UCLA Did Not Hire Quick, It Hired Mick, But Don't Be Quick to Judge

Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin was not UCLA's first choice but, as USC football remembers, it might work out

The coaching search was an embarrassment and unbecoming of a national program with a proud tradition and multiple national championships.

The athletic director seemed, at times, to be offering potential candidates based on the latest popularity poll.

Agents fell over each other trying to get the commission that came with making their Coach X seem interested in moving to Southern California to pay state income taxes while home shopping the highest real estate property this side of Monaco.

It was shooting fish in a barrel. “Available” coach would act very serious about the offer then go back to his school and get a “lifetime” deal or a re-worked contract that included a private plane.

So, yes, in 2000, this is exactly how Pete Carroll became the greatest football coach at USC since John McKay.

It was a hire made after a series of missteps, side trips and spit-takes.

USC AD Mike Garrett and deputy Daryl Gross fell into Pete Carroll after swinging and missing on Dennis Erickson (Oregon State), Mike Bellotti (Oregon) and Mike Riley (San Diego Chargers).

The Los Angeles Daily News was so excited to introduce Riley as USC’s next coach it ran a front-page banner saying it was a done deal.

Good thing, for us at the LA Times, the story wasn’t true.

All the while, my friend from the Boston Globe was chirping in my ear that out-of-work Pete Carroll was interested.

Pete was a two-time NFL reject who had never coached in college but played at a school (Pacific) that dropped football.

“Pete Carroll?” I would say. “Why would USC want Pete Carroll?”

Gross, now the AD at Cal State Long Beach, has always maintained Carroll was on their radar but plays for Bellotti and Erickson made since given they were current coaches with top-ranked programs. Riley was a former USC assistant coach.

This cautionary tale is being told to all whiny UCLA fans complaining about Tuesday’s basketball hiring of Mick Cronin.

Mick Cronin?

UCLA botched this search, no doubt. It fired Steve Alford months ago to get a jump on a grade-A hire. The Bruins search squad, led by AD Dan Guerrero, then made big plays for John Calipari (Kentucky), Jamie Dixon (TCU) and Rick Barnes (Tennessee).

Both guys enriched their lives by considering UCLA and then staying put.

UCLA definitely settled for Cronin and became a punch line on multiple real (and fake) Twitter accounts.

But that doesn’t mean Cronin was a bad hire. Cronin, in fact, has been a very good coach at the University of Cincinnati and might just be the guy that returns UCLA to national glory.

Cronin's biggest problems in L.A. won't be basketball. It will be congestion and home prices. Before anything, Cronin should watch Saturday Night Live episodes of "The Californians" to get a feel for the sprawling metropolis.

He'll need to become familiar with the term "Sigalert," defined by CHP as "any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more."

Cronin needs to learn fast that time, not miles, matter most in L.A. Meaning: the 13 miles between the campuses of USC and UCLA is not the same as any 13 miles separating cities in Ohio.

Cronin needs to settle in for the best street tacos and police pursuits in America. He needs to watch "Bosch" on Amazon to see Los Angeles set in its very best light and know that's not how it really looks. Cronin needs to understand that orange cones, blocked alleys and "caution tape" can mean murder on one corner and "film shoot" on another.

Finding good basketball players will be the easy part. We've got plenty of those.

As USC learned, it doesn’t take much to restore the luster on a program steeped in history, closeted boosters and victory addictions.

In fact, it takes less in hoops because you need only two turn-around players to make it back to the Final Four.

Pete Carroll needed more players and more time. He went 6-6 his first year but won the Orange Bowl in his second.

Mick Cronin, even as silly as UCLA has looked the past few months, could be the right guy at the right time.

My guess is this hire will look better next week than it does today, and better in a year than it looks next week.

Cronin isn’t cut from People Magazine’s “Sexiest Hire Alive,” but he’s also certainly no slouch. He went 89-18 in his last three seasons in Cincinnati, which is certainly not WKRP.

Mick Cronin doesn’t have to apologize for being the UCLA’s fourth choice—he just has to win.

Truth is, he’s stepping into UCLA at a time when Pac 12 basketball is as up for grabs as Pac 10 football was in 2000.

Rip Mick at your own peril.

I’ll never forget Pete Carroll nervously pacing and fidgeting during his introductory press conference.

He looked over his head.

I walked out of the presser with LAT teammate TJ Simers, our lovable Page 2 columnist at that time, who walked up to Mike Garrett and said “See you in three years.”

Meaning, we’d all be back for another press conference.

Instead, in year three, 2003, USC won the AP national championship.

In other words, hair-trigger Cronin haters, hold your powder.

Remember that every thing you Tweet is time-stamped and can held against you in the court of public opinion.

I could show you dozens of Tweets before Monday’s NCAA title game predicting a “tractor pull” snoozer game between Texas Tech and Virginia.

How did those tweets age?