Analysis: Five things new coach DeShaun Foster must do to win at UCLA

Former UCLA great DeShaun Foster is introduced as the schools new NCAA college football head coach at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The handshakes, back slaps and congratulatory text messages are over.

It’s time for DeShaun Foster to get to work.

The passion the former UCLA star running back unveiled in his introduction as the Bruins coach is admirable but goes only so far. While it might put butts in seats at the Rose Bowl in 2024, it won’t keep them there unless the Bruins start winning in a big way.

Foster needs to show he has the smarts to hire a great staff and run a top program, even if it’s as a CEO who lets his coordinators do the bulk of the scheming.

His ability to hire the right offensive coordinator — his No. 1 priority — will be the first significant sign as to how this era will go.

Here are five things Foster must do to be a success:

Hire the right assistants

More than anything else, Foster must assemble the best staff because it will dictate everything else — recruiting, schemes and player development.

Tears about how much you love being a Bruin won’t help if you don’t have the talent and can’t make your players better than their Big Ten counterparts.

Foster has said he wants his offensive coordinator to share his football DNA, but it’s still unclear what that is beyond Foster’s ability to run over, around and through players when he was a Bruin.

Read more: Letters to Sports: It's a long haul for DeShaun Foster and UCLA

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said at Foster’s introductory news conference that he wanted a veteran assistant to mentor him, but it remains unknown whether he meant as the offensive coordinator or one of the other open roles.

Foster must hire someone to coach the tight ends, running backs and inside linebackers in addition to his offensive coordinator, but he has only three hires to make based on the current size of the Bruins’ staff. That means the new offensive coordinator could add, say, tight ends coach to his title.

Foster shouldn’t confine his search to the usual suspects of UCLA alumni, familiar names or candidates on the West Coast. Go out and get the best coaches available. Look at someone like Southern Methodist offensive coordinator Casey Woods, who has not only built prolific offenses but helped bring in a top-10 recruiting class when he was tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri.

Southern Methodist offensive coordinator Casey Woods talks with referee Keegan Ashbee along the sideline.
Southern Methodist offensive coordinator Casey Woods, talking with referee Keegan Ashbee, is the type of assistant new UCLA coach DeShaun Foster should be considering to run the Bruins' offense. (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Recruit like crazy

Please, no more silly gimmicks such as golden tickets and eight-clap eighths.

Foster said he wanted to be selective in his offers, but he can’t go overboard like his predecessor, given Chip Kelly’s abysmal hit rate on the handful of prospects targeted. Yes, the offer of a UCLA scholarship should mean something; you just shouldn’t have to win a Nobel Prize to earn one.

The Bruins should also use the transfer portal as it was intended — to fill a few holes and solidify an already strong base of high school recruits, not to remake the roster each offseason.

A new relentless approach toward high school recruiting must be fostered in which Foster and his assistants constantly check in with prospects and make those players feel not only loved but also as if their jobs depend on them coming to UCLA ... because they do.

Don’t do nil on NIL

Foster is already winning on this front given his participation in a video for the school’s official name, image and likeness collective, Men of Westwood, the day of his introductory news conference.

The coach also met with donors who could plunk a few gold bars into the NIL war chest and unleashed a “MOW!!!” tweet around midnight earlier this week. Remember his predecessor doing any of that?

Read more: Men of Westwood seeks to keep UCLA at the forefront of the NIL arms race

A significant amount of money has been raised and much more could be on the way to help the Bruins compete in what has become the most important component of the college football arms race.

One social media account for Men of Westwood sent out a jaunty "BOOM" message playing off the same word being used for whenever the Bruins receive a verbal commitment from a recruit. Replacing the "O"s were smiling emojis with dollar signs for eyes and a tongue.

Bring back the fun

Let’s face it, Kelly never cared about optics or having a good time when reporters asked him about these kinds of things.

Spring game? Blank stare.

Bruin walk? Blank stare.

Open practices at training camp? Blank stare.

Foster is taking a hard look at all of these things and more, saying he might even move fall training camp off campus. No longer constrained by Pac-12 rules, the Bruins are shifting part of the student section directly behind opposing teams at the Rose Bowl and here’s betting there will be more fun developments in the months to come in an effort to get every possible man, woman and child back to the old stadium.

Read more: UCLA is putting students directly behind opposing teams at the Rose Bowl

Here’s one suggestion: Allow legendary towel-waver Ed Kezirian, the only UCLA football coach to go undefeated (albeit in one game), to flap terry cloth to his heart's content on the sideline at every game at the Rose Bowl.

Get scholarship kickers

The school that produced John Lee, Norm Johnson and Justin Medlock has been mostly kicking itself lately when it comes to special teams.

The Bruins made only eight of 17 field-goal attempts last season, their ineptitude largely a function of Kelly’s refusal to prioritize top high school kickers. Kelly lucked into having the excellent J.J. Molson his first two seasons and awarded walk-on Nicholas Barr-Mira a scholarship before his transfer to Mississippi State, but the coach never landed a scholarship kicker out of high school.

Fortunately, there’s a former Bruins kicker nearby who can help. Ever heard of Chris Sailer? He runs one of the nation’s top kicking camps and is based in Southern California. Think he might be able to float you a couple of names?

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.