Re. Rick Neuheisel’s Perplexing "Conservatism" At UCLA

Washington fans remember CRN as an "excellent game day coach," who "did a great job shaping the offense around the strengths of the personnel on the squad at the time." Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

So I want to revisit Achilles' thought provoking post from this past weekend talking about "the Rick Neuheisel paradox." I have been thinking a lot about a specific graf from that Sunday post:

The paradox of Rick Neuheisel at this point exists between his recruiting - where he appears to be going all out, fearing no other coach or school and is reeling in a lot of well-respected high school players - and his on field coaching - where he seems to be channeling his mentor Terry Donahue with a conservative, punt-from-the-35-on-fourth-and-short, let's-take-the-field-goal, play-the-less-talented-upperclassmen-over-the-less-talented-younger-guys, forget-about-winning, we-just-want-to-keep-it-close approach to football.

I think this is the point where many of us are getting stuck. After 5 years of insufferable conservative football under Karl Dorrell (both on the field and the recruiting trail), we thought Rick Neuheisel was going to bring in a different approach. As A noted so far that has materialized on the recruiting trail as evident in the impressive haul (at least rankings wise) in last two years, and also how he was able to hang on to his first class which was essentially put together by Dorrell's staff.

What is not making sense is some of the head scratching decisions showing a conservative streak in Rick Neuehisel's game management philosophy. It is a little perplexing because from what I remember from watching those Neuheisel coached teams in Colorado and especially Washington, they were anything but conservative.  I remember watching the Buffalo teams that were winning shootouts against Oregon and looking dynamic against Washington at the Holiday Bowl.

The Washington team which won the Rose Bowl championship with him was pretty exciting to watch as he tweaked the offense to fit Marques Tuiasosopo's skill set. In other words, when thinking about those Washington and Colorado teams under Rick Neuheisel, the word "conservative" never really came to mind when judging his in game decisions.  So, I reach out to our SBN friends at the Ralphie Report and UWDawgPound and find out whether they could offer any specific perspective on this issue. I have some of their responses and thoughts after the jump.

Jon Woods didn't have any specific flashback wrt to whether Neuheisel was conservative but he asked the question to his community members. Now not surprisingly (as we know too well) the folks from Ralphie Report didn't have positive feedback on Neuheisel (given their previous history). However, I tried to read through the comment threads to see if they had specific recollection about his game coaching. There are some nuggets that stood out. From psbrighton (emphasis added throughout)

Neuheisal was definitely not conservative when he was at CU. In fact, I felt like RB's Marlon Barnes and Hershell Troutman were complete after thoughts in the offense. Although Karl Dorrell was the offensive coordinator, everyone believed Neuheisal was calling the shots and with Koy Detmer at quarterback, CU was successful.

He went on to talk about other issues we had heard CU fans voice concern about Neuheisel. For purposes of this post, I just wanted to keep the focus on whether Neuheisel was seen as a conservative coach wrt to offensive play calls and game management.  From Phil Fraser in the same thread:

The thing with Neuheisel was, and is... He's VERY hard on QBs. I remember him jerking Hessler and Detmer (and to an extent, Bledsoe the Younger) around quite a bit. He does the same thing @ Ucla w/ Prince/ Craft/ Brehaut/ whomever. He doesn't think long term at all, and he expects quite a bit from the position. If there's a problem (as with all the injuries he's faced), the offense sputters. I never thought he was very conservative. Hell, I'm not sure he knew we even had running backs during his time. Also, none of the QBs he has @ Ucla are particularly good, or well equipped to deal with everything he expects them to do.

Phil then went on to comment how Gary Barnett was "more conservative" than Neuheisel. Again let's set aside the complaint about how Rick Neuheisel treats QBs at sidelines (which has been completely overblown by traditional media as chronicled previously on BN). The issue here that has been vexing us in last 2.5 years is about the conservative playcalls and decision making by UCLA offensive coaches. It doesn't seem like Neuheisel had such reputation at Colorado. So when I asked John Berkowitz from UWDawgPound about his thoughts on whether CRN was "conservative" he wrote me the following (which I am excerpting with his permission):

I think Rick Neuheisel while at Washington was an excellent game day coach. Maybe one of the best in the country. He did a great job shaping the offense around the strengths of the personnel on the squad at the time. I don't have any remembrance of him ever being conservative in his play calling. We also played against him in a bowl game while he was at Colorado and the overall consensus at the time was why can't we get someone like that as our head coach? So to make a long story short the problems Neu had at UW had nothing to do with his ability to game plan for his offense.

So the question I keep coming back to and don't have any good answers for right now is what has been happening at UCLA. Earlier in the week he was asked the decision about why he decided to kick the FGs and I didn't find his answers all that comforting. As mentioned in previous posts, I think the offensive play calling has been fairly vanilla and predictable. There doesn't seem to be any kind of variations of changeups in our running attacks and haven't seen a lot of earnest attempt to effectively incorporate the available speed elements in our roster in our overall offensive scheme.

I still am excited and encouraged about the idea of UCLA going to a pistol offense. I think the decision go to that formation as our base set was a solid move by both Neuheisel and Norm Chow. I also realize it takes a while for any coaching staff to put together an efficient product based on a new scheme (given Chris Ault at Nevada had years to put it together). That said the game management decisions we have seen (not just against Oregon) over last 2+ years have been perplexing. When Neuheisel took over the program, I thought we will finally have a coach since the Bob Toledo era, who was going to go all out, play to win, and most importantly lead the team with no sense of fear.

We haven't seen that "no fear" mindset take hold in Neuheisel's program at UCLA. We have seen some glimpses of it here and there - specifically against non-conference opponents - but we haven't really seen it as much as we like during conference season. We'd like to see some of that classic Neuheisel wrt to game management from his Washington and Colorado days and we'd like to signs of that soon. Hopefully it will start with an inspired performance during this home stand against Arizona and Oregon State.

GO BRUINS.

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