The person who thinks they’re right and everyone else is wrong is usually the crazy one. This is the reality I face.
I still have faith in Rick Neuheisel.
It appears there are still a few of us, but it’s becoming a lonely island. I’m used to being a sports contrarian. I think saves are a meaningless stat and Tom Brady’s overrated. But I’m in rarified air when it comes to Neuheisel and UCLA. There's only a few of us crazies left. I found myself agreeing with a T.J. Simers article the other day. Bad sign.
Coach Neuheisel has been recently described as “conservative,” “unprepared,” “discombobulated.” And worse; “incompetent,” “pathetic,” “a failure.” The nickname “Slick Rick” has gone from endearing to odious. Some call him “The Weasel.” It’s tough to be in his corner.
Maybe I just need a reason for hope. During Dorrell’s last season I wanted him fired so badly I rooted against him. Against my own team. How embarrassing - who does that? I don’t want to do that again.
Neuheisel’s tenure at UCLA has been a head-scratcher for sure. His records at Colorado were 10-2, 10-2, 5-6, and 8-4. At Washington, 7-5, 11-1, 8-4, and 7-6. Not good trends. The knock on him was he won early with his predecessors’ talent. That would suggest he can coach, but can’t recruit. The consensus these days is that he can recruit, but can’t coach. Why can’t he get the parts to fit?
Two years ago Neuheisel decided to convert to a trendy new option offense. Sounded good to me. It seems to work for Oregon, Florida, Auburn, and other big name schools. So he adopted the Pistol. From Nevada. Of the WAC. Well, if it’s good enough to beat Boise State once every twelve years, I guess it beats ranking 88th nationally in offense. He even went out and recruited the ideal quarterback for his option offense. Who sits on the bench. Don’t get me wrong, Brehaut’s a fine quarterback - one of the better passers we’ve had in a while. But I wonder if he’s in the right system. Shouldn’t a good passer be in a pro system instead of the option? Isn’t that how we ended up with Aikman? You think Brehaut would’ve come to UCLA if he knew he’d be in the Pistol after one year?
And what about the young talent Neuheisel recruited? Why don’t we see them on the field on defense, and with the ball on offense? I know Coach’s last stop was the NFL, but this is college ball. Rookies can be stars at this level. Texas creamed us with a bunch of freshman and sophomores. Why don’t we try that? They don't have to play the whole game, just more than they do now.
Of course, Neuheisel’s misfortunes in Westwood have been well documented: injuries, criminal dismissals, players leaving for religious commitments, etc. He also seems to have “his guys” now as coordinators. So far the offense looks a little better. Maybe the defense just needs time to adjust to their new system. We’re only five games into the season. There’s a lot of time for improvement. These are all reasons for me to keep faith in our coach. But I can’t tell whether the stars have aligned against him, or if I’m hoping for the stars to align for him.
Neuheisel doesn’t have much to gain this week hosting Washington State. We’re favored by 3.5, but the margin is more like 21 to avoid the weekly vitriol. As far as I’m concerned, a win’s a win. It would be our third. Last year we won four. Five this year would be an improvement, and six means a potential bowl game. A postseason appearance is enough for Neuheisel to have another shot to gain momentum as far as I’m concerned.
But the unofficial search for his replacement has already begun. My friend thinks we should hire Mike Leach. Mike Leach? I thought we already had enough defensive issues. When was Texas Tech ever taken seriously as a national contender? “They beat Texas a few years ago,” he says. So did Neuheisel. Besides, I thought the goal was to win a conference championship and BCS bowl. Mike Leach has done neither. He never even played in a Big 12 Championship. “Well, he made Texas Tech more relevant than we’ve been lately.”
And that’s true. Times like this make fans desperate. Just look at me; I still believe Rick Neuheisel can take us to the promise land.
**Thank you, Bruins Nation, for the olive branch.**