A rough off- sea­son for UCLA football

As UCLA football be­comes a top- tier pro­gram, it finds it­self in the mid­dle of trou­bling in­ci­dents off the field

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BILL PLASCHKE

The Sean “Diddy” Combs in­ci­dent is the latest ex­am­ple of the price the Bru­ins are pay­ing for suc­cess, writes Bill Plaschke.

When Jim Mora was in­tro­duced as the new UCLA football coach in De­cem­ber of 2011, he vowed to take the Bru­ins to the big time.

“I’d say that it’s a sleep­ing gi­ant in col­lege football,” he said.

Well, yeah, the UCLA pro­gram has since awak­ened, but with such an un­holy ruckus that old- timers could be for­given for wish­ing it would just go back to bed. In the last six months, the Bru­ins have emerged from a long­time slum­ber, loudly slammed both feet on to the f loor, and stomped up to that ex­clu­sive cor­ner of the col­lege football land­scape filled with tit­il­lat­ing con­tro­ver­sies and tabloid head­lines.

You wanted the big time, UCLA football fans? Welcome to the big time.

An as­sis­tant coach is pub­licly ac­cused of ly­ing by a top re­cruit who even­tu­ally goes else­where. An as­sis­tant coach is sus­pended for al­legedly vi­o­lat­ing NCAA rules. The top in­com­ing fresh­man run­ning back spends prom night in jail. And now, this week, the fa­mous fa­ther of a mar­ginal player is ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of as­sault­ing a mem­ber of the coach­ing staff for shout­ing at his son.

Re­mem­ber those quaint days when you thought a side­line tus­sle be­tween the UCLA

head coach and one of his as­sis­tants was as awk­ward as it was go­ing to get? Lit­tle did any­one know that last Oc­to­ber’s heated en­counter be­tween Mora and Jeff Ul­brich was just go­ing to be Round 1.

True to Mora’s word, the UCLA pro­gram has be­come an elite col­lege football ma­chine, but with all the dan­gers that en­tails, its al­le­giance to the late BCS re­placed by an ad­dic­tion to TMZ, its con­tro­ver­sies loud enough to drown out an eight clap.

The ket­tle­bell- swing­ing in­ci­dent this week in­volv­ing Sean “Diddy” Combs and UCLA strength coach Sal Alosi that re­sulted in Combs’ ar­rest is the latest in a string of pub­li­cized Bru­ins em­bar­rass­ments since the end of Mora’s third sea­son. While a rap­per storm­ing a weight room is scan­dalous in any set­ting, these prob­lems can gen­er­ally be cat­e­go­rized as the price of run­ning a big- time col­lege football pro­gram. The Bru­ins are sim­ply push­ing the en­ve­lope like ev­ery­one else.

But as USC fans know, if you push hard enough and long enough, even­tu­ally the NCAA is go­ing to start pay­ing at­ten­tion and push back.

It is not in the best in­ter­est of a Bru­ins pro­gram that has al­ways prided it­self on “gutty” to sud­denly be viewed as “grimy.”

Though Bru­ins of­fi­cials de­clined com­ment on this story be­cause of the on­go­ing Combs in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they are surely con­cerned.

The Bru­ins off- sea­son started in the muck when, on Fe­bru­ary’s na­tional sign­ing day, Ro­quan Smith, one of the na­tion’s top high school lineback­ers from Ma­con, Ga., com­mit­ted to UCLA on na­tional TV in the morn­ing yet backed out by night­fall be­cause he said he could no longer trust the Bru­ins. Smith claimed the then- Bru­ins de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ul­brich told him he was not leav­ing UCLA even while Ul­brich was ne­go­ti­at­ing with the At­lanta Fal­cons, where Ul­brich even­tu­ally moved to coach lineback­ers. Mora, how­ever, claims Ul­brich had not yet made up his mind.

In a sport in which coaches will say any­thing to co­erce a re­cruit, ly­ing is sadly part of the game, and col­lege ath­letes should never at­tend a school based on the pres­ence of a coach who could be gone the next day. But, still, to have a top re­cruit bla­tantly call out UCLA for such al­leged tac­tics — and then con­firm his dis­trust by sign­ing else­where, with Ge­or­gia — was a black eye for Mora’s pro­gram.

Just as one wound healed, another one ap- peared in March when of­fen­sive line coach Adrian Klemm, one of the Bru­ins’ most inf lu­en­tial re­cruiters, was sus­pended by UCLA for al­leged NCAA rules vi­o­la­tions. Klemm was re­cently re­in­stated by the Bru­ins af­ter miss­ing more than three months, but that doesn’t mean the NCAA is fin­ished with him, and he could be sus­pended dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son depend­ing on the re­sults of an on­go­ing re­view. It’s just one coach but, still, it was one crack in the Bru­ins’ in­sti­tu­tional ar­mor.

In April, the tur­moil shifted to a fu­ture Bruin, highly touted run­ning back Soso Jam­abo from Plano, Texas, af­ter he was ar­rested on prom night on sus­pi­cion of evad­ing ar­rest with a ve­hi­cle, con­sump­tion of al­co­hol by a mi­nor, speed­ing, driv­ing with­out a li­cense and dis­re­gard­ing a stop sign.

All charges were even- tu­ally dropped, and this week he en­rolled with other re­cruits for sum­mer school at UCLA. The in­ci­dent was prob­a­bly just a dumb mis­take by an im­ma­ture kid, but UCLA now must worry that it’s not more.

All these crooked roads led to Mon­day’s events in the school’s weight room, where the Bru­ins suf­fered through the per­fect storm of an over­bear­ing par­ent, a mar­ginal ath­lete, and a law- and- or­der coach­ing staff. While the le­gal sys­tem will de­cide the fault here — a yet- un­re­leased sur­veil­lance tape is key — there will re­main larger ques­tions that only Mora can an­swer.

How can a par­ent, even one as rich and inf lu­en­tial as Sean “Diddy” Combs, feel so em­pow­ered he would by­pass the head coach’s of­fice and en­ter one of the team’s sanc­tums and de­mand to talk to an as­sis­tant coach? Are the mon­e­tary and re­cruit­ing ben­e­fits of a par­ent such as Combs re­ally worth the ros­ter spot that his un­der­sized son Justin re­quires and the ac­cess that Combs de­mands? If Mora truly wants to build a cham­pi­onship pro­gram with hard work, com­mit­ment and dis­ci­pline, are these re­ally the kind of glam­our deals he wants to be mak­ing?

Justin Combs was re­cruited by for­mer Bru­ins coach Rick Neuheisel and ver­bally com­mit­ted be­fore Mora was hired. But he didn’t sign un­til af­ter Mora was hired, mean­ing Mora wasn’t re­quired to keep this ar­range­ment, but for some rea­son he did, and now it has al­most lit­er­ally blown up in his strength coach’s face.

This sea­son, the Bru­ins will welcome another rap star’s child, Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but he was an elite high school re­ceiver, so the ar­range­ment is not ques­tion­able. But one can imag­ine folks in the UCLA ad­min­is­tra­tion now ques­tion­ing it. And that’s the shame in all this, that sud­denly a football coach with 29 wins in 40 games and three con­sec­u­tive wins over USC is be­ing viewed per­haps with as many raised eye­brows as ex­pec­ta­tions.

Mora has done a bril­liant job of re­shap­ing the Bru­ins on the field. For this growth to con­tinue, that’s where the ex­cite­ment needs to re­main, not in some weight room.

Back in De­cem­ber of 2011, at the Mora in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence, Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Dan Guer­rero said, “He was the right per­son for us to hire, to move our pro­gram to [ a] Pac- 12 and ob­vi­ously BCS cham­pi­onship- cal­iber pro­gram.”

Mis­sion ac­com­plished. Sort of.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

UCLA COACH Jim Mora, left, with as­sis­tant Adrian Klemm, who is un­der NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

HIGH- PRO­FILE in­ci­dent in­volved strength coach Sal Alosi.

Ash­ley Lan­dis EPA

AL­TER­CA­TION at UCLA led to Sean “Diddy” Combs’ ar­rest.

Don Liebig

EX- BRU­INS coach Jeff Ul­brich was said to mis­lead top re­cruit.

Eric Gay As­so­ci­ated Press

SOSO JAM­ABO, a top Bru­ins re­cruit from Plano, Texas, was ar­rested oh his prom night but won’t face charges. He is en­rolled for sum­mer school at UCLA.

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