Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference was like no other I’ve been a part of in however many years they’ve had the thing (I think it’s 15-20). You’re no doubt aware by now that Stanford football coach David Shaw let loose a barrage of criticism at Washington coach Steve Sarkisian for charging that Stanford faked injuries in the 31-28 victory over Washington Saturday night.
In some conferences, the moderator asks the coach to make a quick statement before taking questions, which usually takes the form of something like the SEC coach saying, “We’re working hard, but mortally afraid of the challenges posed by the Stetson offense this week.” Well, the Pac-12 moderator doesn’t do that, just going straight to questions (which is a good thing). Except Tuesday, Shaw asked to begin with his own statement, and followed with his fusillade at Sarkisian.
I’m trying to recall the last real public bloodletting in the league. Of course, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh had a famous rivalry, punctuated by the memorable “What’s your deal?” query Carroll made of Harbaugh in reaction to Stanford’s two-point conversion attempt late in a 55-21 disposal of the Trojans in 2009.
But the whole thing never went to the level of serious give-and-take. It was just sort of understood that these were two hyper-competitive personalities who clashed. To this day, I don’t know that anybody has ever gotten to the depths of that relationship.
So I’m inclined to recall the three-way catfight between Oregon, Washington and UCLA in 2002, which was TMZ stuff at its best.
This was when the Rick Neuheisel era at Washington began coming to an unseemly end, with one unflattering incident upon another. At his annual letter-of-intent, signing-day press conference, Neuheisel seemed agitated and not at peace with things. This is usually a day when coaches are able to relax a bit and exhale after the rigors of several weeks’ hard recruiting.
That day, Neuheisel said the Huskies had been the victims of negative recruiting, charging that a couple of UW recruits who visited Oregon were subjected to a video-board, comedy-clip-style showing at Autzen Stadium of Neuheisel on one image and then a quick sequence of a woman vomiting. And he said UCLA had “pounded and pounded” Scottsdale, Ariz. offensive line prospect Clayton Walker, who eventually signed with Washington.
Walker admitted that he lost a part-time job because he didn’t show up for work to stay home and hear the Bruins’ pitch. (UCLA contended he had forgotten an appointment with a Bruins assistant, and his mom advised him just to stay home and keep the engagement.) Of the charges of negative recruiting that were flying, Walker said, “Every coach that’s recruited me has thrown little jabs here and there. But a few of the things that were said were pretty big-time.”
Neuheisel, in that signing-day session, alleged that UCLA coach Bob Toledo was telling Walker that Neuheisel stood to be the next coach at UCLA — thus posing the scenario that the coaching situation at Washington was unstable. There were other charges lodged by both sides, things like one school telling common recruits that the other school was going to change him from his preferred position.
So the issue simmered for a few days. Then I called Toledo at home, and he let fly at Neuheisel, saying, “If you live in a glass house, you shouldn’t throw rocks, you know what I mean? We never had a problem in the conference until he started talking about negative recruiting. Now I’m going to start talking.”
And he did. Among other things, he said the UCLA-Washington-Neuheisel job scenario story that Neuheisel was spinning was: “Basically, what Neuheisel was telling (recruits) was that I was going to get fired.”
Bottom line: The league called Oregon, Washington and UCLA in and reprimanded the three programs (think three neighborhood 10-year-olds who got into a scrap, having to answer to stern-faced parents).
Anyway, these weekly Pac-12 teleconference calls have been pretty routine over the years. Until Tuesday.