Well, let's put aside the talk about our new coaching staff for a bit and get back to reading over some of the clips from yesterday's press conference. Many of us have already noted how it was easily the most engaging and inspiring press conference held by a UCLA football coach (certainly during my lifetime of following UCLA football, since I never got to pay attention to those held by Coach Vermeil or his predecessors) that got our attention in the same way Coach Howland does during his speeches/conversations with the gaggle.
Apparently, we weren't the only ones on whom Coach Neuheisel made an impression. The turnaround in the beat press this New Year's day, just a couple of days after some sporadic whining, is just amazing. Let's start with Dohn who has a glowing account of yesterday's introduction.:
"I remember (the other guy) was throwing a much better spiral than I was," Neuheisel said. "And he was a tight end."
To show his loyalty to UCLA's past, he gave a lengthy thank you to former coach Terry Donahue, who was not in attendance because he is working the Fiesta Bowl later this week, and moved his focus to Dorrell, a former teammate who dressed two lockers away.
"He wasn't very talkative - and he was a sophomore before he said hello," Neuheisel said jokingly, before turning serious. "We're going to carry on his legacy. He meant a great deal to this program, will always mean a great deal to this program and he's a great man, and a great leader."
At times, Neuheisel's voice cracked, especially when thanking his wife, Susan, for helping him through the past five years when he was out of the college game.
Neuheisel also incorporated the 10 or so current players who came to campus to grab a brief chat with him, enveloping them in a bond they all shared.
"The message is this: Guys we're all the same. We got recruited by UCLA," said Neuheisel, who then lightened the mood. "Me, for the first time."
Neuheisel introduced his family, sitting behind the podium: wife, Susan and -- "Sit up straight!" he said -- sons, Jerry, 15, Jack, 13, and Joe, 10, and parents, Dick and Jane. "I came this close to being named Spot," he said, working the crowd.
The man with a USC law degree made quite a persuasive opening statement when he held court. He promised to "take back the city" and vowed to do it the "right way," pledging "never, ever to do anything to taint the reputation of this great university."
Neuheisel has been up, down and back again, having fallen from the Huskies job to coach two seasons of high school football before latching on to a quarterbacks coach job with the Baltimore Ravens for the past three seasons.
"It's been a long journey," said Neuheisel's wife, Susan. "It's a dream come true for us to be back at UCLA."
Rick Neuheisel figured a call from UCLA might be coming that day, so he invited his dad to hang out with him. Dick could tell from his son's part of the conversation that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero was on the other end of the line.
Dick, an attorney who lives in Arizona, went back to writing notes when he heard his son snapping his fingers. He looked up and Neuheisel gave him the thumbs-up signal.
Rick Neuheisel was UCLA's new football coach.
"That touched me here," Dick said, stopping in mid-sentence and pointing to his chest while fighting tears.
The Neuheisel clan was at Monday's news conference at the J.D. Morgan Center in full force. Seated to the side of the podium were Rick's wife, Susan, and sons Jerry, Jack and Joe; Rick's parents, Dick and Jane; and his sisters Katie, Deborah and Nancy.
Photo Credit:AP Photo/Nick Ut (via ESPN)
Welcome home Jack and Joe.
Now, getting back to the core of being a Bruin, Coach Neuheisel ended his opening remarks with this note (emphasis mine):
In less than eight hours, starting with the morning papers and continuing with his homecoming news conference Monday afternoon, the new UCLA football coach fired several shots across the bow of Battleship Trojan and its admiral, Pete Carroll.
Some people in Neuheisel's position like to sneak in under the cover of darkness and gain a foothold quietly. Neuheisel is about as quiet and subtle as Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.
He told a Times reporter that he'd take a run at Norm Chow to become his offensive coordinator, and repeated that several times after his news conference.
Right or wrong, Chow was considered the mastermind of USC's offense when Carson Palmer and Matt Leinert were toying with the rest of college football. Every time there is a little burp in USC's fortunes, as there was this year against Stanford and Oregon, a large portion of the USC faithful screech for Chow's return.
So it is not hard to figure out how those same faithful reacted to a story with the words UCLA and Norm Chow in the same paragraph.
Nor is it hard to figure out that Neuheisel had figured out how they'd react.
For many of us who got to follow Coach Neuheisel as an assistant coach during the early 90s, that's the Neuheisel who we wanted here when Donahue left at the end of 95 and when we had another shot in 2002. Now it has happened. And I have no doubt in mind that Coach Neuheisel is going to have our boys ready, prepared, and play with all the fire and passion they can muster when they head into a challenging season in 2008. As we have said a number of times already, next year is going to be difficult, but it is going to be fun to watch Neuheisel's scratch, claw, and fight in every game.
Just one reason we are all so excited as we head into spring. I don't think I have ever been this excited about UCLA football since January 1 of 1998, the last time we won a game on New Year's Day.