Here is to Rick Neuheisel leaving - what must be his last game as UCLA head coach tomorrow - as a winner (just like his first one, pictured above). (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It is the morning after Thanksgiving and the day before our "rivalry" game against Southern Cal. It's been pretty cool to read the heartfelt thoughts and reflections from BNers this week getting fired up for the game. The game matters on paper as technically a "Pac-12 championship" (yes, I LOL when I typed that) is on the line. The game definitely matters deep in all of our hearts at members of the greater Bruin Nation because as have been repeated this week, beating (and hating) the Trogans is part of being a Bruin.
Yet I do not feel any sense of energy or anticipating for a game I have cherished for over 20 years of following UCLA athletics on a day to day basis. I know when the kickoff comes close and our game thread goes up I will be "into it." That is going to happen. But I have felt nothing but a sense of funk and weirdness around this game all week.
There is something else going on here. I have mentioned this before earlier this season. I have actually enjoyed watching Lane Kiffin's Trojan offense this season. Yes, Kiffin has all the "Hello Kiffin" baggage around him. He was a doofus when he was with the Raiders and with the Volunteers. He skirted around with NCAA rules in Tennessee (applying the lessons learned from Cheatey Petey) and made the absurd "10 minute rule" comment differentiating student athletes from UCLA and Southern Cal. And of course he gifted us with "Trogans" in the BN lexicon.
Despite all the shenanigans above, Kiffin has done a pretty masterful job of optimizing Trojan's young talent and building an explosive offense around Matt Barkley. They have been fun to watch and I also think we have to give him props for getting his team to "fire out"(!) every game despite not having any post-season games on the line. They have shown lot more fire and especially creativity at least on the offensive compared to Cheatey's last year across town. I respect that and I think if they hold serve tomorrow night, he should unquestionably be the Pac-12 COY. It shouldn't be close. Good for him. All right, I will stop on this angle. Enough!
There is also the weird timing of this game because of the new Pac-12 league set up. In classic days this game used to be played the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with student section all fired up. Then Dan Guerrero came along and he agreed to move this game to Final's week. There was also other genius administrators changing "Beat SC" week to "Blue and Gold" week sapping all the excitement around this game. Now the timing is even more weird which may result to even less student and alumni interest. Plus there is the whole matter of further eviscerating tradition by rolling out "alternate uniforms."
This has been just a weird, bizarre "rivalry week" all around, many thanks to totally mismanagement of our football program for more than a decade (Tasser is going to have lot more on that topic later on this evening). More after the jump.
So I haven't been fired up for this "rivalry week" like I have been in the past. I don't think I have to prove how much I don't like the guys from cross town given my writings over the years. I "get" what this week means for us. I also will not be shocked one bit if the Bruins pull off an "upset" tomorrow night. It'd be the classic UCLA thing to do when a team full of underachieving talented players, win a game not because of superb coaching, but because they are caught up in emotion.
Even if that happens, of course nothing will change in terms of our big picture perspective here on BN. Even if we win, we will need a wholesale regime change in Westwood. And if we get even a hint of second thoughts from the athletic director following a "13-9" style, we will only quadruple the pressure on Morgan Center. With all these funky, weird, mixed emotions in plan this has kind of become another generic game week.
Bill Dwyre from the LA Times wrote about this being just another game:
Some may like the 7 p.m. start. This is not the first time in recent years. We can probably blame that on Rick Neuheisel and UCLA, which has presented less-than-compelling competition for USC for a while and a ready-made excuse (decreased ratings) for the TV schedulers.
But a majority of fans in Southern California grew up with a USC-UCLA legacy that included a game in sunshine, certainly daylight, and a festive pregame atmosphere. It's less festive when the November temperatures dip with the sun. USC-UCLA is special, anticipated for 12 months and held sacrosanct by all those who attended either school or merely adopted one or the other as a favorite.
Now, television treats it as just another game, something to be tossed on a schedule board with dozens of others and subjected to the quirks of a profit-centric agenda.
The game will be on Fox Sports' Prime Ticket. Just for perspective, at 12:30 p.m. on Prime Ticket, you can watch Duke at North Carolina. Fox Sports also has a second regional outlet, FS West. On FSW at 12:30, Southern California viewers can watch Missouri versus Kansas, followed at 4 p.m. by Texas Tech and Baylor.
As you may expect Guerrero's response to the situation is of a passive bureaucrat who sounds completely hapless:
Guerrero: "This is our brave new world. It is standard operating procedure, and I don't see it changing."
Uh, okay Dan. That's a "bold" statement of leadership in looking out for UCLA's best interest. That kind of quote gives us another peak into Guerrero's visionless leadership which has never been about taking aggressive measures to look out for UCLA.
Moving on the LA Times has a look at the relationship between Kevin Price and Neuheisel:
Said Prince: "I was getting one thing from Coach Chow and maybe another thing from Neuheisel. We kind of had a disconnect."
Now their relationship is "terrific," according to Neuheisel, and "solid," according to Prince.
Terrific and solid may be what they both need to move forward.
Right, it will be time for all of us to "move forward" with a change in leadership after tomorrow. On a positive note, there is actually an interesting read from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA on Neuheisel's last stand. I though the following thought process from Neuheisel on Brett Hundley was pretty cool:
Playing [Brett Hundley] in a meaningful game is something Neuheisel has considered often this year. It's the kind of move -- if it went well -- that could buy him some time, no matter what his team's final record was.
After the Bruins' embarrassing 48-12 loss to Arizona on Oct. 20, it seemed like the only thing Neuheisel might do to stave off his elimination.
But on the Monday following that ugly, nationally televised loss, he seemed reluctant to make the move.
"I think about Brett all the time. You're always looking for what's that spark? What's that answer?" he said. "My concern is is Brett Hundley ready to play? I do not want to throw him out there to the wolves and have him not ready to know everything that he should know when the lights are on."
The answer surprised me, and others in the room. What if he never gets a chance to coach the best quarterback he recruited here?
"The question isn't about me," he said, knowing he was essentially committing to this path now. "The question is about Brett. I can't make these decisions based on what's good for my career.
"I have too much respect for the young man and his family and too much respect for the position to put him in there before he's ready."
It was the kind of thing a coach with a lot more room for error might say, not one on as hot of a seat as Neuheisel has been this season.
I respect that. I respect that a lot. It made me think of how Ben Howland jerked around JK, Brendan Lane and Mike Moser during their careers with the UCLA basketball program. All of those kids would have benefited from red-shirt seasons at UCLA. Yet as well documented by now Howland completely mismanaged their careers as student athletes just so he could do his SOP in his stubborn ways at UCLA.
Stories like the one above also has me somewhat melancholy about tomorrow. As I have said repeatedly I have emotionally moved on from the Rick Neuehisel era at UCLA. Yet, a huge part of me is going to root for him hard so that he can go out on a great note. I am not talking about "moral victory" BS. I am talking about going out on a high note with a victory against Southern Cal and then UCLA making an announcement that he will not be returning as the head coach of this football program. But then Guerrero and UCLA administration simply do not have the courage to make that kind of decision.
You can see why the picture around UCLA football is so discombobulating and confusing. No worries though. I will reiterate again no matter what happens tomorrow, we are going to keep at it with intense pressure for a wholesale regime change in Westwood.
So even though when it comes to overall body of work as a failed head coach at UCLA, Neuheisel must go. Now that I have made that clear again let's get a victory over Southern Cal. Let's send him off on a warm note as the head coach of our football program just like he left as a player (or started as our head coach). I hope he can leave Westwood as a hero - at least "just for one day". I told you I have been feeling funky this week.