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The New Mindset

Well it’s here. The first football season of Rick Neuheisel era in Westwood begins with this - Rick Neuheisel and Brigham Harwell, the uber talented DL who is looking to make his own come back - on the center stage:


Photo Credit: Steve K. Zylius, the OC Register

And according to Bud Withers of the Seattle Times (not CRN’s favorite newspaper) no doubt who has won the first battle:

A new sheriff was in town Thursday for Pac-10 football media day, and a great cluster of press guys surrounded his circular table as he finished lunch.

He was Rick Neuheisel, UCLA's new football coach. You might have heard of him. The throng around him in Los Angeles was every bit as thick as that for USC coach Pete Carroll, so Neuheisel has already won his first battle.

I am sure there are lot more battles coming up some of which he is going to come up short. However, Neuehisel once again gave clear indications yesterday how things are going to be different in Westwood. Let’s take for example his comments on Ben Olson. Yesterday in response to the DN story about BO putting in 14 hour workout sessions Bald Eagle wrote this here on BN:

Unfortunately a 14 hour workout session isn’t where BOis going to develop these skills. Will it help him perform better on the field and hopefully reduce the likely of future injury; I believe so. And success on the field will help solidify his position as the team’s leader. For now he has been chosen as the leader of this football team by the coaches. But what will he do to engender the support of his teammates? Make them believe in him?; make them put forth that extra effort in the 4th quarter when we’re down by 6 and need a score to pull out a win?

Certainly success on the field will do that. But I believe he needs to do more. As a married young man with an important life outside of school and the gridiron, he needs to find a way to connect to his teammates off the field. Pat Cowen was far more successful then Ben at this. PC’s ability to get the team to work harder for him and believe in his abilities (which arguably are inferior to BO’s) is a testament to PC’s leadership qualities. I’m not sure what things BO needs to do with his teammates so they believe that he is their leader. Hopefully that is where CRN can help. More than mechanics, or reading safeties, CRN and NC need to mentor BO and provide him with suggestions on how to become the true leader and not just the chosen one.

Well Neuheisel channeled Bald Eagle yesterday (emphasis added):

"For Ben to go where he wants to go, for us to go with him, he needs to win the players over," Neuheisel said after the Bruins were picked to finish fifth during Thursday's Pac-10 media day. "That'll be interesting if he can do that. I'm hoping, and that's what we're going to start with in earnest; how to do it."

Olson enters training camp, which starts Aug. 5, as the starting quarterback, a position he figures to hold for the third straight opener even though he is still recovering from offseason foot surgery. But Neuheisel said Patrick Cowan, who was given the job in the spring, had the ability to lead, although that is now meaningless since Cowan's career ended with a torn knee ligament in the spring.

"There were a couple of times in the spring where the ball wasn't where it was supposed to be, and (Olson) would get mad at the receiver," Neuheisel said. "It could have totally been the receiver's fault, but that's not the way to do it. You tell him, `That's on me.' Now, the receiver says, `He's got my back."'

Junior college transfer Kevin Craft, who seemed overwhelmed in spring practice, is Olson's backup, but redshirt freshman Chris Forcier and incoming freshmen Kevin Prince and Nick Crissman will also compete for the backup spot.

"UCLA football needs the quarterback to play well, and (Olson) is getting the first chance," Neuheisel said. "Play well, but understand playing well is having guys wanting to play with you."

Not sure what else I can add to that. We will always be supportive of Olson. But this is it. This is his time to finally take advantage of the opportunity his new coaches are giving him. It certainly sounds like he totally dedicated himself this off season in making a come back, but now comes the part of taking control of this team as a leader on the field. We are all hoping Olson will take advantage of having coaches like Neuheisel and Chow around him who are not only two of the best offensive minds in the country, but also have established that they will not shy away from offering frank and precise evaluations on their players. This is something we haven’t seen out of UCLA coaches not just in past 5 years, but in decades. This kind of mindset is refreshing if not Howlendesque.

Speaking of mindset Harwell told folks about what the offensive line has been up to this off season:

"This offseason they keep hearing how bad they are, and I keep reminding them how bad they are," UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said of the offensive line. "I tell them in the weight room, and they get mad. So I'm telling you, I've never seen the offensive line work so hard. They'll be ready. They have a huge chip on their shoulders. They know everyone is pointing at them. They know."

No one will be happier than all of us here who have pointed to the OL as one of the two biggest question mark of this season (QB being the other). We are rooting for these guys and rooting for us to be completely wrong in our lack of confidence at this current snap shot of time.

Going back to Neuheisel, Mark Saxon from the OC Register has this bit on him changing up the practice pace:

Neuheisel will try an approach that he first refined when he was head coach at Washington. At the beginning of fall camp, he will divide practices in half. In the first session, the first and third units will be on the field. Later, the second and fourth units will take snaps.

In between, from 4:20 to 4:40 p.m., the entire team will practice special teams.

What's the point of shortening a day already limited to 180 minutes by NCAA rules? Neuheisel said he is trying to get players more snaps under the eyes of the new coaching staff.

For more on the coverage of yesterdays media day here are more reports from the Press Enterprise and the OC Register (a worthless Marcia Smith piece swooning over Neuheisel and Carroll). Dilbeck from the Daily News also hits on the evolution of UCLA/Southern Cal rivalry with Neuheisel in the scene and pointedly made this observation:

It's not completely unlike the situation presented to Tim Floyd when he first took the USC basketball job. Only whenever Floyd was asked about playing in the shadow of UCLA, he would go on and on about Arizona. Barely recognized the Bruins' historic success.

Well we all know how that worked out for Timmeh. Good for Neuheisel for not taking that approach. Right now he is playing it right which has even his one of his most ardent critics – Bud Withers - believing:

Maybe this can work, in a way that Washington didn't. He is back at the place where he fought his way up from walk-on to Rose Bowl MVP, a place he ought to know and love like no other.

We can’t wait to find out … this year (and beyond).

Fired Up, Ready To Go.