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UCLA Bails On Holiday Bowl Just A Few Hours Prior To Kickoff

James Murphy
by in NCAAF on
  • The SDCCU Holiday Bowl was cancelled just a few hours prior to kickoff after UCLA withdrew from their scheduled game against North Carolina State due to COVID related issues.
  • As with several other COVID related withdrawals, UCLA’s situation looks a bit sketchy. North Carolina State isn’t happy at all with the move.
  • The first indication that NC State coach Dave Doeren had that UCLA was dealing with a problematic number of cases was when he was informed that the game had been cancelled.

The 2021 college football bowl season is getting more and more ridiculous. That’s because the justifications for teams withdrawing ‘due to COVID’ are getting more and more sketchy. UCLA, apparently trying to top Boise State’s vague ‘COVID crisis’ from yesterday, decided to withdraw from the Holiday Bowl just hours before kickoff. Making the situation even more absurd–no one in the North Carolina State camp knew that the Bruins had a pernicious level of COVID cases until the cancellation was announced. Obviously, the trip was no big deal for UCLA–just 120 miles down I-5 South. That isn’t the case for NC State–they traveled more than 2,500 from their home base only to have the opponent bail on the game at the last minute.

Here’s the situation–UCLA finished 8-4 in a season that was full of drama. For most of the past month, Chip Kelly looked to have one foot out the door as he was feted by Oregon to return as their head coach after Mario Cristobal took the vacant job at Miami. Oregon eventually hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and Kelly is still the head coach at UCLA. Jerry Azzinaro is still the defensive coordinator–inexplicably so since his defenses have been downright awful. UCLA fans have called for Azzinaro’s dismissal since early in Kelly’s tenure but he’s still on the job. Here’s what the UCLA focused site AllBruins had to say about Azzinaro:

UCLA football is 15-25 under Kelly, with Azzinaro serving as defensive coordinator in all 40 of those contests. It took just a handful of games for the Bruin faithful to turn their backs on Azzinaro, and fans were calling for him to be fired before the end of his second season in town and they haven’t stopped since.

Azzinaro is more than just an easy target for hate in a relative down period for the program, though. He is one of the least accomplished, statistically-poor defensive coordinators in the country, and his attitude has only dug his grave deeper in the eyes of fans and media members everywhere.

The ‘attitude bit’–Azzinaro doesn’t talk to the media:

Azzinaro has not spoken to the media a single time since the start of the 2018 season. The same had gone for all other UCLA assistants and coordinators in the Kelly era until this past spring, when they became available for press conferences and interviews – all of them except Azzinaro, that is.

Other than a good head of hair and an uncanny resemblance to *two* members of the Grateful Dead, Azzinaro brings next to nothing to the table:

This is a charitable comparison, since much of the time Azzinaro looks like a guy that spent last night sleeping off a bender in a dumpster:

Although the dubiously qualified Azzinaro is still the defensive coordinator, UCLA has lost two decent coaches on that side of the ball in the past month. Former University of Utah defensive end Jason Kaufusi left his job as UCLA outside linebackers’ coach to take the same position with the University of Arizona He followed UCLA’s former defensive line coach to Tucson–Johnny Nansen is now the defensive coordinator at Arizona.

So that is the backstory at UCLA and why they wound up in the Holiday Bowl just a couple of hours to the south. Interestingly, it was to be the first football game played at Petco Park which is best known for being the home field of the San Diego Padres. It would have also been the first bowl game of the Chip Kelly era.

The Holiday Bowl was left in the lurch as much as North Carolina State. Before Tuesday, it was known that UCLA had some players that didn’t make the grueling trip to San Diego due to COVID-19 issues. What wasn’t known by anyone at North Carolina State and by some accounts the Holiday Bowl staff was that the game was at risk due to the extent of UCLA’s COVID issues:

Though UCLA did have multiple players not make the trip to San Diego for COVID-19 reasons, Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said nobody at NC State knew UCLA was dealing with more COVID-19 issues once the Bruins arrived in town to begin preparations for the game. The first Doeren heard about it was when his athletic director, Boo Corrigan, told him the game was off — only minutes before the news was reported on social media.

No surprise that NC State head coach Dave Doeren was pissed:

“Felt lied to, to be honest. We felt like UCLA probably knew something was going on, didn’t tell anybody on our side. We had no clue they were up against that. I don’t feel like it was very well handled from their university. It would have been great to have had a heads-up so two or three days ago we could have found a Plan B. Disappointing.”

He was even more pointed in comments to hometown media outlet WRAL:

“I thought it was fake news to be honest. Our team’s done everything right. We had 100 percent of our team vaccinated … we were prepared to play this game. Our opponent wasn’t, apparently.”

Later, Doeren tried to keep some perspective and focus on NC State’s very impressive 9-3 season instead of the missed opportunity to win 10 games for only the second time in program history:

“I don’t want this to diminish what happened here this yea. This was an unfair thing that happened, and like all other unfair things, there’s not going to be a rationale that makes it feel good. We’re going to have to deal with it and get ready for what’s next.”

NC State AD Boo Corrigan’s comments were a bit more measured:

“You get that phone call, and it’s hard not to be angry. It’s not anger at anyone in particular, but you’re angry about the situation, because you know how hard the men in our program have fought to get to this point and what they’ve given up in the process of this.”

That said, the subtext in this comment is crystal clear:

“That’s miserable. That’s an abject failure. It’s shocking, right? We’re less than three hours from getting ready to get on the bus and play a game. It’s not 24 hours or 48 hours.”.”

From the sound of it, many NC State players learned that the game was off on social media. Not a good look.

UCLA’s AD Martin Jarmond deftly placed the blame on the team’s medical staff:

“With today’s COVID results, our medical staff deemed it unsafe for us to compete this evening. While we had isolated COVID challenges, we were still in a position to compete up until today.”

Hold that thought for a moment. The Holiday Bowl staff made a last ditch effort to find a replacement for NC State despite having mere hours before kickoff:

“The entire SDCCU Holiday Bowl family is heartbroken that we were not able to play the bowl game tonight. We do not want to cancel the game officially until we have exhausted every opportunity to find a replacement team, and we are working closely with Boo Corrigan and his great athletics staff at N.C. State.”

Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli got some spin out through house organ ESPN that tried to deflect the blame away from UCLA and onto the protocols:

“UCLA’s statement makes it very clear that their inability to play was due to the protocols in place and not the virus itself. I feel bad for both teams as well as the great people at the Holiday Bowl who worked so hard all year long for today. This continues to be a very sad and frustrating situation.”

Actually, UCLA’s statement didn’t make anything clear. In fact, it was downright terse:

The UCLA football team is unable to participate in tonight’s San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins’ program.

Statement from UCLA Alice and Nahum Lainer Family Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond:

“We are extremely grateful to the Holiday Bowl, students, fans, sponsors and the people of San Diego for their support this week.

“We are deeply disappointed for our young men in the football program that worked extremely hard for this opportunity. My heart goes out to them. The health and safety of our students will always be our North Star.”

At the very least, UCLA displayed a profound lack of class by not being forthcoming about their COVID-19 situation. That is assuming that there *is* a ‘COVID-19 situation’ since the issues in the Bruins’ camp didn’t seem particularly daunting until a few hours before kickoff. There’s speculation that UCLA thought it prudent to bail rather than risk a nationally televised loss to North Carolina State. Then there’s this:

At this point, nothing would surprise me. Knowing the coaches involved, it’s hard not to come down on the side of Dave Doeren and NC State. Doeren has always been a class act and standup guy, while the same can’t be said for Chip Kelly. And we’ve got yet another reason that there needs to be transparency in the testing process and about the COVID protocols, who is on them and what are the implications all the way up until kickoff. The protocols do need some revision as well but they’re not the reason that much of this college football bowl season has been a complete fiasco.

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