Countdown of the Pac-12’s Worst to Best in Football/Basketball: No. 5 UCLA

UCLA alum Russell Westbrook was the NBA's MVP in 2017.Photo by Alonzo Adams, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Terry Donahue took over as UCLA football coach in 1976, the year after legendary John Wooden retired as the Bruins’ basketball coach.

Donahue didn’t have the kind of impossible success on the football field that Wooden cultivated on the hardwood. But Donahue brought 20 years of stability and he won at a level the program hasn’t seen since, including three victories in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

While UCLA’s basketball program has never escaped the overwhelming shadow Wooden cast, at least it has often competed at the very highest levels.

The football program, meanwhile, has delivered sporadic bursts of excellence but rarely sustained success and never of championship-caliber.

That combination leaves the Bruins at No. 5 in our countdown of the worst-to-best Pac-12 football/basketball programs of the past 20 seasons.

The best: Ben Howland, with his fierce devotion to defense, led the Bruins to three straight Pac-10 titles and three straight Final Four appearances appearances in 2006, ’07 and ’08. UCLA had a combined record of 97-17 those three seasons, but only once reached the national championship game, losing 73-57 to Florida in 2006.

The worst: UCLA is coming off its worst three-season stretch of football in more than half a century. The Bruins’ combined 13-24 record over those years represents the program’s lowest victory total since 1962 through ’64 when it totaled just 10 wins.

Special mention: Steve Alford coached the Bruins for five-plus seasons and none of UCLA’s performances during that span drew more critical attention than an 83-44 loss to Kentucky in December 2014. But the Bruins’ 93-64 loss at Cincinnati last December may have contributed just as much to Alford’s firing two games later. The Bearcats were led by Mick Cronin, who is now coach at UCLA.

So the Bruins are starting over in basketball this season, but they have plenty to show for the past two decades: 17 winning seasons, 15 winning conference records, four Final Fours and four 30-win seasons.

UCLA has had 15 players taken in the first round of the NBA draft — more than any Pac-12 school — led by eight-time all-star Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s 2017 Most Valuable Player.

The Bruins’ 14 NCAA tournament appearances and 27 wins in the event are second only to Arizona (17 bids, 30 victories) over the 20 seasons.

UCLA football, meanwhile, has been generally competent without extremes on either end of the spectrum. The Bruins never finished last in the conference, but join Arizona and Washington State as only schools without a league title. Still, only nine winning seasons . . . at UCLA.

While the Bruins’ 14 bowl bids are tied for the fourth-most among conference schools, their five wins rank just eighth in the league.

And then there is the revolving door at the UCLA football coaching office — nine in 20 years, including four who came in mid-year as interim replacements.

It’s up to Chip Kelly, who had huge success at Oregon before stints in the NFL, to remedy the Bruins’ football woes. Just 3-9 in his debut season, the Bruins are expected to be better in 2019.

Football-Basketball Combined

—Academic years in which both football and men’s basketball had winning records: 6

—Years in which both sports won Pac-12 titles: 0

—Years in which football reached a bowl & basketball played in the NCAA tournament: 9

Can coach Chip Kelly turn around UCLA's sagging football program?Photo by Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today


—Winning seasons/winning conference seasons: 9/8

—10-win seasons: 3 (2005, 2013, 2104)

—Pac-12 titles: 0

—Last-place conference finishes: 0

—Pac-12 Players of the Year: 3 (Robert Thomas 2001, Dave Ball 2003, Brian Price 2009)

—Bowl appearances (record): 14 (5-9)

—BCS/College Football Playoff appearances: 0

—Highest Final AP Top-25 ranking: No. 10 (2014)

—First-round NFL Draft picks: 10 (Cade McNown, Freddie Mitchell, Robert Thomas, Marcedes Lewis, Datone Jones, Anthony Barr, Kenny Clark, Takkarist McKinley, Josh Rosen, Kolton Miller)

—Coaches: 9 — Bob Toledo (2000-2002), Ed Kezerian (2002), Karl Dorrell (2003-07), DeWayne Walker (2007), Rick Neuheisel (2008-11), Mike Johnson (2011), Jim Mora (2012-17), Jedd Fisch (2017), Chip Kelly (2018)

Ben Howland, now at Mississippi State, led UCLA to three straight Final Fours.Photo by Randy Sartin, USA Today


—Winning seasons/winning conference seasons: 17/15

—30-win seasons: 4 (2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2016-17)

—Pac-12 regular-season titles: 4 (2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2012-13)

—Last-place conference finishes: 0

—Pac-12 Players of the Year: 2 (Arron Afflalo 2007, Kevin Love 2008)

—NCAA bids (record): 14 (27-14)

—Final Four appearances: 3 (2006, 2007, 2008)

—Highest Final AP Top-25 ranking: No. 3 (2007-08)

—First-round NBA Draft picks: 15 (Jerome Moiso, Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Zach Lavine, Kevon Looney, T.J. Leaf, Lonzo Ball, Aaron Holiday)

—Coaches: 4 — Steve Lavin (1999-2000 to 2002-03), Ben Howland (2003-04 to 2012-13), Steve Alford (2013-14 to 2018-19), Murry Bartow (2018-19)

The Pac-12 Rankings

1 ......

2 ......

3 ......

4 ......


6 Arizona

7 Washington

8 Arizona State

9 Cal

10 Colorado

11 Oregon State

12 Washington State

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

The links for Cal, Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State, on the Pac-12 Rankings list at the end of the article are off, i.e., the link for Washington State takes you to the Cal page.

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