, but Guerrero's unusual background served him well in a new vocation.
Dominguez Hills needed someone who could raise money and deal with athletes from low-income neighborhoods. Guerrero learned the rest of the business — selling concessions, supervising coaches, launching a marketing program — quickly enough to take over the department in 1988.
"Honestly, if my career had meant for me to stay there for 25 or 30 years, I would have been happy," he said.
In 1992, UC Irvine asked him to save a cash-strapped athletic department that was cutting teams. Over the next decade, he oversaw a revival that included $38 million in new and improved facilities.
So it made a certain degree of sense when UCLA hired him in 2002, enamored of his administrative and financial acumen. Yet, from the very start, some fans worried about a gap in his resume — he had no experience in the tricky business of big-time football or basketball.
Nearly a decade later, Guerrero talks about the coaches he has hired and fired since arriving at Westwood:
•Bob Toledo and Steve Lavin. When Guerrero got rid of both coaches shortly after taking charge, some accused him of wanting to put his stamp on the department. "There were things I knew that people in the external community did not," he said. "Both of those programs needed to go in a different direction."
•Karl Dorrell. UCLA offered Toledo's replacement $600,000 plus incentives, not much by Division I standards. "That obviously shrinks your pool," Guerrero said. Multiple reports had former UCLA chancellor Albert Carnesale actually making the choice, but Guerrero takes full responsibility and says that Dorrell — endorsed by prominent NFL coach Mike Shanahan — looked like a rising star.
•Howland. Guerrero still considers this a solid hire, a coach who quickly rebuilt the program and led UCLA to three straight Final Fours. He believes Howland can turn things back around.
•Rick Neuheisel. Fans and the media eyed this one with cautious optimism, a coach with the personality to battle Pete Carroll across town but also some NCAA baggage. "He was a Bruin. He wanted redemption," Guerrero said. "By all accounts, it was the right hire at the right time."
Around the UCLA athletic department, officials like to point out that programs such as Texas and Alabama went through numerous football coaches before finding the likes of Mack Brown and Nick Saban. But UCLA's road has been especially rocky since Toledo.
"You can pay $2 or $2 million for a coach, and there's never a guarantee that either of those will be successful," Guerrero said. "It's an art, not a science."
Line of fire
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block made a point of joining Guerrero last week in a teleconference to address allegations about the basketball program contained in a Sports Illustrated story. If players misbehaved and the coach failed to control them, the athletic director is ultimately responsible.
"I have great confidence in Dan," Block said. "We're working through this together."
His support came as no surprise; university leaders like their teams to operate within budget and stay out of NCAA trouble. They like the kind of diversity that Guerrero — one of only a few Latino athletic directors in Division I — considers imperative.
In recent years, the Bruins have won national championships in a range of nonrevenue sports such as men's volleyball and women's tennis and water polo.
"I don't believe that having a strong program across the board detracts from our ability to be successful in football and men's basketball," Guerrero said. "Could we have diverted $7 million from our men's and women's Olympic programs? Would that have made a difference? There's no guarantee."
Away from Westwood, he has served on the powerful NCAA men's basketball committee and been president of two athletic directors groups. But none of this mollifies UCLA fans who want winning seasons, who still doubt that his years at Dominguez Hills and Irvine prepared him for the bright lights.
Guerrero's reticence in public may hurt him in terms of a connection with fans. At the same time, he can call upon the days when Los Angeles City Council President John S. Gibson Jr. would put young deputies "in the line of fire. We would be in front of angry constituent groups, answering questions."
The athletic director remains optimistic about basketball and also his new football coach, Jim Mora. He knows that winning is the solution to his problems.
In the meantime, there is not much he can do about the doubts and Internet rancor. Asked if his career switch so long ago — I don't really want a public life — seems ironic, he shrugs and replies: "Ya think?"