April 16, 2024

DeShaun Foster’s first UCLA coaching staff that was announced Wednesday is heavy on NFL experience, giving those assistants immediate cachet with players while also requiring an adjustment to the new realities of college football.

Juan Castillo, who has spent nearly 30 years in the NFL in a variety of roles, was hired to replace Tim Drevno as offensive line coach.

Erik Frazier, who spent two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, will be the wide receivers coach in a move that involves predecessor Jerry Neuheisel taking over responsibilities for the tight ends.

Ted White, whose last stop was with the Houston Texans, will take over as quarterbacks coach while predecessor Billy Fessler moves to a role as an offensive analyst.

The outlier is Marcus Thomas, who is returning to UCLA as the running backs coach after having worked exclusively in the college game. Thomas spent the last two seasons at Navy, first as director of player personnel before a promotion in 2023 to coach the slot backs.

Thomas had been an offensive analyst in 2020 and 2021 with the Bruins, working with future NFL running backs Zach Charbonnet, Demetric Felton Jr. and Brittain Brown.

“We are building a staff of teachers,” Foster said in a statement. “These coaches have picked up a diverse skill set from working on every level of football and they are hungry to share that knowledge with the players of our program. Their passion for the game and coaching reflects what we are actively instilling in our players — approaching everything they do with discipline, respect and enthusiasm — and I am excited to watch them work together.”

Castillo is familiar to new UCLA offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after working under Bieniemy last season as run game coordinator with the NFL’s Washington Commanders. Castillo, who turns 65 in October, also worked for the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. His only college stop since 1994 came as an offensive analyst at Michigan in 2019.

Frazier spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons as an offensive skill assistant with the Titans, helping them win the AFC South in 2021. Before that, he had made college stops at Montana State, Western Illinois, Northwestern, Dayton and Delaware Valley.

As an offensive analyst and quarterbacks coach for the Texans in 2022, White worked with Davis Mills, Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel. White previously coached at Maryland, Prairie View A&M, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Howard, Southern and Texas Southern while mentoring Taulia Tagovailoa and Jalen Morton, among others.

Foster also retained Ikaika Malloe as defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach; Brian Norwood as passing game coordinator and safeties coach; Tony Washington Jr. as defensive line and outside linebackers coach; and Kodi Whitfield as cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator.

Foster’s staff has already set an aggressive tone in recruiting, with numerous scholarship offers extended to prospects in the 2025 and 2026 high school classes. In a nod to his and Bieniemy’s success as NFL running backs, Foster tweeted out a photo of himself with the Carolina Panthers and Bieniemy with the Cincinnati Bengals along with the caption, “Who wouldn’t want to be a running back in this offense?”

UCLA’s recruiting success will largely be tied to how it navigates the new world of name, image and likeness deals coveted by almost every high school prospect and transfer. Foster has made some early efforts in these endeavors by meeting with officials from the Men of Westwood collective and passing out T-shirts bearing the collective’s name before a UCLA basketball game.

His assistants’ ability to match his energy in raising the money needed to secure a talent-rich roster will go a long way toward determining the Bruins’ success as they move into the Big Ten era.

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