Tuesday, December 10, 2002

UCLA coach fired

College football notebook

Enquirer news services

LOS ANGELES - Bob Toledo was fired by UCLA on Monday because first-year athletic director Dan Guerrero felt the program wasn't heading in the right direction and wouldn't turn around unless a coaching change was made.

"We need to raise the bar, we need to start winning Pac-10 championships again," Guerrero said at a campus news conference. "The issue was clearly one I had to make in the best interests of the program. The tough thing was this was Bob Toledo, he's a good man."

The Bruins are 7-5 this season, including a 52-21 loss to No. 5 Southern California on Nov. 23 and a 48-27 loss to No. 7 Washington State on Saturday.

Toledo won't coach UCLA in the Dec. 25 Las Vegas Bowl, where the Bruins will play New Mexico. Ed Kezirian, assistant director of academic services, will serve as interim head coach.

Toledo wasn't available for comment, but issued a statement that read in part: "I came to UCLA with class and dignity and I will leave with class and dignity. I have nothing but great things to say about UCLA."

Toledo coached UCLA to a school-record 20-game winning streak in 1997-98, but the Bruins have gone 24-24 since and have lost four straight to rival Southern California - the last two by a combined 58 points.

The 56-year-old Toledo guided UCLA to a 49-32 record in seven seasons, the third-most wins for a football coach in school history. He succeeded Terry Donahue, who retired in 1995 after coaching the Bruins for 20 seasons and is now general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.

Toledo is the first football coach fired by UCLA since Bill Barnes was let go after the 1964 season.

Guerrero said Toledo was "ready for this decision" when the two met early Monday.

Guerrero, who succeeded Peter Dalis as athletic director last July, said the move wasn't based on one game or one season.

"I made the decision yesterday, but it was a cumulative process that got me there," Guerrero said. "I felt we needed a clean slate. I felt it was not a healthy environment, I certainly didn't think we had a program clicking on all cylinders. There would have been difficulties going into next year with all the issues."

Kezirian, a Bruins assistant from 1982-92, said he will handle the administrative end with other members of the coaching staff handling the decision-making process.

"It's a sad day for UCLA football," Kezirian said.

Toledo had a rollover six-year contract. The buyout consists of one year of the full package of $578,000 and five years at the base salary of $153,000, the school said.

Guerrero said a national search for a successor would begin immediately. He said he hadn't contacted anyone, but several potential candidates had already expressed interest.

"What I want is the best coach that fits the profile, is the best coach for us," Guerrero said. "We'll look and see what's out there, who is the best fit. I think we can attract a top-notch coach to UCLA."

Guerrero said he was looking for someone who knows about West Coast and Pac-10 football, preferably someone who has been successful as a head coach. But he wouldn't rule out hiring an offensive or defensive coordinator.

He also said he wanted somebody who "knows something about rivalries and the importance of those kinds of things in a city like Los Angeles."

"We want to have a national-caliber program here," he said. "We certainly think we should have one of the top programs in the country."

UCLA, with only 14 seniors on the team, was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in a preseason media poll. The team tied for fourth with a 4-4 record despite losing fifth-year senior quarterback Cory Paus to a broken right ankle in October, leaving a pair of true freshmen to share the position.

"It's a weird day," said Paus, who hopes to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. "It's a shame this had to happen. It's unfortunate for the families of coach Toledo and his assistants."

Toledo was the Bruins' offensive coordinator in 1994-95 before succeeding Donahue. He held the same position at Oregon from 1983-88 and at Texas A&M from 1989-93.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Ebell, UCLA's leading rusher, said he supported the decision "100 percent."

"Dan Guerrero felt that he needed to do what he did," Ebell said. "He knows what's best for us. It still hasn't sunk in yet."

UCLA won its last 10 games in 1997 and was on the verge of playing in the national championship game the following year, winning its first 10 games before losing at Miami 49-45. The Bruins then lost 38-31 to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

UCLA was 4-7 in 1999 and 6-6 in 2000 including a 21-20 loss to Wisconsin in the Sun Bowl.

The Bruins won their first six games in 2001 to rise to No. 4 in the rankings, but then lost four straight, capped by a 27-0 defeat against USC, before beating Arizona State to finish the season 7-4.


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