'I want to have fun while playing football.' UCLA's DeShaun Foster details plans


On a recent morning inside DeShaun Foster’s sprawling third-floor office, automatic shades are lowered to block out the harsh sunlight — not to mention an arresting view of the practice field below.

The new UCLA football coach enters the room, greets a visitor and snags two bottles of water from a refrigerator before settling onto a taupe sectional couch.

A quick glance around the room reveals his allegiance.

Resting behind one side of the couch is a small bear statue. On top of a nearby cabinet lies a laminated photocopy of a license plate with the phrase “KILL SC.” On a wall behind Foster’s massive desk on the far side of the room are the retired numbers of Bruins legends.

Already a beloved figure who starred at running back for UCLA’s last Rose Bowl team a quarter of a century ago, Foster would rise to mythical status if he can restore his alma mater to glory after making the jump from running backs coach to head boss.

During an extensive interview with The Times, Foster discussed the philosophy of his new coaching staff as well as the challenges facing a team preparing to open spring practice April 2:

You’ve been on the job for a little more than a month now. What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned becoming head coach at your alma mater?

It’s just the complete opposite of, you’re a position coach, you know? It’s just a lot more stuff that you’re involved in — nutrition — I was already involved in academics but just housing stuff or different things. You’re more of a CEO, so it’s just managing all of the different components. … Nothing I didn’t expect, but it is a lot.

How many hour days are you working?

This job doesn’t stop because even when you’re home, there’s recruits texting or they call and it’s not like you can put them on hold, so you talk to them when they call.

Who has helped you so far in this transition and what have they done or said that’s been meaningful?

I mean, if you coached me, I’ve spoken to you — and it’s not me reaching out, everybody has reached out to me, just former head coaches — I’ve talked to a million people. But it’s just, continue to be yourself, that’s the No. 1 thing, and stick to your gut feeling and trust the others around you, don’t put it all on you. You know, you have a staff of leaders, so trust the guys that you put in place to get the job done.

Who is in your circle of trust here in this building?

A lot of people were kept over [from the previous staff], so it wasn’t that big of a transition for me. Then I was only gone for two days [as the Las Vegas Raiders running backs coach], so everybody’s been — just top to bottom from players, coaches, academic support staff — positive and just getting a lot of support.

What did you learn coaching under Chip Kelly — whether it was something you liked or thought could be done better — that you intend to implement now that you are in charge?

I just like his whole sports science component, like Coach Kelly was big on that. A lot of stuff that he implemented we’re going to keep just because it keeps your body fresh. Like when people think of a player’s coach, that’s what I think a player’s coach is because he’s taking care of your body, he’s not just your friend, so I love that component just to make sure that they’re healthy and ready on game day.

So like the nutrition, heart monitors, GoPros that players wear?

All of that — the GoPros, the Catapults, how much running they’re doing, has this guy not sprinted in a couple of days? So it’s a whole thing.

Quarterback Ethan Garbers said on the day you were introduced that playing for this team felt like a job under your predecessor. Did you sense the weight of that business-like approach on the players, and how would you describe the vibe you are trying to create around the team?

It’s more of just, I want to have fun while playing football. You know, there’s already a lot of trials and tribulations with football that you go through as a player, as a team, in games, in a season, so I just want to make it the most enjoyable part about it. You know, you shouldn’t stress about coming here; they have enough with school and just being a student-athlete, so stuff’s easier for me because I actually sat in those seats, you know what I mean? So I know what it meant to go to this school and try to play football at a high level, so I lean on that a lot just to help them out in certain situations because I know what they’re going through, so I just try to make the football part fun, that’s it. But there’s going to be discipline, like my core principles, the first thing is discipline, so it’s not too much fun, what we were already doing.

Have you had to instill any discipline yet?

I mean, most definitely [laughs]. Just team discipline things, like we split our team into four teams for offseason conditioning and if one of those players messed up with accountability stuff like class or wearing the right attire during workouts or working hard, that’s on that team and that whole team had discipline.

You’ve spent some time with the people who run the Men of Westwood name, image and likeness collective, participated in a video touting the importance of NIL endeavors and handed out T-shirts to students featuring the collective’s name. Where do things stand with the team’s NIL resources and what remains to be done to get it to where you want it to be?

It’s trending in the right direction, so I have a lot of support from the alumni and the donors, so I’m excited for it.

Dollar-wise, how close are you to where you want to be?

We’re not there yet. We’re trending in the right direction just from what it was. I’m not being unrealistic about it or anything, like we have a long way to go but it’s going, it’s not dormant. That’s the positive part and then speaking to a lot of donors, I’m getting good feedback.

How much of your job is NIL?

That’s what it is now … like three years ago, that wasn’t involved in it, but if that’s what college football is now, you’re a part of it so you have to embrace it. There’s no other way around it, so you’ve got to get involved and go.

You have said that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will run a West Coast offense while you also intend to run the ball. How would you explain to the casual fan what you want this offense to look like?

We’re going to let them see that because I know people are going to for sure read [this] article and try to get a bead on what our offense is going to do, but it’s going to be explosive, we’re going to make plays, we’ve got a lot of guys that we can utilize, so I’m just excited to see — but you’ll be able to see it during the spring. It will be pretty balanced [in terms of pass versus run].

You have assembled one of the most racially diverse coaching staffs in college football. Was there any intent in that or was it just a byproduct of getting the best coaches you could?

It was hiring the best coaches — I didn’t hire anybody on defense, so they were already on staff with us. So it was just the best personnel I thought for the job; it had nothing to do with [race].

How happy are you with the staff considering you had a quick turnaround in getting it together?

I’m really excited. Just from the week that we had with the players, so it’s more of, how do my players feel and I love the reviews and how they were telling me they’re learning and how everything is going, so I was pretty excited with that.

The staff is heavy on NFL experience; was that a priority and how do you think it will help this team?

I just thought that if we’re trying to get them to the NFL, NFL coaches could be one way to help that. You know, you want to be taught in that language and especially with a quarterback, you want to be able to speak that language before you get up there, and I think that’s going to help Ethan and all of the guys that are here right now. That was a point of mine, to get NFL coaches.

Do coaches who came from the NFL need to simplify their schemes and the way they teach for players at the college level?

No, because they don’t simplify it the next year you leave [for the NFL].

So it’s almost like you’re taking an advanced course?

Exactly — and you’re getting ahead, you know what I mean? You remember that clip of Chris Simms and Jon Gruden? Chris couldn’t spit the play out, so Jon’s telling him the play, he goes in the huddle and messes it up, Chris goes back to Jon, he says it one more time, he goes into the huddle and messes it up. Then he gives it to him one more time and then he finally gets it. Now, if he had that in college, he would have got it the first time [snaps his fingers] and then done it. Ethan’s getting that done now. If the NFL was doing that [for rookies], I’d get that, but I played and they didn’t slow anything down for me. So if you picked this up, let’s go.

And these guys can handle that?

Most definitely. Just from what I saw last week, yes.

You said your hires would reflect your football DNA. So now that your staff is complete, what would you say is the essence of that DNA?

Just a lot of people that have played football so you can relate to these kids in the athlete aspect. They can trust that what you’re saying is true because you’ve done it, so this era of kid, they have to trust you and that’s a huge component in coaching now, so I wanted to make sure that a lot of these guys have done what they’re coaching.

How involved will you be with the team’s offensive and defensive schemes?

The defensive scheme, I’ll be involved but [defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe] is making decisions. The offensive scheme, the same thing — I’ll know what’s going on. I’m studying the playbook just like the kids are right now, so it’s the same thing.

And you’ll give feedback to Bieniemy?

Most definitely.

You changed the team’s recruiting infrastructure, bidding farewell to Ethan Young and Darren Uscher while bringing in Butler Benton as general manager of recruiting and personnel, Chris Carter as assistant general manager of recruiting and personnel and Stacey Ford as director of player personnel. What was the thought process behind those moves and why was it important to go in another direction?

Just guys that I wanted to work with, basically. It’s nothing against anybody that was here previously, but just went in another direction.

Under the previous coaching regime, recruiting experts often said UCLA was not aggressive enough in its approach to landing top players. Do you agree with that and if so how have you gone about addressing it?

I’m more worried about what we’re doing now, so it’s just … build a relationship because it’s getting away from being relationship-based, to be honest with you, because there’s NIL involved now, but just get involved with the kids. We’re still not going to have 300 offers out there, we’re never going to be that, you know what I mean? It’s more going to be the percentage of — like at running back, if we have one spot, then three guys should be offered, so just more of a hit-rate percentage than just offering 10 guys and seeing what happens. So I still want the offer to be special.

So how do you go about maximizing that hit rate, what’s the key?

It is relationships, so you have to get in there — not necessarily early, but let’s develop something, you know what I mean? Because I’ve offered a couple of [high school] sophomores, but I don’t want to get in the business of just offering just to offer, so I felt pretty comfortable with the younger guys that we’ve offered at that time. But it’s just more of, you have to do your homework, make sure that this is a guy that you think potentially wants to be a Bruin and if he commits on the spot, are you going to take it? So if you say yes, then they get an offer.

What is your recruiting pitch when you go into a prospect’s home to meet with him and his family?

It just depends on the position. I’m not a car salesman, so we don’t have just one pitch and that’s how we’re going about it with everybody, you know? I didn’t value myself as a recruiter when I was a running back coach, like that was the last thing that I wanted people to say about me, that I was a recruiter. I was more about the development of getting my guys ready to go to the NFL because at the end of the day, you’ve got to coach football. You’ve got to get guys in here, but if you’re going to be a recruiter then you might not be coaching as hard as you need to, so I didn’t really value the “recruiter” title. I’m all about development and I think that’s another thing that this coaching staff is going to reflect that. We’re going to get guys in here and you’re going to see them get developed. That’s why we have so many guys go free agent and still make teams and lower draft picks that still make teams because we’re developing them into good players.

Some of the assistants from the NFL have not been in college in a while, like offensive line coach Juan Castillo. How will that transition be for them in recruiting and will they have the fire needed to do it?

Once you talk to [Castillo], you’ll see. He has the gift of gab, he’s someone who likes to talk. He’s going to be able to sit in a house and [recruit] because I’ve watched him in here with the recruits with our own players, so when you can talk football, kids really value that. The main reason we have the [transfer] portal is because we have a lot of car salesmen — you’re getting sold on something and then when you get there, you don’t like it, so you’re going to leave. So if you stick to selling the football aspect of it and the life after football, what UCLA brings, I think we’ll be OK. I think he’ll do a really good job.

How much more work remains to be done in the transfer portal before the start of next season?

We still need to hit a couple more, maybe add six to nine players.

You’ve lost a lot of high-end talent from the defense, making it the team’s big question mark. How can you avoid a big dropoff on that side of the ball next season?

Hopefully we can address that in the portal, but we’ll see in spring how guys play and how everything pans out.

Where do you stand on holding training camp in San Bernardino and what do you see as the possible benefits and drawbacks?

We will not be going to San Bernardino, but I’m a big go-somewhere-for-camp [guy], just to bring the guys together, you know? When you’re kind of here at the same time, they’ll take their food and go because you’re still in your routine of when school is and, like “I’ve got to get back and study,” or something like that. I like training camp [off campus] because you have to sit there and bond with each other, like it’s a two-week thing of eating lunch, eating breakfast, eating dinner together, and that brings teams together, so I would like to do something in that aspect.

Do you have any ideas where?

Still trying to find a location.

Anything else that’s been meaningful or eye-opening since you’ve taken over?

Just the support, you know? Donor support, ex-players, just all the alumni — everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve met people that are Bruins and want to help in some kind of way, so I’m excited.



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