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Monday, December 9
Updated: December 10, 9:57 PM ET
 
Bruins kickstart search by chatting up Riley

ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA has been a .500 team since a school-record 20-game winning streak ended four years ago. The Bruins have also lost four straight to crosstown rival Southern California -- the last two by a combined 58 points.

Monday, Dec. 9
Bob Toledo is a tremendous offensive mind, he is innovative and creative, but being a head coach and an offensive coordinator are two different things. There is no doubt Toledo is a good coach, but he may not be well-suited for the head job.

There are some parallels between Bob Toledo's situation at UCLA and that of John Cooper at Ohio State, in that Toledo put together a solid record and several bowl trips but couldn't beat his main rival. There are always myriad reasons for firing a coach, but Toledo's struggles against the Trojans may have doomed him in the same way Cooper's inability to beat Michigan led to his ouster. A coach just can't lose four straight to his cross-town rival.

The Bruins may be wise to look at the other side of the city while searching for a new coach, though. Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow is a fantastic coach and deserves a shot, so UCLA may want to throw some dollars his way.

Those are two main reasons first-year athletics director Dan Guerrero decided to fire Bob Toledo, UCLA's head coach of seven years.

"I felt a change in leadership was necessary," Guerrero told a news conference Monday. "We need to raise the bar, we need to start winning Pac-10 championships again. We want to have a national-caliber program here. We certainly think we should be one of the top programs in the country."

The Bruins (7-5) certainly didn't resemble that in their last two games, losing to the No. 5 Trojans 52-21 and No. 7 Washington State 48-27. The losses infuriated hardcore boosters, who left the Rose Bowl long before either game had ended.

"We played two fantastic teams, we were prepared and played hard," Guerrero said. "I think what it showed was the gap that exists. We want to close that gap."

Guerrero said a national search for a successor would begin immediately. Late Monday, UCLA representative Bob Field flew to New Orleans to speak with Saints secondary coach Mike Riley, the Los Angeles Times reported. Riley, a former assistant at Southern California, was a candidate for the Trojans' top job two years ago.

On Monday, Guerrero said he has yet to contact anyone, although several potential candidates expressed interest.

Saints sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Riley has not yet received any calls from the University of Alabama, his alma mater.

"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 the 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."

Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who played quarterback at UCLA and spent seven seasons as an assistant with the Bruins, insisted Monday he's got no designs on becoming his alma mater's next head coach.

"I know there's going to be speculation as to who is going to be the next coach at UCLA," Neuheisel said. "Time will only tell. I've not been contacted by UCLA. I don't expect to be contacted by UCLA."

Before this season, Neuheisel signed a six-year contract extension and received a $1.5 million "loan" from Washington administrators that he would be required to repay if he's not coach of the Huskies on Jan. 1, 2008.

Toledo, 56, 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 coach.

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. The school said offensive coordinator Kelly Skipper and defensive coordinator Phil Snow will be responsible for developing game plans for the Las Vegals Bowl.

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

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 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.

UCLA has a 24-24 record since winning 20 in a row in 1997-98. The streak ended with a 49-45 loss at Miami, preventing the Bruins from playing in the national championship game four years ago.

The Bruins won their first six games last year to rise to fourth in the rankings before losing four in a row.

Toledo-coached teams went 49-32, giving him the third-most wins in school history. He succeeded current San Francisco 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, who retired in 1995 after coaching the Bruins for 20 seasons and winning 151 games.

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

"I made the decision yesterday, but it was a cumulative process that got me there," Guerrero said. "It's not any one thing that coach Toledo did.

"The tough thing," he added, "was Bob Toledo, he's a good man."

UCLA, with only 14 seniors, was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in a preseason media poll.

"Should we be ranked preseason No. 6? Those are the kinds of things you need to look at," Guerrero said.

The Bruins tied for fourth in the conference with a 4-4 record despite losing fifth-year senior quarterback Cory Paus to a broken right ankle in October.

"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."

The Bruins had won three straight and took a 7-3 record into their last two games, before they were outscored 100-48 combined by USC and Washington State.

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.

"I believe in Dan Guerrero, but I believe in Bob Toledo, too. He a classy guy," senior defensive end Rusty Williams said. "I'm extremely disappointed."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.







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Time For Change
UCLA AD Dan Guerrero explains why Bob Toledo was fired as head football coach.
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