Is Rick Neuheisel The Right Man For UCLA?
Posted Dec 29, 2007

UCLA hired former Rose Bowl MVP and former Washington and Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel to restore the program to glory. Is all the baggage behind him? Will he be able to battle with USC? According to Pete Fiutak, yes and yes.

UCLA Hires Rick Neuheisel

By Pete Fiutak

At least when he fills out his March Madness bracket, he'll have some solid inside knowledge.

Rick Neuheisel will have to get used to the little barbs and jabs about his past after being canned from Washington in 2002 for his involvement in a NCAA basketball tournament bracket pool with a bunch of friends, just like millions of other people do, which he was later exonerated for in a lawsuit against Washington and the NCAA. He took the program to a Rose Bowl win and was a solid 23-9 in Pac 10 play, and now UCLA will expect him to do the same and much, much more.

The UCLA gig is among the toughest in the nation, but it's also a powder keg that could blow up if Neuheisel can push all the right buttons. The emergence of Pete Carroll as a legendary college football figure would cast too big a shadow for more other coaches, but Neuheisel is a big enough name to not have a Q rating problem. The Bruin fan base is used to winning and winning big thanks to the basketball program, but that could be a plus as Neuheisel will have all the tools he needs to win. It's a pro-caliber town in terms of media attention and expectations, but doesn't have a pro team (keep your Reggie Bush comments to yourself), and it's a place that's had to play second-fiddle to an all-timer of a run from that other team across town.  Neuheisel should be able to handle all of that and thrive.

Along with the baggage from the time in Seattle, he didn't exactly leave Colorado, his first head coaching job, on the best of terms as he always worked the edges of the NCAA rule book when it came to recruiting and other areas. Then again, so does everyone else (and what he did was tame in comparison to the Sam Gilbert days of UCLA basketball under John Wooden, but that's for another day). After a few years in football exile, the timing was right to get back into the spotlight in a perfect mix of timing, coach and program.

Forget about all the problems and all the past issues; Neuheisel has paid his penance and should've been coaching at a major program long ago instead of serving as the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens over the last three years. He knows how to win, he knows how to be successful, and he knows how to coach. More importantly for UCLA at the moment, he's knows UCLA and is the type of hire who'll get the crowd moving.

Rick Neuheisel’s Head Coaching Record

1995 Colorado 10-2  
1996 Colorado 10-2
1997 Colorado 5-6
1996 Colorado 8-4
1999 Washington 7-5
2000 Washington 11-1
2001 Washington 8-4
2002 Washington 7-6

8 years: 66-30 (.688)

Unlike Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, Neuheisel is a proven winner who'll be able to go toe-to-toe with USC when it comes to recruiting, and he'll be able to win his share of big-time battles for talent. Just as important to a fan base tired of being in the backseat when it comes to USC on the sports pages, Neuheisel will be able to handle the attention and the spotlight as one of the few coaches in America who can match up with Carroll when it comes to media relations and public relations. The days of the stoic Karl Dorrell are over.

"A lot of the former players and alumni will be excited about this hire,” said former Bruin head man Terry Donohue. "It’s great that they have kept it in the Bruin family."

While programs all across the country are hell-bent on making sure a coaching hire has some ties to the school instead of getting the best possible candidate available, UCLA was able to do both.

"Being in the NFL for the last three years is like going to grad school and I think that will be a great asset to him as he returns to college," said legendary for NFL and UCLA head coach Dick Vermiel. "I am very excited about this decision.”

He'll get the quarterbacks and will coach them up so there won't be another disaster like this year when injuries struck Ben Olson and Pat Cowan. He'll get the offense moving and will make the Bruins one of the more exciting teams in the Pac 10. He'll get the wins to make UCLA a powerhouse again. With a .688 winning percentage, he has a decent on-field résumé to earn instant credibility, and he isn't going to ask for, or receive, any sort of a grace period.

This was a loaded UCLA team coming into this year that was hammered by injuries and inconsistencies, and remember, it was still alive for the Rose Bowl going into the final game of the Pac 10 season. Talent-wise, the Bruins are still going to need a year or three before it can think of consistently knocking USC off it perch, but they can certainly be in the mix right away in 2008 with all the quarterbacks returning, several decent running backs, and just enough on the lines and on defense to improve from this season's disappointment.

Keeping his nose clean won't be a problem as he'll be sure to toe the line with all the scrutiny surrounding his every move. Being consistent will be the biggest issue, and the biggest concern, after rocking out of the gate at both Washington and Colorado only to struggle a bit after his first two years. UCLA will worry about that in 2010.

This is the right hire at the right time. If all goes according to plan, this might be the type of move that changes up the national college football scene in a hurry. You can bet on it.



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