The Bruins are just under 36 hours from walking onto the Autzen Stadium field to take on the Ducks for the Pac-12 championship. Thanks to the bowl waiver that was granted to the Bruins yesterday by the NCAA, the 18 seniors on the squad will have one more game to play, though tomorrow will be Rick Neuheisel's final night in charge of the team. Yesterday was the final practice before that game, and as Jon Gold blogged and Nestor mentioned last night, the team capped off the session by carrying Rick off of the practice field while singing the fight song. No matter what you think of Neu's time in Westwood, it is hard not to get a bit emotional when watching the video of that moment. Afterward, Neuheisel had a few words for the media, about the game and on his final moments in his dream job.
... asked to describe the tribute by his team, he lost it.
"It's meaningful when you work to create relationships and you want desperately for them to achieve what they are capable of achieving," he said, fighting back tears. "And despite the fact that we didn't win enough games, I think they are achieving as people. And I'm extremely proud to be a part of this team and looking forward to hopefully a grand finish."
... "I'm excited as can be about traveling with this team one more time and I'm looking forward to a great effort on Friday night," he said. "I don't have any idea how this thing will go except we're playing a damn good football team in a tough environment ... hopefully we can catch lightning in a bottle."
Meanwhile, there was nothing new coming from Chianti Dan or Morgan Center. There was news coming out of Pullman, Washington however. One day after announcing the firing of Paul Wulff, the Cougars announced that one of BN's favorite coaching candidates, Mike Leach, had been hired as their new football coach. Stewart Mandel wrote about how Leach is a good fit for Washington State, culturally as well as with the young talent that Wulff has brought into the program, while also looking at the lack of interest from other major programs like UCLA (and the interest expressed by the fans of said programs). While he might be a good fit for a Washington State program that is on the rise, but still near the bottom of the Pac-12 totem pole, the money that Cougars AD Bill Moos offered to Leach could not have hurt: the 5 year/$12 million contract places the Pirate behind only Jeff Tedford and Chip Kelly as the highest paid coach in the conference (as a private school, Southern Cal does not have to disclose the salary paid to Lane Kiffin). Yes, the 3rd highest paid football coach in the Pac-12 currently resides in Pullman...
The new media deal that the conference has negotiated played a major part in Washington State's ability to afford the salaries of Leach and the $1.8 million budgeted for his staff, but their AD also noted the necessity of reigniting excitement in the program and of getting 'butts in seats' in Pullman. This was not a sudden decision by Moos; Leach was on his mind during the season, as the likelihood of his needing to make a coaching change grew. Once he identified Leach as a top candidate, he started the full court press to bring him to Pullman, going so far as to fly to Leach's Key West residence last month, while Wulff was still on the job, to discuss the job with him. On the decision to hold the Florida meeting:
Moos said he felt he had to lay the foundation with Leach in order to have a chance to get him, should the decision be made to go in a different direction.
He knew that even if he was not certain to be looking for a coach this offseason, he knew that once he had identified the coach that he wanted in the event of an opening, he needed to keep the lines of communication open with him in order to retain a good chance of getting him. A strategy which worked perfectly for Wazzu. Along with ongoing improvements to their stadium and facilities, their Athletic Director has been highly proactive and effective in performing his job. In pushing through Major stadium renovations, hiring a new elite coach and allocating a significant amount of money for his assistants all in one offseason, Moos has accomplished what we haven't done in the last 20 years, let alone during one offseason.
And while Moos was the driving force behind Leach's hire, the university president found the search to be an important university endeavor, and believes that the right man got the job.
"I asked athletic director Bill Moos to select the best head football coach in the country and I am convinced that he has done exactly that," WSU president Elson Floyd said in a news release."
The Cougars knew that if they wanted any level of success in a conference including Oregon, Stanford, and a Cal program that will have some of the best football facilities in the country, they needed to make a strong hire. Mike Leach certainly looks to fill that role, and next fall's Apple Cup matchup with Steve Sarkisian's (and Nick Holt, if he is still employed there) Washington team should be fun viewing.
As muircoach shared with us via his viewing of last night's LA evening news, there is a rumor floating around that a traveling party set to travel to Boise to make UCLA's pitch to Chris Petersen will include both Troy Aikman and Cade McNown. Obviously a good thing if these Bruin greats are helping with the search in any manner. Also considering the details of a flight to Idaho and the history of his flying future UCLA coaches around that I mentioned earlier in the week, there is a good chance that Casey Wasserman is involved in the process.
Jon Gold had a brief chat with Brandon Huffman - Scout.com's recruiting guru - about the effect that the coaching change could have on the current recruiting class. The short answer is that it is not likely to have a significant impact: Huffman does not see the Bruins losing any of their key recruits, but depending on the coach that we hire and his focus, he might be able to nab a couple of key late commits.
Can this get UCLA in the living rooms of any elite prospects?
"It all depends on who they hire. A lot of it is dependent on if it's an offensive guy - maybe some guys didn't think they can do the Pistol, maybe the new guy runs the spread or the pro-style. Maybe it's a defensive guy, and maybe there can be an outside linebacker who doesn't want to play in a 4-3, but the new guy runs a 3-4 and now he looks at UCLA."