BruinsNation Sits Down With Coach Rick Neuheisel: Part 2

Yesterday, Menelaus posted part one of the interview he and I did with UCLA head football coach Rick Neuheisel. The first part of the interview covered a number of very interesting topics including the changes that took place during Neuheisel's absence from the college game, the changes in the media, Neuheisel's relationship with offensive coordinator Norm Chow and an illuminating look at the spread offense and its place in college football and at UCLA.

Today, you'll get to take a look at the second half of the interview. While the first part focused primarily on the Neuheisel's absence from the college game and his first year back in Westwood, the second part deals more with the present and the future. Neuheisel talks about some hot topics specific to the UCLA program as well as topics that relate to the Pac 10 and college football nationwide. The former Bruin quarterback even steps back for a second and reflects upon his time not as the UCLA head coach or the UCLA quarterback, but as a student in Westwood:

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Photo Credit: E. Corpuz

So let's dive back in with Rick Neuheisel right where M left off yesterday in Neuheisel's office at the Morgan Center overlooking the Bruin Bear.

BN:  UCLA is clearly an elite academic institution, but one of the draw-backs of that is the standards for admittance here for recruits are a little bit higher than you would have at the NCAA minimum.  In comparison to some of the other Pac-10 schools, whether they be SC or Cal, how difficult is it to get recruits into UCLA academically?

CRN:  It’s difficult.  The whole theory behind admissions at UCLA is they don’t want to bring kids in here that don’t have a chance to succeed.  There are 60,000 applicants to UCLA on an annual basis, more than any other school in the country.  As we look outside here [gesturing towards office window], it’s absolutely pristine.  It’s a wonderful place to go to school.  So, while we aren’t able to go and offer everybody that we would like to based on their ability to play the game, there are enough kids out there that can come and do both, compete in both arenas and, at the end of the day, really benefit from that competition in both arenas.  Our admissions people have been willing to allow us to tab kids that are special, that can really add to our program, as long as we and they believe that they’ll come in here and really work at the academic side.  Not just come in there and give it that cursory treatment.  Because, that ends up in failure for all.  So, it’s fine line, it’s a working relationships, but it’s one that I’m comfortable with because here in the City of Los Angeles, where there’s a huge population base, we can still find the best and brightest and find ways to compete against the teams in this league. 

BN:  Do you know where the standards for admission are here compared to a place like Cal up in Berkeley? 

CRN:   Well, Cal has some advantages over us in that there are other majors that kids can get into at the University of California.  I’m not sure I have all of it correctly down to give you more detail, but I do know that they are allowed to take a few more players than we are.  And that always raises the hair on the back the necks of Bruin football fans because [they ask] "why, if we’re in the same system, can they get more players than we can?"  "Why can..."; who was the great wide receiver from Long Beach Poly that was…?
    
BN:  DeSean Jackson?
    
CRN:  Yeah, "why can DeSean Jackson get into Cal, and not UCLA?"  "Why can Marshawn Lynch get into Cal, and not UCLA?"  Those are great questions [from Bruin fans].  But, I trust that we’re working towards having equality with Cal, and I want the admissions people at UCLA to trust that we understand our mission is not just to win football games, but to make sure the kids get the full UCLA experience.

BN:  Back off the field for a second, Coach, obviously you’re happy to be back.  You mentioned the pristine campus.  Who wouldn't be happy to be back?  My question is, do you ever allow yourself to just sort of be a regular alumni and not the alumni who has returned to coach football?  Do you ever find yourself sitting in Ackerman and wishing there was still a bowling alley there or walking past Powell Library…


CRN:  I do wish there was a bowling alley there, that bothers me.  [laughs]  That bothers me immensely…

BN:  Or do you ever have a strange, finals week flashback as you’re walking across campus?

CRN:  Yeah.  I have all sorts of those memories of my time here.  And, yeah, while there’s sometimes I get a little nostalgic and wish some things were maybe back the way they were, I really have been impressed with the changes, and how they’ve kind of just morphed into the landscape without really taking away from what I remember from UCLA.  I get to give campus tours here all the time.  And, it’s always nostalgic for me to walk on campus and just remember where I was when I met friends, where I hung out with fraternity brothers, where I met girlfriends, you name it.  It always a fun deal.  I love going to basketball games and just rooting for the basketball team like an old UCLA guy will root for them.  I get a kick out of hanging out over at Jackie Robinson, just kind of hanging out, soaking up some sun, and watching the ballgame.  But, I’ve always got my hat on, that I’m thinking about what can be.  How get we make this a little bit better?  So we can build this up to where I think it can be, which is one of the top programs in the country.  I never, ever, quite lose that; I’m always thinking that way.

BN:  Starting in July, the Pac-10 is going to have a new commissioner.  It gives you a chance to make some changes.  You’ve got a new guy coming in, maybe some things are going to change.  Specifically with regard to football, what would you like to see changed or improved within the conference, whether it be bowl tie-ins, something with regards to recruiting, TV exposure, or anything else along those lines?

CRN:  Well, you know, these are political questions.  The proper answer is I think we’re doing great and the Pac-10 is on its way, and so forth.  We all know the Pac-10 – all you have to do is look at NFL rosters and you can see that the Pac-10’s definitely a major player – we’ve got some great things. 

I think, from an exposure standpoint, we could improve.  ESPN, to me, has got the lock on college football.  I know the Fox people are terrific and I’ve worked with them, and I can say nothing bad about Fox.  But, it doesn’t get the same amount of play when you’re talking about college football that ESPN does.  So, the new commissioner will have to deal with that.  How do we get the Pac-10 more time?  Obviously, the time zone is an issue.  So, I don’t know all the whys and wherefores, I just know that I’d like to see the Pac-10 getting more of the bite of the apple that currently the SEC, Big Ten, in my estimation, ACC and Big 12 get.  I think the Big East and Pac-10 are kind of after-thoughts when you’re watching ESPN, with the exception of SC.  So, one way is start winning so that they have to.  And the other way is to [inaudible].

Bowl ties-ins are another issue.  For years and years the New Year’s Day bowls have been considered the elite bowls.  And, yet, you have a South Carolina team at 7-5 playing in a New Year’s day game, an SEC school, whereas Oregon beats a very good Oklahoma State team in a Holiday Bowl, which I’ve been to and think is a terrific bowl, but I’d like to see it as a New Year’s day game.  The Pac-10 deserves more New Year’s Day exposure.  I just believe that’s the case.  I don’t care what you name the bowl, I just think we should be on those days when you’re talking about big games.  And, I know, how people travel – we’re in a nice climate, so people aren’t traveling.  But, somehow, someway, all that has to be orchestrated to where the Pac-10 feels more elite in post-season.


The other thing we’re going to have to stay current with as revenue gets more crucial is the conference playoffs.  Are playoffs coming or aren’t they?  The contracts will tell you no; the revenue will tell you yes.  You know, they’re going to have to figure out a way to make more money.  It’s just as colleges get more pinched from state budgets and where they are getting their dollars, it’s a natural revenue stream.  So, as that goes, who are the next two teams to come to the conference, [and] how do we [do] playoffs?  Those are all questions that are maybe [better] avoided, but I think we’re going to have to realize it whether we want it or not.

BN:  This may fall into the category of topics better avoided, when you talk playoffs, would you be in favor of one for college football to determine the national champion?

CRN:  You know, I go back and forth.  I don’t want anything to change the bowls.  I’m really fond of bowl games.  It doesn’t matter where.  I just think that for a university to get up and go someplace, and friends and family all be in the same place, and not just for the night, but for a couple of days, and spend some time being excited about your program as a family and then going on and playing against another team that earned that right, you know, that’s fun.  It’s a nice reward for everybody involved.  And, it’s seems to me that if they’re still having them, that it’s lucrative, that at least it’s paying for itself, so it seems to me like it’s a good thing.  I see the need for some way to, especially in that top echelon of four or five teams that clearly are the best, settle it on the field.  I do.  I would have been frustrated had I been Pete last year, not getting that chance.  And they look at Oregon State and say, well, Oregon State doesn’t get enough credit, and that goes back to that ESPN thing that I was talking about.  Oregon State was a damn good team last year.  I also feel for Utah.  The way that they beat Alabama, it wasn’t an accident; they beat ‘em.  So, I can see where they are going to have to tweak it.

BN:  Back on the subject of conferences, some conferences I think are perceived or "branded" to some extent at a national level.  The SEC is known for speed; the Big 10 is known for power football; the Big 12 for overpowering linemen.  UCLA, for good or for bad, has sometimes been labeled as a soft program.  What identity or philosophy do you want UCLA football to have nationwide? 

CRN:  You know, UCLA should be exciting.  UCLA football should be exciting.  There has to be some element of speed associated with UCLA.  I think UCLA, when you think of the lights of Los Angeles, the glamour, I don’t ever want to shy away from that.  I want to be big city, big lights.  Let’s get it on.  Let’s be on the grandest of stages.  But we can never, ever get away from the nuts and bolts of football, which is blocking and tackling.  You have to be physical.  You have to practice physical.  You have to go get physical, and you have to develop physical players.  That’s all got to be cornerstones of your program.  But, glamour, yes.  I want all of the hot Hollywood stars to be on our sideline.  That’s what I want.  I want, when you look at UCLA football, you can have that feeling of 90210.  You can have that feeling, but, behind it, were pounding [pounds fist into his hand].  I think that’s how you bring all the best and brightest; I think it’s kind of what’s happened across town.  And, there’s the blueprint; we don’t need to stray too much from it. 

BN:  Wrapping it up here, looking towards the future, you guys get to go out to the Rose Bowl and it’s beautiful. You get to go out there for all your home games, but the majority of the work you do is here on campus in Westwood, in the weight room, the practice fields and the offices here.  Are there any facility improvements youd like to make going into the future? Is there anything specific that you think needs to be done?

CRN:  Well, that gets back to that hat I was wearing when I was waxing nostalgic at all the places.  Of course, I think there are things we can do.  And I’m hopeful that as the program grows, and support grows, and people get excited about where we’re headed, that we’ll be able to do some of those things. 

Every time I’m on the practice field, I look around and imagine what could be.  I would love for [there to be] a big ‘ole room for all of our student athletes – not just footfall.  I think one of the great things about UCLA is that it’s a department, and our football players, if we walked outside right now, we’d walk down by the training room, they’ll be sitting on the steps, and they’d be girls from the volleyball team, girls from the track team, all hanging out together.  And, so, I would like a big room, a lounge if you will, with a snack bar and so forth, where all the players, not just football, but all [could be.]  I think that would be one of the great things you could do, with a recruit, is to walk into that lounge and, here’s this girl from the national championship volleyball program, here’s this guy from Trinidad who’s on our track team; all the different [things].  The exposure that kids get here is not just about football and books.  It’s about the experience, about being on a campus where Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson both went to school, and it just exudes opportunity.  The opportunity to play, yes; the opportunity to go to school, yes; but also the opportunity to rub elbows with this elite student body that isn’t just a bunch of rich kids – 35% of our kids qualify for financial aid on this campus – but people that want to be something special.  And, not just from this country, but from the world.  That, to me, the more we can create that in just brief glimpses for the recruit, the more we are going to sell what really is the UCLA experience.

BN:  Great, thank you Coach.  On behalf of the readers of Bruinsnation.com, we really appreciate you taking the time. 

CRN:  My pleasure.

BN:  And good luck.

CRN:  And, on behalf of our program, we appreciate all the people that follow your service, because we know that they are true die-hard Bruins.

As you can see, Neuseisel was very candid and certainly didn't duck any questions. As a result, we learned some very interesting things about the program, probably the most notable of which was his response to the question about admissions.

Reporters have hinted at the difficulty of getting athletes admitted to UCLA compared to other universities, but there has never been any data to support the claims. Well, we still don't have any data, but Neuheisel's answers did shed some light on the difficulty of being admitted. Neuheisel also cleared up the reasoning behind the difficult standard of admissions at UCLA. Many fans have made it clear that they are upset with the standard of athlete's admissions at UCLA because they prioritized a strong football program ahead of the collective GPA or SAT scores that would be affected by a few more special admits. Now we see that the motivation behind the strict admissions has nothing to do with numbers and scores, but to ensure that the athletes who suit up in the blue and gold can also succeed in the classroom, which is something very few could have an issue with.

Neuheisel's comments about the need for change within the Pac 10 are right in line with the comments most fans of Pac 10 member institutions have expressed for years now. The conference is clearly in need of better leadership and new commissioner Larry Scott will have his hands full when he takes over. Exposure for the conference is a major issue and Neuheisel's comments show how important exposure is not just for the fans, but for the Pac 10 programs as a whole.

Overall, I can't say enough good things about our interview with Neuheisel. He was very cordial, professional and engaging, while answering all of our questions truthfully and to what I can only assume is to the best of his ability. He didn't look to rush us in and out and that type of professionalism ran throughout the athletic department. The Morgan Center has shown that they've embraced the new media and run a very professional department that is a pleasure to work with. Getting to meet and work with Menelaus throughout the process was fun and I know I learned a lot from him. Menelaus deserves a lot of credit for this interview, as does N who put this together as well as the rest of the frontpagers who all helped formulate questions and made this a true team effort. None of this would have been possible without cooperation from Neuheisel and the work of SID Marc Dellins, who worked hard to get this all set up for us. All of the aforementioned people deserve a great deal of thanks for their tireless work.

So now you all have the full interview and all the details. Neuheisel was quick to mention the contributions of the Bruin fans so let's hear your thoughts. What are your thoughts, impressions and expectations for the future? If Neuheisel continues what he's established in his first year and can accomplish what he laid out to us as his goals, you have got to be awfully excited and from the first day he was hired through this interview, is there any reason he won't accomplish it? 

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