Bruin Blue tries to catch his breath. GO BRUINS. -N
It's been an exhausting three weeks for me; and I'm sure it has been for most of you, too. Checking the forums for news virtually every ten minutes; tossing and turning in bed; waking up early with mixed trepidation and hope. One day it seems like Chow is the choice, and I'm despondent. Then it seems like Neuheisel, and I feel pretty good about that. Then suddenly it's Bellotti,and I go to bed pretty sure that the deal is going to be done, only to wake up the next day and see that it isn't. And still we're waiting, and we really don't know for sure. Is this a football search that is finally going to end well for us?
I have no inside information; as very, very few do. I'm not even sure if Dan Guerrero is certain what he wants to do. We hear that the three finalists are Neuheisel, Walker and Golden; but who's to say if some coach who is still waiting for his Bowl game or even just done with it, might not be considered? Then I've heard strange rumors about current but lesser-tier coaches. I think that what seems to be going on is that while Neuheisel is the first choice of many alumni and boosters, there is significant objection to him from some boosters; and Guerrero has not been willing to just go ahead and make the offer. The longer it goes, the less likely Neuheisel seems to be; so I hope that if they cannot find a big-name to be really interested, they just go ahead and offer Rick the job.
Neuheisel was never my first choice, or even second or third. But he's not a bad choice at all, particularly when one thinks about it. I don't know if everyone realizes that at Washington, he had a Pac-10 record of 23-9. He was 19-5 in his first three years, which is almost Pete Carroll territory. And it's not like he took over a program loaded with talent. He has his flaws; it is noted that at both Colorado and Washington his teams tailed off in his last two years. I actually think that he wasn't ready when he got the Colorado job after only one year as an offensive coordinator, when Bill McCartney suddenly retired. He still finished in the Top Ten in his first two seasons there. And at Washington he of course went to and won a Rose Bowl, the only one the Huskies have been in one since Don James retired. Also note that he always beat his rival WSU for the Apple Cup; which is not like beating USC, but shows that he is good in rivalry games. Anyway, I know that some are uncertain about him, particularly with regard to his well-reported off-field issues. All I will say is that most of these violations were very minor, and seemed to me like the actions of a smart guy who is too clever for his own good, and is always looking for loopholes in the rules. I am not here to convince anyone to be for Neuheisel, but I do fear the alternatives at this point.
DeWayne Walker is still to be worried about. I do not see how one game as interim coach should count for much in any case, particularly as teams usually play well in one game for interim coaches. See Ed Kezerian and Bobby Williams, among others, for proof of that. But I also know that a lot of media people wanted any excuse to push Walker for the head job, and that only a terrible performance would stop them. As Nestor and others have taken pains to note, BYU is a team we had already beaten this year. Okay; we had Olson then; but it's not as if he is some great quarterback. BYU is a well-coached team without great athletes. Ours are better, which is why we almost always beat them. They are methodical and slow, and try to out-execute you. The oddsmakers well knew that Olsen and Cowan were out. and still made us only 6-point favorites, which should be noted. And of course Bronco Mendenhall, a fine coach who has gone 22-4 in the last two years, did not have one of his better nights. He absolutely gifted UCLA with a touchdown right before the end of the half. Without that, it's 17-6 going in, and UCLA has no momentum. The game then probably ends about 24-9, since BYU can open it up more, and we cannot just sit back and hang in. Give UCLA and Walker some credit, of course; but we didn't end up with the victory, and even if we had, it shouldn't have mattered to his chances.
Before the game, we learned that Walker is going to have a second interview, this with Chancellor Block. I have no idea why we need to do that. It just takes more time (I seriously doubt that it would be before Christmas), and makes Neuheisel hang. What if Neuheisel gets tired of this, or miffed, and drops out? Unlikely, probably, since this is his dream job; but I've seen stranger things. What then? Al Golden? Golden actually has a pretty good resume and might well turn out to be a fine coach, but there are problems. First, he has no reputation out West at all. Therefore when we have the inevitable down year next year, how much patience are people going to have? Then of course there is the fact that he doesn't know coaches or schools in this area. He apparently is doing a great job recruiting for Temple, but that is in his neck of the woods. If Golden won big, he might be a great recruiter for us, but that's putting the cart before the horse.
Who else, then? I would still love for us to make a big bid for a really good coach like Petersen or Mendenhall, but I don't think either of these two is going to come. Mike Leach is a favorite of many, though personally I think that Neuheisel is better. But we do not seem to be going after Leach. June Jones remains, but he has also expressed no interest. These things can change, but I am starting to think that this is wishful thinking on our part. Steve Mariucci remains, but apparently he is asking on the high side of $2 million, which is not going to happen; and which frankly he doesn't deserve at this point. And any other possible big name coach is really a fantasy--you know, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Bob Stoops, et al.
So what I am afraid of is that if Guerrero really doesn't want to offend certain boosters by picking Neuheisel, he will start looking at lesser head coaches. He already had apparently tried to interest Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe, but was rebuffed. Kragthorpe is a good, hardly great, head coach. After that... Mike Price? Todd Graham? Dan Hawkins? Rocky Long? Rich Brooks? You can see the problem. Guerrero might just take a stab at someone to avoid having to pick Neuheisel over Walker, or Walker over Neuheisel. And I don't really fancy our chances of making an acute stab at this point. That is why I'd be pretty happy if we just selected Neuheisel now. Of course we are going to have Walker as our defensive coordinator if he wants to stay; there's no getting around that. But at least I am confident that Walker will have no chance to "play" Neuheisel, who is very smart and connected. If Walker wants to stay and do a good job as DC (please learn to stop the spread, okay?), that's fine. Then he can take one of the head coaching offers he is sure to have, and show what he can do.
Now, I know that there are risks in going with Neuheisel. One is that he is apparently being pushed by Terry Donahue and his corps of ex-players. I would have loved to have had a fresh start in Westwood, without being influenced by this faction. But either because we do not offer enough money; or because we didn't go about it the right way; or because we insisted that a new coach keep Walker; or for a combination of these, it hasn't happened. And the chances grow slimmer each day. So we may have to accept the best choice possible, which is really not that bad. Neuheisel may last here a long time, which cpuld be another concern; but at least he won't be a hire paving the way for Walker to step in a couple of years later. And if he doesn't do the job, at least we will have had higher expectations with him, and can probably change directions if he does not meet them. It's not at all impossible that he grows and matures and makes UCLA a real national power.
As I write this, I realize that by the time it is posted, things may have changed again. If they do, I certainly hope it is for the better. Like the rest of you, I have been so disappointed and dispirited by the end results of the past searches, that I can scarcely hope for a positive result now, until it actually happens.
- Bruin Blue