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Looking At Neuheisel As A First-Tier Choice

A Bruin Alum (BruinBlue) Makes A Pitch For Another Bruin Alum (Coach Neuheisel). BB makes a fairly convincing argument for the return of our prodigal son. GO BRUINS. -N

Perhaps the tension of this coaching search is getting to me; but I tell you, the more I think about the relative merits of the various coaches, both those whom we thought about in the early stages, and those more currently viable, the more I am thinking that Rick Neuheisel is not only the best candidate available now, but one of the top two or three overall.  I guess it was that I never really thought of him as a candidate at the outset, since we didn't look at him five years ago; and I sort of went along with the conventional wisdom that he was being effectively blackballed by the NCAA.  But now that he is in the spotlight, I have thought a lot more about it, and also looked up some of his past records; and a very compelling case is made.

It's not that I get my ideas about coaches from stats and even scores.  Like many of you, I have watched a great deal of college football over the years; and I do pride myself on my ability to separate the really good coaches from the pretenders.  It's not an exact science, of course; and a lot of it is just the "feel" of how they handle playcalls; how they perform in big games, etc.  And of course some of it has to be the actual scoreboard results.  Anyway, I do well remember watching Neuheisel closely at the outset of his career; because, like many, I was very upset that Terry Donahue had apparently pushed him out as his heir apparent, in favor of making Bob Toledo the offensive coordinator.  Then he went to Colorado, and rather lucked into the head job there after only one year.  Well, the first two years, he did a commendable job.  Then he struggled in the next two.  I don't think he was really ready for the pressure of such a high-profile position. Then he left and went off to Washington, where he looked like a better coach to me.  6-2 in league in his first year, taking over for Lambright.  Then 7-1 in league, 11-1 overall, and a fine performance in the Rose Bowl win.  Actually, Washington wasn't far off from deserving a bid to the national title game. Then the next year,  he was 6-2 in league, 8-2 overall, going into the last game, where he went to Miami (he had beaten a fine Hurricane team the year before) and was humbled by an overpowering club which went undefeated and romped in the national title game.  Then he lost a bitter but thrilling Holiday Bowl game to Texas, to finish 8-4.  The next year was the down year at 7-6, and 4-4 in league.  But it appeared that he had the pieces in place for a fine team the next year, when he was unfairly fired. At least that's what I've read from some apparently knowledgeable posters who were up there then and appear to have no essential bias about it.  I believe that his last two recruiting classes were both in the Top 25, belying what some have said about him not being able to recruit.

Putting this all together, we see that Neuheisel has a record of 66-30 (.688).  This puts him higher than all sorts of coaches, just based on winning percentage.  His teams have finished in the Top Ten three times in his eight years.  He has played in three BCS games, winning them all.  He has a Pac-10 winning record of 23-9,.  He won all four Apple Cup games against rival Washington State.  Now, how many coaches which we have considered or are considering, have records to compare with that?  This is not to say that there aren't some fine coaches at other programs where the talent is lesser, who might be extrapolated to do as well; but the fact is that it's still extrapolation, not certainty.  I cannot believe that with the recruiting advantages inherent in UCLA, Neuheisel won't do better here than he did anywhere else.  I also believe that with some NFL experience to give him some more depth of knowledge; and with the last eight years having chastened him, he will really do a fine job at his alma mater, the school where he has always wanted to coach.  Legitimate concerns have been raised about the fact that he had his best years at both Colorado and Washington in the first two at each school; but that is awfully scant data to extrapolate from, since he only had four at each place; and he did go 6-2 in the conference in his third year at Washington. I cannot say with absolute certainty that Neuheisel will do better here than he has done, but I do sense that he would.  And that would be pretty darn good.

It's so ironic that I have argued for years about UCLA's propensity to hire the alumnus; to go with the guy that the insiders like.  And we have missed so often in that way--with Farmer, Hazzard, Dorrell, even Donahue, at least in my view.  And I have always demanded that we go outside the "Bruin Family" and get someone who will bring a whole new perspective.  But Neuheisel may actually be the one alumnus with the credentials and the acumen to break that losing streak.  And note that he has been away from UCLA for a long time; working at different schools, with different heritages.  So he is far from an insular candidate.  And I like that he is so smart.  Smart coaches usually do better than...not-so-smart ones.  Sometimes his cleverness has been his downfall; his thinking that he can get away with things that others cannot.  But I have to believe that he is intelligent enough to learn from that, too.  And as others have said very effectively on Bruins Nation, most of his transgressions were really pretty minor stuff.

I'm writing all of this because I am actually thinking that ironically enough, we might have the right coach right there in front of us, and are going to bypass him.  It's becoming pretty obvious to me that Dan Guerrero either does not want to hire Neuheisel, or is trying very hard to find someone else who would placate the alumni and boosters.  It may just be that he is afraid to take a side in the growing internecine warfare between the Walker faction and the Neuheisel faction.  He may fear upsetting the NCAA; though my understanding was that Neuheisel was recently vetted by that body.  I am not sure what he is doing.  But he longer he keeps looking at outside coaches, the more it appears that he may just try to grab one of them, and thus extricate UCLA from this increasingly contentious struggle.  I hope that Neuheisel hangs around long enough to see how this plays out, but he really might not; and then where will we be?  Well, we might possibly get Leach;  we might possibly get Jones.  I personally prefer Neuheisel to either of them; but certainly respect the opinions of those astute contributors here who might disagree. We might also get someone like Herman Edwards, who is a great guy, but not all that much of a football coach, and completely untested in college.  Believe me, if I thought that we had a real chance at someone like Mark Richt or Urban Meyer, I'd be all for it; but this isn't going to happen. And I see a real danger of us ending up with some "neutral" hire, whose reputation (particularly if it's NFL-based) is more than his actual ability.

Another thing to really like about Neuheisel:  Can you think of many other coaches who would have the confidence, even the arrogance, and the dynamism to stand toe-to-toe with Pete Carroll, not only for recruits, but in the big game?  Neuheisel has all of Carroll's cockiness, without its overbearing side. Leach and Jones certainly seem to have this, too.  But again, with Neuheisel you are not really doing much extrapolating from a record at a smaller school; you are looking at someone who has played in BCS games more than once.  I know that all of us are aching to be able to take it to Carroll, not just once every seven years, but  to give him as good as he gets.  That's really a tall order, and one that most Bruin fans have essentially given up on, no matter how they talk.  But though it won't happen overnight (the talent level next year will be lacking), I can actually see Neuheisel making UCLA a force to be reckoned with on the national scene; and along with that would go a pretty fair chance of playing even with the monster across town.  We used to do that, as we all remember.

Well, we'll ultimately get the person that Dan Guerrero chooses.  I could certainly live with anyone who has been a successful college coach.  But it's just my sense right now that Neuheisel is a lot more than a "fallback" or "second-tier" candidate; but is actually one of the very few people who might actually make a difference in our long-suffering football fortunes.

- Bruin Blue