UCLA has a proud tradition in football, but the last two decades have been very mediocre outside of three or four special seasons. The Bruins’ last Rose Bowl win? That would be a victory over Iowa at the end of the 1985 season. UCLA has been to two Rose Bowls since then but lost both to Wisconsin, concluding the 1993 and 1998 seasons. With Rick Neuhesiel leaving, the Bruins need to hit a home run hire. The widely-speculated frontrunner for the job was Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but there are reports he will stay in Idaho. If that is the case, the search becomes wide open. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin’s name comes up in every coaching search, but he may be receive more lucrative offers from Texas A&M and Arizona State. Other names that have been mentioned are former Oregon boss Mike Bellotti and former Raiders coach Tom Cable. Two other bowl-bound head coaches with Pac-12 ties are Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart. UCLA has traditionally not paid top dollar for coaches, but that may need to change with this hire to rejuvenate the fan base.
Who is your favorite to UCLA’s next coach?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Boise State’s Chris Petersen should be the obvious top candidate with amazing run with the Broncos, but I do not see him taking the UCLA job. Ditto for Kevin Sumlin, who will probably get more money from other schools. I think three names that would be great fits in Westwood are Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. All three have coached in the Pac-12 and are offensive coaches, something the Bruins need badly. Despite Dykes and Taggart having head coaching experience, I think Chryst is a rising star that would be an excellent hire for UCLA. His offenses at Wisconsin and Oregon State have been stellar, and I believe he would be a great fit in the Bruins’ price range and academic culture.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a very important hire for UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. USC will have scholarship reductions for the next couple of seasons, and the Bruins have only one season of more than eight wins since 1999. The new Pac-12 television contract will add more funds into the Bruins’ search, and it seems like UCLA is ready to make a run at all of the big names available. Even though there are reports that he will not be a candidate, Boise State’s Chris Petersen has to be target No. 1. He is a California native and has an impressive 71-6 record with the Broncos. However, I can’t see him leaving for UCLA. Houston’s Kevin Sumlin should be target No. 2, but it seems Texas A&M or Arizona State is a more likely destination. Where does that leave UCLA? I’d take a look at SMU’s June Jones, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and Wyoming’s Dave Christensen. None of those names have the flash of a Petersen or Sumlin, but would be a good hire. Out of those three coaches, Jones would be the one I would target. He’s got a flashy offense and has resurrected two programs: SMU and Hawaii.
Manny Diaz is wrapping up his first season as the defensive coordinator at Texas, so he may not be in any hurry to move on — and he may have filled Will Muschamp's shoes as the unofficial "coach in waiting... for Mack Brown to retire." If not, UCLA would be a great fit for Diaz. The 37-year-old does not have ties to the West Coast; he is the son and namesake of the former Miami mayor, attended Florida State and coached at NC State, Middle Tennessee and under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State before arriving in Austin. But Diaz's personality and aggressive defensive style will fit in anywhere. Plus, the southern California talent pool is ripe for recruiting, USC has scholarship sanctions and the Pac-12 South is winnable — after all, the Bruins won the division (by default) this year. The great thing about Diaz and UCLA is that the two could grow together. The Bruins have long been in the shadow of the Trojans. But UCLA has the potential to be a "destination"-type of gig. The right coach could go to the Rose Bowl on a consistent basis and possibly contend for BCS national titles at UCLA. Diaz would be that coach.
I'm going a little outside of the box here, but I'm going to say Jack Del Rio, who was relieved of his duties as the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach earlier this week. I know that Del Rio is a USC graduate, so it may seem like borderline-blasphemy to even suggest him, but hear me out. UCLA's biggest competition is USC. USC's head coach is Lane Kiffin, who is a big personality, dare I say, slightly arrogant? What better way for UCLA to get back into the game, if you will, then to hire a similar big personality, which is what Del Rio brings. Better still, the two would represent the yin and yang of football, with Kiffin being offense and Del Rio, an All-American linebacker in college and All-Pro in the NFL, who went on to make his name as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator before becoming the Jaguars' head coach, all about the defense. Sure Del Rio has zero experience as a coach in the college ranks, meaning he's never had to recruit a day in his life. But remember, UCLA and USC are in Los Angeles, which is home to Hollywood, the land of big egos, I mean, personalities. So shouldn't the crosstown rivals both have head coaches that fit that mold?