UCLA's Dan Guerrero knows where he came from and where he wants to go

Dan Guerrero, despite constant pressure and criticism, has had a successful stint as UCLA athletic director. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Neither of his parents ever graduated from high school.

Now his school has won more NCAA titles during his tenure than any other athletic director in Division I history.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, a native son of Los Angeles, excelled from his humble beginnings, going to UCLA on a baseball scholarship, then eventually becoming a sports administrator and one of only four Latino athletic directors (out of 128) of a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school. UCLA also leads with the most NCAA championships overall with 113.

It doesn't stop fans from clamoring for more success, keeping the pressure on.

"Athletic director jobs, at any level, aren't for the faint of heart," said Guerrero, who has served in his post since 2002.

So, here's 10 with Dan Guerrero:

Question: What's your background in sports?

Dan Guerrero: My dream as a young boy was always to either be a running back for the Los Angeles Rams, a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers or the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though I played both football and basketball, as I grew up, my athletic talents swayed me toward baseball and as a scholarship college ballplayer at UCLA, my professional aspirations didn't change.

How did your experience as a college athlete affect you as an athletic director now?

Guerrero: There is more pressure on student-athletes now than ever before, but having played baseball at UCLA, I can relate to the challenges our student-athletes face.

How did your family contribute to your development?

Guerrero: My grandparents were from Mexico, and my parents were from Arizona. Spanish was spoken in my house and at my grandparents' houses growing up. I still understand Spanish quite well.

My father, Gene Guerrero, has been the biggest influence in my life. My father was an outstanding athlete growing up. But family obligations resulted in him never graduating from high school. He wound up joining the military at a young age. Soon after being honorably discharged, he lost sight in one of his eyes in an accident. With many of his lifelong aspirations shattered by that accident, he became a laborer, working in an oil refinery for more than 30 years.

He worked hard all of his life to take care of his wife and children. From him, I learned discipline, work ethic and love for family. To him, I credit, among many other traits, my passion, drive to excel, self-confidence and love for sports.

"At UCLA, we want to win, and win at the highest level...and we do so about as well as any institution in the country. But we don't want to win at all costs." UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero

When did the dream to become an athletic director start, and what motivated the dream?

Guerrero: I took a less traditional path to this position than most, especially at the time that I entered the industry.

I took a major leap of faith, accepting a joint appointment at Dominguez Hills, serving as the associate athletic director (for no pay) and a full-time lecturer in the Department of Public Administration. Two years after working two full-time jobs, if you will, I eventually weaned myself from teaching and moved into athletics full time. I became the athletic director at Dominguez Hills at age 35.

I always looked at the move as a tremendous opportunity to grow professionally in a field that I loved, while also serving as a vehicle to possibly be a trailblazer for Hispanics in the enterprise of college athletics. I can remember going to my first NCAA convention and walking into the room of 1,500 people. I could literally count the number of Hispanics on one hand. That really underscored my inspiration to succeed in this field and help to create a path that others might follow.

Explain what the most difficult day on the job has been in your career and why it was so hard.

Guerrero: Clearly the most difficult days for me as an athletic director have been the days when I have had to make the decision to replace a head coach. I have so much respect for the coaching profession, the work required to be successful, the sacrifices that are made and the passion that goes into trying to build winners on and off the field. But sometimes, for various reasons, it simply doesn't work.

In any environment where winning is prized, criticism is inevitable. Does criticism from fans hurt or help? What examples do you recall of either?

Guerrero: Athletic director jobs, at any level, aren't for the faint of heart, but especially at an institution like UCLA, where the bar is set about as high as any institution in the country.

The criticism can range from constructive, meaningful criticism which we take to heart, to vile, hurtful, even threatening, which of course is deeply concerning for me and my family.

At UCLA, we want to win, and win at the highest level ... and we do so about as well as any institution in the country. But we don't want to win at all costs, by cutting corners or not doing it the right way. I would much rather take the criticism, than to compromise those values for the sake of winning.

As Hispanics move into college athletics in ever greater numbers, do you expect representation in the ranks of administration to grow?

Guerrero: Painfully, the process has been very slow throughout the years. I am, however, somewhat encouraged in that I recognize that the pipeline has increased and more and more Hispanics are not only entering the field, but now rising to the level of senior administrators, even athletic directors. While this is encouraging, there is still a long way to go, and I remain committed to serving as a mentor to many aspiring professionals who want to rise to the level that I have enjoyed.

Rivalries are a key part of college sports, so what's the most potent UCLA rivalry?

Guerrero: The UCLA-USC rivalry is one of the best in the country. It is unique, because there isn't another rivalry in America that has two universities of our significance within 10 miles of each other. The rivalry is underscored by mutual respect, but also the desire to be recognized as the best in the city of Los Angeles.

With "one and done" athletes like Lonzo Ball, and recent statements by UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, the university is at the forefront of many conversations about whether or not college athletes should be compensated. Is that disconcerting?

Guerrero: We're proud of the fact that our student-athletes have been at the forefront of important discussions relevant to college athletics and other societal issues. This is not exactly a new dialogue, and it's one that will remain a topic of conversation as the ever-changing landscape of college athletics continues to evolve.

"Image and substance" has been mentioned as your mantra. How do you apply that to sports and what's the most important lesson sports has taught you?

Guerrero: Image is how you are perceived and substance is what you produce. Running a program with image and substance incorporates integrity, the balance of academic and athletic achievements, and a commitment to those things that are important to us: equity, diversity and inclusion, student-athlete welfare, public service and fiscal responsibility.

The greatest lesson sports has ever taught me can be tied back to Theodore Roosevelt's 1910 speech, commonly referred to as "The Man in the Arena" speech.

In the end, if you try and you give it your all, if you are at your best when your best is required, you will never lose.

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Editor's note: Some answers edited for clarity and length.