February 29, 2024

The football drama at UCLA took a wild turn Monday when a desperate Martin Jarmond threw a Hail Mary pass through a torrential downpour.

He just hired a head coach who is not a head coach.

He just entrusted the Bruins to a guy who has never called a play, never run a practice, never commanded the sidelines, never dominated a meeting room and never bossed more than a handful of players at one time.

Welcome home, DeShaun Foster.

Now what exactly are you doing here?

The former Bruins running back and running backs coach was hastily hired just three days after Chip Kelly’s sudden departure, the embattled Jarmond rushing to judgment by making a giant hire for one small reason.

Foster is the players’ buddy.

That’s it. That’s the rationale. That’s all of it.

The current players wanted him, and so maybe now they won’t all transfer, and that was Foster’s main selling point.

Could be a path to success. Could also be a recipe for failure.

Some of this is about money — isn’t every UCLA athletic decision about money? — because Foster’s return will allow the Bruins to keep their coaching staff largely intact and not require serious buyout bucks.

But most of it seems to be about expediency, Foster in the right spot at the right time to make the easy move.

“We are looking for a coach with integrity, energy and passion; someone who is a great teacher, who develops young men, is a great recruiter and fully embraces the NIL landscape to help our student-athletes,” Jarmond, the athletic director, said in a news release announcing the hire. “DeShaun checks all of those boxes and then some.”

He certainly checked the boxes as a running backs coach for the Las Vegas Raiders, where he had recently taken a job in that position.

But can he be a head coach? Nobody has any idea.

Can he succeed as a CEO of a major corporation merging into a difficult new environment known as the Big Ten? Again, no clue.

Then-UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster stands on the sideline during a game against Washington in October 2018.

Then-UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster stands on the sideline during a game against Washington in October 2018.

(Jordon Kelly / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It would be nice to wax about his offensive genius, maybe cite the rushing game’s success in Foster’s seven years as the running backs coach three consecutive top-20 finishes nationally, Bruins running backs selected in four straight NFL drafts.

But this being a team run by offensive guru Kelly, it’s hard to imagine anyone else having even a remote influence on that side of the ball.

Defensively, one can wonder whether Foster ever even watched the defense and, oh yeah, that unit has lost its bright young coordinator D’Anton Lynn to USC.

Jarmond talks a lot about striving to maintain the continuity of a program that is coming off a beating of USC and a bowl win against Boise State, but the coach who called the plays is now at Ohio State, the defensive whiz is across town and the guy in charge of it all is a rookie.

Gulp. An autumn stretch of Louisiana State, Oregon and Penn State awaits.

Granted, this could be great. Seriously. There is history here. UCLA once successfully put its football program into the hands of a guy who had only been a defensive and offensive line coach, someone whose only claim to fame was that he was a former Bruins player.

Perhaps you remember Terry Donahue?

Then again, this could be disastrous. Seriously. There is also history here. They more recently hired another guy with no head coaching experience and he was never comfortable on the sidelines and wound up having only two winning seasons in five years.

Perhaps you remember Karl Dorrell?

“I am excited to partner with [Foster] as we usher UCLA Football into an exciting new era,” Jarmond said.

It would indeed be nice if Foster could forge the beginning of an exciting Bruins era, especially considering he was involved in the destruction of a past exciting Bruins era.

In his senior season in 2001, he was suspended for the final three games of his UCLA career for violating NCAA rules by driving an SUV owned by actor-director Eric Laneuville.

The Bruins were 6-2 and Foster was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate at the time of the suspension. The rules were silly and have been rendered obsolete, but they were still the rules, and the team was devastated by his absence. They lost two of their last three games and Bob Toledo was fired a year later.

“Something that changed not only the course of our season, but also maybe my career,” Toledo told me once.

Foster was later selected in the second round of the NFL draft, and wound up appearing in the Super Bowl after the 2003 season with the Carolina Panthers.

During that Super Bowl week, I asked Foster about his time at UCLA. He refused to answer.

He’ll have plenty of opportunity to brag on the Bruins beginning this week, when he’ll be charged with the sort of offseason duties that Kelly despised. He’ll have to recruit, he’ll have to solicit NIL money, he’ll have to do all the relationship things that are vital to the Bruins climbing out of their deepening hole.

Jarmond is betting Foster can sell. Jarmond bypassed several experienced coordinators with the belief Foster can sell. Jarmond is perhaps risking his UCLA career on the faith that Foster can sell.

Jarmond was suckered by Kelly, and he can’t afford to be suckered again, so, for his sake, this better work.

When Foster was introduced to the players Monday morning they swarmed him with hugs and high-fives and it was a nice moment.

Jarmond is perilously gambling that his rookie leader can produce a season worth of them.

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