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Perspectives: UCLA Fires Dorrell Despite Academic Success, Winning Record and 100% Bowl Record

What does a Black coach have to do to keep his job?

Many observers and critics of coaching equity are probably asking that question in light of the reasons the University of California, Los Angeles athletic director has given for the firing of head football coach Karl Dorrell. Those reasons have a disturbing familiarity to those given by Notre Dame when it terminated its first Black head coach, Tyrone Willingham, three years ago.

“He established stability, established a solid foundation and dealt with the infrastructure issues that had occurred in our program at that time,” said UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, praising Dorrell’s work, even as he fired him.

On Monday, Dorrell joined Willingham in becoming a member of a very small fraternity of coaches who have been fired, despite having a winning record and whose student academic and social records were deemed to be outstanding.

Although Dorrell had a five-year win-loss record of 35-27 in what many consider to be the most competitive football conference in the country and having taken his team to a bowl game in each of those years, Guerrero could only offer that “ … at the end of the day, the focus has to be on results and I felt that a change was in the best interest for the future of our program.”

Guerrero said he wanted Dorrell “to build this program into a consistent winner, a program that would be in the national discussion on a regular basis.” In Willingham’s case, Notre Dame said he hadn’t made consistent progress in restoring the team to its national winning glory.

Ironically, one of the losses that may have cost Dorrell his job was the loss to then-winless Notre Dame, which has suffered through its worst record in history, winning only three games all season.

UCLA announced yesterday that the 43-year-old Dorrell would not coach the Bruins in the Las Vegas bowl against 10-2 Brigham Young University on Dec. 22.

“I appreciate the opportunity to coach in the bowl game, but I have decided it is in the best interests of the program for me to decline that opportunity, said Dorrell in a statement. “The game should be about the players, especially the seniors.”

Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will serve as interim head coach. Dorrell was under contract through 2011, but it included a buyout clause that would pay him more than $2 million over a two-year period.

His firing reduces the number of Division I-A Black head coaches to five out of a total 116. Those remaining are: Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, Tyrone Willingham at the University of Washington, Turner Gill at the University of Buffalo, Randy Shannon at the University of Miami and Ron Prince at Kansas State. 

“I’m sad for Karl,” said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Assocation in a Tuesday Los Angeles Times article. “It’s unfortunate he had so many injuries this year. I wish they would have given him another year.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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