Ever since Bruins Nation formally called for the end of the Rick Neusheisel era and since we laid out the criteria we'd like to see in the next coach, it sort of feels like the season is over. As I wrote "checkmate." We've knocked over our king, it's time to move on.
But I'm not just angry about the way the season has gone, I'm disappointed. I wrote in the preseason that it was in everyone's best interest that Rick Neusheisel succeed, I worried that his failure would be our failure, that we'd be back to Square One as a program. (In reading this piece, it occurs to me that we were thinking about UCLA's culture long before the season went south.) It's still possible I'll end up being wrong on that final point -- because if a cratering of the program leads to the type of wholesale cultural changes we've been advocating then Rick Neusheisel's failure might actually be the sacrifice required to make a real difference.
The problem is, sacrificing Rick Neuheisel gives no one any pleasure.
Whatever the causes of Rick Neuheisel's failure, effort wasn't one of them. Sincerity wasn't one of them. Caring wasn't one of them.
It occurs to me that if Rick Neuheisel had never become the head coach of the UCLA Bruins, we'd remember him differently. We'd remember him as a Rose Bowl hero. If he'd become a lawyer or a broadcaster, we'd toast his name when we heard it, recalling his record-setting performance in the Rose Bowl against Illinois.
Oddly enough, T.J. Simers had a Los Angeles Times piece today that echoes what I'm going for here. I'm ambivalent about Simers in general, but credit where credit is due, he did nice work today. He wrote, in part:
He caught Pete Carroll at the end of Uncle Pete's run; Carroll's recruiting efforts were no longer as impressive. He also got Lane Kiffin and USC probation, and if there was an advantage there, it never materialized.
He should have accomplished more.
But as a witness to other disappointing losses in his time at UCLA, as well as a few victories, Neuheisel has conducted himself as a classy winner.
He has consistently stood tall in responding to defeat - just the kind of an example a university would want for their student-athletes.
Now if he only could have been as good in showing them how to win.
Someone on one of the message boards this week asked something like this: "If Rick Neusheisel is so smart, how come he hasn't made more changes?" I think they were referring to strategy, like play calling or personnel. But I've never thought that Rick Neuheisel's problem has been play calling or personnel necessarily, though surely I've wondered about a punt here or punt returner there as much as the next coach potato.
I actually think Rick Neuheisel's problems have been subtler. For whatever reason, he's failed to consistently inspire his team. He's not instilled in them the necessary fundamentals. I think his players like him. I think on some level they respect him, too. I like him and respect him. But they don't run through walls for him. They don't strive to be perfect for him. And so they don't run through walls and they don't strive for perfection and those things just might be the difference between getting a contract renewal and a pink slip.
One way or the other, I'm going to forever choose to remember Rick Neusheisel as a Rose Bowl hero. I was there. I saw what he did, the way he played, the way we blew out Illinois. That's the memory I choose to keep of Rick Neuheisel.
For me, that's enough. It's time to move on.
With that, here are your Pregame Guesses for California Golden Bears:
- Who will catch more passes tomorrow: Jerry Johnson or Jerry Rice, Jr.?
- True or False, Joseph Fauria catches two touchdown passes tomorrow?
- Name a Bruin who scores a turnover tomorrow, either recovering a Cal fumble or picking off a pass?
(Note: Put your guesses in the subject line of your responses, but feel free to comment on the content of the post as well.)