CU-UCLA? Just another game?
Patrick Cowan ain’t buyin’ that one, Karl Dorrell. Not with Bill Gates’ credit cards. No chance.
“There’s no way it’s just a regular game again,” laughed Cowan, who played quarterback under Dorrell, the Buffs’ first-year football coach, at UCLA from 2004-07. “We’ll see if he has any trick plays up his sleeve on the first play. Why not go for a trick play in your first game?”
Especially when that first game is against your former employer? Your alma mater? The job you said was a “dream of mine” when you first took it back in December 2002? The same dream that wound up breaking your heart?
“I would say, ‘No,’” Dorrell opined late last week when asked about lifting the lid on Nov. 7 against UCLA, the last school to employ him as a college head coach.
“I don’t think my approach is any different in this game than it would be for any of our division opponents. So it’s a division opponent that we’ve got a chance to beat and get ourselves in a good position after the first week.”
Yeah, but there’s 1-and-0, and there’s Dude, I Just Cranked The Heat Up Under Chip Kelly’s Chair 1-and-0.
Big difference. Huge.
“Yeah, it can’t just be a normal game, no matter what,” Cowan continued. “But that’s why you want a level-headed person, still saying those right things in the right moments. Not making it about him.”
But it is. And it will be, whether he wants it to be or not.
Dorrell was let go by the Bruins in December 2007 largely for the crime of not being Pete Carroll and not beating Pete Carroll, in an era when Carroll and his USC Trojans had an iron grip on La La Land.
UCLA was 35-27 under Dorrell over five seasons. If he averages seven wins a year at CU, they’ll erect a statue of him outside Folsom Field and stick it right next to the one of Ralphie.
Of course, Dorrell went 1-4 head-to-head against Carroll, in the one contest the denizens of Westwood cherish the most. He also was 1-3 in bowls. His best squad, a 2005 roster that boasted Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis, took a 9-1 record into the regular-season finale with Carroll and SC. The Bruins got housed at the Coliseum, 66-19.
The Men of Troy went to the Rose Bowl to face Texas in what would become the high point of Vince Young’s existence. UCLA drew Northwestern in the Sun Bowl.
“I would say there’s no special significance,” Dorrell stressed. “It’s been a while — 13 years, I guess, since I was on that sideline. We’re treating it just as our first game of the year.”
Yeah, but there’s 1-and-0, and there’s Sticking It To The Bruins Bloggers That Danced A Jig On My Grave 1-and-0.
Big difference. Massive. Personal.
Cowan knows what’s coming. He’s lived it. The signal-caller was a fifth-year senior with the Bruins in 2008, although a knee injury soured his short tenure with Rick Neuheisel, Dorrell’s successor. The Bruins were 3-6 and coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Cal and Oregon State that November when they went up to Seattle and thumped 0-9 Washington 27-7. Neuheisel had been fired from UW under strange and litigious circumstances in June 2003.
Taylor Embree, now CU’s tight ends coach, was a freshman wideout on that UCLA sideline. As the postgame party commenced, Cowan saw Embree break off from the locker room rapture and hand Neuheisel a game ball.
“When we were cheering, he grabbed the ball and gave it to Coach and said, ‘This was for you,’” Cowan recalled. “He gave the ball to Rick because he knew how important the game was for him.
“So for coach (Dorrell) to say it’s not important to beat your former employer or their alma mater — look, we all get it. I’m sure the players up there want to rally around their coach and get a win for themselves. But I’m sure they’d like to see him leave happy after the game as well.”
And they’re not the only ones. Not by a long shot.