I want to build more on the question uclahy posted about whether Rick Neuheisel is too soft to lead our program? Obviously I am rooting for the answer to be a thunderous no. However, at this point actions are going to speak louder than words. The UCLA football program doesn't have a lot of room for error these days. We have been wallowing in mediocrity for the entire decade thanks to the incompetent leadership of previous head coaches, who seemed to be directly responsible of a football culture grounded in laziness and being perfectly content with mediocrity. This is the reason why we saw the excessive celebration around 13-9 (which in someways is embarrassing because it expose the larger problem of getting beaten to pulp by our rival year after year) and victories in Sun Bowls.
When Rick Neuheisel came to Westwood, he repeatedly told us about a culture change in which the football program would pursue a standard of excellence that would be in par with rest of our athletic programs. His soundbites are littered all over this blog from last two years. We ate up his words and we are going to hold him accountable if he doesn't deliver in next 2-3 years. In the meantime, while we are on this journey if we do see troubling signs we are going to speak out on it. We were encouraged by the fact the football program won 2 more games in this season and was heading into a bowl game giving us an opportunity to build for the future. We repeatedly heard about how getting into a bowl game was crucial because it would mean extra practices for our football program. That is why what happened yesterday at Spaudling is a little stunning.
We have already called out seniors such as Logan Paulsen and Reggie Carter (who apparently hasn't even completed his school work either) for basically not living up to their words about ditching these practices last spring. Hilariously, some in previous comment threads tried to thread the needle in defending these players saying they were just talking about spring. That excuse doesn't work because the context of those comments were not just about spring practices but practices at Spaulding Field. They are even more relevant consider what a big deal Rick Neuheisel, his staff and players made about benefit of extra practices from the bowl game. It doesn’t look good and trying to defend this makes one look as pathetic as the ones who were stretching and looking for something to defend Dorrell/Lavin back in the day.
Moreover, apparently per the OC Register Paulsen wasn't "pleased" about it and left at the "insistence" of Neuheisel. Meanwhile, the quarterbacks were on the field when this stunt took place, and were also called off by the coaches. In other words, the spin about the team doing this together as some kind team bonding this is total BS as the reported facts indicate not everyone was on the same page.
The guy bears the ultimate responsibility for this latest debacle that makes UCLA football look like a joke is Rick Neuheisel. He bears the ultimate responsibility for reasons laid out below the fold and he is now going to be under pressure with a must win game in Washington DC.
Per the reports it seems clear that Neuheisel was in on this:
"Spring practice is now only 15 days and we convinced the guys not to do this," Neuheisel said. "We went through the history of Wall Day, that it started before a bowl game. They gave us what we wanted in spring, but they did remember it was during bowl games that you could do it."
If Neuheisel did make some kind of "deal" with the players, it makes him look like a leader who is weak and is afraid to impose discipline in a program that needs it badly. It makes me look back at this season with a slightly different light, when I see seniors like Logan Paulsen making same bonehead mistakes over and over during games and not being held accountable for it. Again, while the senior captains needs to be called out for their failure in showing any leadership, Rick Neuehisel is ultimate responsible. I agree with Blue Me that if he wanted to put a stop to this, he could have.
We will see how this all turns out. As mentioned in the topline of uclahy's post, the heat is now on Rick Neuheisel. At this point the story is well known about what took place when the previous UCLA head coach took a 6 win team to a bowl game in his second season in Westwood. His record was permanently tarnished as he was unable to organize a focused, disciplined team in Las Vegas, which was humiliated and embarrassed by Wyoming. If UCLA ends up losing against Temple, in an uninspiring, listless, mistake prone, the blame will squarely fall on Rick Neuheisel. We will also look back at this over the wall shenanigans, which will stand out as a telling sign of a continuation of culture of mediocrity that has defined a sad decade of UCLA football.
We will be watching Neuheisel very closely in next two weeks and see what product he rolls out in DC. Actions will speak louder than (sweet & polished) words at this point. The heat is on.