"Kids," says UCLA football Coach Terry Donahue, "are resilient. Coaches aren't. At least not this coach."
On a recent afternoon in the midst of two-a-day practices, Donahue sat in his office, feet up on a table, looking for all the world like an all-American coach. At 35, he has taken UCLA to two bowl games in four years. He is lean and ruggedly handsome, ready to take on Southern Cal, Stanford, the world.
"I'm the oldest 35-year-old guy in the world," he said, not laughing.
It has not been a good 12 months for Donahue. Last season his Bruins struggled to a 5-6 record, their worst in his tenure. Then, in the spring, as the Pacific-10 football scandals were made public, UCLA became a part of the story. In 1977, the school had played two players whose transcripts had been doctored. They were ineligible.
And now, because of it, UCLA and four other Pac-10 schools can't go to the Rose Bowl.
"I was prepared for the penalties," Donahue said. "We didn't know the players' transcripts had been doctored but we were still responsible. It was a transgression and it was wrong.
"But I felt very badly that UCLA's academic reputation was hurt by the incident. I felt badly for the players and coaches here who had nothing to do with the incident but are still embarrassed by it."
And, Donahue said, he felt somewhat helpless. He felt as if he had become swept up in a system he believes is defective and must be changed.
"Unless they change the system this kind of thing is going to happen over and over again," he said. "It is just too easy to get athletes into school today. The fact is if you really want to you can get almost any kid in the world a 2.0 grade point average in high school. He may have a 2.0 and not be able to read.
"Then he gets to school and he's a great player. But he can't read. So, how do you keep him in school? By teaching him to read? Ideally, yes; realistically, no.
"We need tougher standards for kids applying to college. Some kids aren't prepared for college and should be sent to a prep school or a junior college for a year, or two if necessary. Some kids simply don't belong in college. It's going to be hard to turn down a kid who can run great with a football but maybe, for the sake of the kid and the school, there are times when that's the best thing.
"A lot of kids who come into shcool who aren't prepared are a part of the minority programs that have been set up. We need those minority programs. But let's do it right. Let's not just say, 'Okay kid we let you in school, you're on your own, go play football and stay eligible.' Let's really help them with remedial programs and try and make being at the damn college mean something besides football."
Donahue, who became a head coach at 31, says he has changed considerably the last four years. "There isn't a coach in the world who doesn't think he's ready to be a head coach," he said. "But as the old saying goes, until you've walked in those shoes you don't know what it's really like. The job consumes you. You have to change. My wife told me that I started to live life to endure.
"The last year that's been true, I've endured. Now I want to go back to living life to enjoy. I don't think the penalties will affect our ability to win football games at all.
"Our kids know they have a tough schedule and if they don't play hard they're going to get knocked around. They're competitors. They aren't rabbits that need the Rose Bowl as some kind of carrot stick being waved in their faces. Fact is, we haven't been penalized at all yet because unless you earn a bowl trip probation doesn't affect you.
"Right now I say we haven't been penalized. If we go 11-0, I'll say we got screwed."
Another major problem facing college athletics is the number of transfer students, Donahue said.
"If a kid does something wrong and gets in trouble at one school or he decides he's not getting everything he wants he just leaves," Donahue said. "I think if we're going to teach these kids anything about responsibility we have to make them lie in whatever bed they make. If they want to transfer fine, let them sit out two years instead of one. Then they'll think twice about jumping around."
But transfers are not Donahue's big concern now. He says he is embarrassed by the last 12 months of his coaching career, embarrassed by last season's record, embarrassed that there was cheating going on in his program that he didn't find out about until it was too late to stop.
"I'm disappointed by what's happened," Donahue said. "But I'm not discouraged. I've learned a lost in the last year. I've been through a lot for a young guy. I swear when things like this happen, you find yourself really confused. I mean, how could this happen to me? I'm the nicest guy I know.
"I may be a little more cynical about some things, a little more sensitive about others.
"But I'm also smarter. I guess I look at all this the way I look at the economy. Things are pretty bad now. But sooner or later, they have to get better. Only in this case I can do something about making them better."