UCLA Football Assistant Search Reset - One Hopeful Gone, While An Unexpected Name Appears

It has been 24 days since Chuck Bullough was dismissed as UCLA defensive coordinator; in that span of time, several teams have fired/hired coaches. With just 22 days until national signing day, the Bruins do need to make serious progress in hiring a new DC, and fast. While the delay in hiring a coach may be a bit frustrating to us (and some recruits), Coach Neuheisel has been doing his diligence, making calls and making contact with possible candidates.

The top potential candidate for the job has been Vic Fangio, the longtime NFL assistant coach whose turnaround of the Stanford defense put the team in position to win a BCS game, and win himself the NCAA's assistant coach of the year award. With Jim Harbaugh's departure from the Farm all but assured with the end of the season, the thought has been that Fangio - with no preexisting ties to Harbaugh - will also leave Stanford, with UCLA being a leading contender for his services. While not yet official, several reports now point to Fangio possibly joining Harbaugh's staff in San Francisco, becoming the team's defensive coordinator. While the Fangio-to-San Francisco reports have been most prevalent, the Dallas Cowboys are also pursuing his services. According to the LA Times Fangio appears to be "out of reach" and that the Bruins had also pursued Bill Young from Oklahoma State (but the Cowboys "would not let him out of his contract."

While the vacant defensive coordinator position is still awaiting candidates, the offensive coordinator position currently (still) filled by Norm Chow may already have a replacement waiting in the wings. Over the past several hours, news has begun to leak out that current 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson has been offered the same position at UCLA. Johnson joined the 49ers in 2009 as the quarterback coach, and received a battlefield promotion to offensive coordinator early in the 2010 season, in which 49ers fans gave him an early positive rating. Johnson played QB at Arizona State for 2 years in the mid-80's and began his coaching career as an assistant at Oregon State before leaving for the NFL, where he had served as the quarterbacks or wide receivers coach for the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers before going to San Francisco.

If Johnson does indeed come to Westwood, Chow's role in the program will certainly be at an end. He is still under contract; and while he could presumably choose to fulfill his contract with UCLA in a lesser role (QB coach?), such a move would have to be taken as a not-so-subtle sign from Rick to Norm that he ought to move on. For that matter, it seems doubtful that Chow would accept such a demotion, with the likelihood that he would take the opportunity to run an offense elsewhere.

One of the interesting aspects of both of these coaches and their links to UCLA are their prior relationships to Neuhesiel. Both Fangio and Johnson coached with Neu during his time as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens. Fangio served as a special assistant-defense to head coach Brian Billick, while Johnson was the wide receivers coach during Rick's final 2 seasons in Baltimore. It may simply be a coincidence that two coaches that are being targeted for leading roles on the football staff were recent associates of Coach Neuheisel, but there may be more to it.

Given the hot seat that Neu is undoubtedly sitting on, he may be looking to bring in coaches that he knows that he can work and coexist with and whose abilities he trusts. Recall that when he made his return to UCLA, there was really not much input for him to give on the upper tiers of his coaching staff. After seeking to move up to the head coaching position, DeWayne Walker was retained as DC from Karl Dorrell's staff, possibly under direction from above but certainly as a way to preserve a highly-regarded recruiting class. Once his interest in coming to Westwood was ascertained and funding confirmed, hiring Norm Chow as offensive coordinator was without question or hesitation. Any concerns that bringing in an assistant of Chow's stature to work with a head coach used to running his own offense was quickly worked over, with the two coaches swearing to their ability and desire to coexist in their respective roles. While not as much is known about the dynamics of Chuck Bullough's brief time running the Bruin defense, it remains that Neu's time in Westwood has to date given him lead coaches that he really may not trust to carry our his vision, or feel comfortable with but due to circumstances has kept them on staff to date. With his dream job now at risk, Rick may feel that he has no choice but to look to coaches that he trusts to help UCLA Football succeed and save his job beyond 2011.

Whether due to Johnson's light experience in gameplanning and calling plays, or the prior working relationship between he and Neuheisel, the dynamic between the coaches should be much different than what existed between Neu and Chow. While the roles in terms of running the offense cannot yet be known, it would not be a stretch to see Neuheisel take the actual playcalling responsibility himself in 2011. One possible scenario could see Neu assuming the 'QB guru' role that we saw in Norm Chow when he came to Westwood in addition to calling plays, with Johnson coaching the receivers in addition to running the offense under Rick.

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