December 23, 1998
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Bob Toledo was out of work at age 47, unceremoniously dumped by Texas A&M as offensive coordinator. Five years later, he's loved in Los Angeles and considered one of the brightest minds in college football.
"Timing is everything in life," UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis said.
It was Dalis who hired Toledo to succeed Terry Donahue as coach of the Bruins on Jan. 4, 1996, after such high-profile candidates as Colorado's Rick Neuheisel and Northwestern's Gary Barnett remained in those jobs.
Toledo has made the most of his good timing, guiding the sixth-ranked Bruins to a school-record 20 straight wins over two seasons before a 49-45 road loss to Miami on Dec. 5 cost them a shot at the national championship.
Until three years ago, it appeared Toledo would be a career assistant coach. Then, starting with Donahue's sudden retirement, everything changed.
Toledo admits he didn't expect this kind of success at UCLA, especially after the Bruins went 5-6 in his first season and lost their first two games the next season.
"A lot of nice things have happened," he said quietly.
The loss to Miami wasn't one of them. Toledo said he got over it after a few days, although he'll never forget it.
"It's gone, you have to put it behind you, focus on the next game," he said. "We could have been competing for a national championship, that's been my goal.
"It's like fishing: you catch one, you reel it in, you lose it, go to the next fish."
The next fish, in this case, is the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day against No. 9 Wisconsin.
Toledo's sudden dismissal by Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum after the 1993 season turned out to be a blessing, even if it didn't feel like it to Toledo at the time.
The Aggies set a school record by scoring 404 points in Toledo's final year there. They were 49-12-1 and played in five straight bowl games with Toledo running their offense. Apparently that wasn't good enough, although Slocum has since admitted he made a mistake.
Shortly after being fired, Toledo was considering taking the offensive coordinator's job at Missouri when Donahue called offering the same job at UCLA. Toledo quickly accepted.
Two years later, he was introduced as UCLA's head coach - his first head coaching job since guiding Pacific to a 14-30 record from 1979-82.
So, after 13 straight years as an assistant, Toledo was back in charge.
"I came away from Pacific with the philosophy, 'Don't take a head job unless you have a chance to win,"' he said. "I was very comfortable being a coordinator."
UCLA's success has brought Toledo a lot of attention - and even some tempting offers to leave, including a recent one from Oklahoma for a lot more money. He turned it down.
Toledo also said he has been contacted by several NFL teams he wouldn't identify, but he prefers to stay put.
Toledo signed a two-year contract extension earlier this year, putting him under contract through the 2003 season at an annual salary of $453,000, less than most Pac-10 head coaches earn. Dalis said a raise is on its way.
"We're working on something," he said. "We need approval from our chancellor. It's not going to be done overnight.
"Bob's happy, he's on board, he's not going anywhere."
Senior center Shawn Stuart said he believes Toledo cares more about "the all-around person" than just the player.
"We'll do anything for him," Stuart said. "He at least listens to what we say. We feel like he respects our opinion. We work for him because we have a lot of respect for him. There's a mutual respect, it's hard to find that."