(Posted this just after noon, but for some reason it never showed up in the blog …. sorry)
His time at UCLA is almost done now, but Rick Neuheisel, the football coach, got on one more Pac-12 conference call this morning. His Bruins play in the league-title game at Oregon Friday night, but 80 percent of the questions, naturally, had to do with issues around his firing by the school after four seasons.
Neuheisel was fired Monday morning by the Bruins, but will coach against the Ducks. Mike Johnson, the offensive coordinator, is the interim head coach, and Neuheisel wouldn’t entertain the question of what would happen if UCLA pulls a mammoth upset this week and gets to the Rose Bowl.
“Let’s ask that question at the appropriate time,” he said.
The first question asked of Neuheisel was, did he think about not being on a regularly scheduled conference call with reporters in advance of the game?
“Naw, naw,” he said. “We all know what we’re getting into when we get into this profession. I’m excited for the challenge Friday. If it’s going to be the last time at UCLA, I want to make it special.”
Neuheisel didn’t want to go into detail about what went wrong to result in a 21-28 record in his four seasons.
“I’ll have plenty of time to think about that,” he said. “There are a lots of things I’m very proud of, and they don’t always make it to the front pages of the newspaper.
“I think there was a lot of effort, a lot of good work done in the time I was here. It won’t be a bitter memory at all.”
The Bruins, who had already made the title game after Utah’s loss Friday to Colorado, laid a massive egg against USC Saturday night, losing 50-0. Neuheisel said he didn’t ask athletic director Dan Guerrero how much of a factor that played in the firing.
“I just thanked Dan for the opportunity,” said Neuheisel. “I don’t need reasons and all that kind of stuff. Certainly when you’re the UCLA coach, you’d like to play better against USC. When you lose in the fashion you did, that’s a difficult pill to swallow.”
He said he gave no thought to stepping aside before the Oregon game, saying, “That wouldn’t be who I am. I hope I’m not a distraction. I hope I’m some sort of help with the planning.”
I asked him if he wants to continue coaching. He turned 50 early this year.
“This has kind of hit me between the eyes a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been kind of on one track – just to do the best I can with this particular team. That’ll be the case at least through Friday. Then we’ll make any decisions on which course to take.
“I don’t know, I love coaching, I know that.”
Have to admit, I thought Neuheisel would be a good fit for the Bruins. As an alum, nobody knows the territory like he did, he was in the middle of one of the nation’s best recruiting pools and he had the personality to rally a typically sleepy fan base. But the continual quarterback injuries and the issues that surrounded the pistol offense – and the swirl of coaches to install it – were major factors in UCLA’s lack of success.