Ladies and gentleman: Bruin Blue. GO BRUINS. -N
I'm not talking about me, of course. I'm talking about UCLA football; and how nice it feels to finally see UCLA hire a good football coach. This is the first time I've been excited about a hire in football since Dick Vermeil; and that's thirty long years.
I know that Rick Neuheisel is not the perfect coach; but very few are. And I tend to think that whatever success he has had--and he certainly has had it--he is going to have more success here. He is older, and more experienced, both in life and in coaching. And no one can say that Neuheisel is not a bright guy. He has coached at two major programs; seeing what worked and what did not. He will now have access to perhaps the best talent base in the nation right here in Los Angeles. And of course he knows what is needed and expected here, at his dream job. His first comments on Saturday, about how he has great respect for Pete Carroll; and that he knows it is up to him to make the UCLA-USC game the biggest rivalry game in the nation, evince his awareness of what will be necessary to take on that behemoth across town, and make them respect us, if not fear us. This is not someone who is going to come into UCLA and try to deflate expectations. Just that alone should make us very happy, after so many years of being mostly told that we should be satisfied with our current nondescript status.
After the anxiety and ups and downs of the last four weeks, I am just very glad and relieved that it came out so positively. There were of course our "dream candidates," but there were plenty of "disaster candidates," and of course some in between. As I have recently written; of the remaining credible candidates, I believe that Neuheisel was the best. How often do you get to hire someone with a .688 winning percentage, achieved at two major programs? We are already getting good national press about this. People are not seeing UCLA make another hire of an unproven assistant, or a little known head coach; they see that we are getting someone who has been a successful head coach at the highest levels. That infusion of new interest in, and respect for, our program has to help us. It's just nice to see UCLA being taken seriously once again, even in the first two days of the Neuheisel era.
Of course, the initial excitement inevitably wears off, and there is much to do. But at least it will for once be fun to follow it. I so vividly remember how utterly dispirited I was when Karl Darrell was hired. I was certain that he would not be successful (I don't think even I could imagine how bad he would actually be), and I really wanted to just get away from the whole thing. And for five years I have not cared about recruiting, have not cared what assistants we hired; to me it really didn't matter much. But now I think we can all enjoy the football off-season (while we are avidly following our basketball team, of course), and actually have fun following the recruiting and the Spring practices. And for once we will not have to be embarrassed about the football coach we have; for we now have Ben Howland in basketball and Rick Neuheisel in football. That sounds pretty good to say, doesn't it?
It's not going to be all happy times, of course. Our talent level is severely depleted. We have a murderous schedule next year. And we currently have some people who are hoping for Neuheisel to fail. Hopefully, these numbers will lessen as time goes on. But it's going to be a new position for me, at least; defending the football coach against those who are angry that Dorrell was fired; those who desperately wanted Walker; those who simply don't like Neuheisel; and those who just hate UCLA on general principles. I'm not too worried about it; but in some sense this is a major new step for UCLA; and those both inside and outside the university who were happy with the way things were running before, are going to be unhappy about the new state of affairs, and we'll undoubtedly hear from them. But it's sure fun to be on the side in the ascension, for once.
Not to lessen the happy mood, but I always want to say what's on my mind; and I am concerned about the Walker situation. I know that Neuheisel indicated that "Walker is my first recruit," and so if he is happy to keep Walker and his other defensive staff, it's fine with me. I do hope that Walker will thoroughly dedicate himself to helping the team win, no matter what it takes. I hope that he will not feel that he is anything but an assistant to Neuheisel, who is the head coach. I do not want to see him relying upon any of his media supporters to advance his personal career, wherever it might ultimately take him. After the first game or games, I do not want to see or hear about "Walker's defense vs. Neuheisel's offense," or anything implying that there are two coaches here. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about Walker staying, if only because of the all-out campaign which has been waged on his behalf, and the inevitable aftermath of that. This kind of situation doesn't usually work; but maybe it will here, for everyone's benefit. All we care about is for UCLA to have the kind of football program we are proud of; and that can only happen with everyone on staff on the same page. As for certain of the beat writers--well, all we can do is either ignore them, or unmask them for what they are. Let's hope that if others are expected to learn from their mistakes, they can, too. We will just see.
It's been a lot of fun writing these essays and sharing my thoughts. And I am so impressed with the level of intelligence and literacy, which I see from the many contributors to Bruins Nation. Depth of insight and football knowledge, almost always expressed by people who actually know how to write well--it always makes it rewarding to read the various comments and essays. And it will be nice now to be able to visit without my nerves being on edge, afraid to read that some awful hiring scenario was unfolding. Time for us to all to just indulge ourselves for awhile, secure in the confidence that we now have two major seasons to look forward to each year, not just one. And come to think of it, baseball is looking pretty good too, isn't it? Well, it's never good to get too gushy; because my natural tendency is to have high expectations and to be disappointed if they aren't borne out. But I'm pretty pleased right now, anyway. And thanks again to everyone here who added to the intelligent and thoughtful atmosphere; and of course to everyone who was kind enough to let me know that they enjoyed reading my essays.
I'll be back, no doubt; but I might take a rest for just a bit, But I'm sure that there will be plenty to discuss in the upcoming weeks and months, and I look forward to adding my thoughts as well.