After a few weeks of seeming inaction, if not outright befuddlement as to the status of the UCLA football coaching staff, the Bruins have a new offensive coordinator, and news of interviews - and a high profile name - emerging in the search to replace the sainted Chuck Bullough. While news of these personnel moves first broke several days ago, Saturday saw the Bruins welcome a new member into the family, while another left for a new conference rival.
It was two weeks ago that news began to spread that San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson was being considered to take the same role with the Bruins. While Johnson was offered the position at that time, and spent time on campus over the past week, Morgan Center officially announced his hiring as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach on Saturday morning. In the release, Coach Neuheisel praised Johnson, while noting his own desire to take a more active role in the offense.
"During my assessment of our program, I felt it was necessary for me to be more involved in the day-to-day operation of the offense," Neuheisel said. "I decided that going forward, I will coach the quarterbacks and will be more hands-on in the area of play calling with a new coordinator.
Later on Saturday, Johnson and Neuheisel held a presser discussing the hire, and what led to it. Neu started by noting that while the program had always had good coaches, the chemistry among the coaching staff was not perfect, and that the resulting 'less than disfunction' had affected the program. There is no designated playcaller among the new offensive braintrust; Coach Neuheisel envisioned a collaborative effort with Johnson in calling plays and running the offense.
In my original post raising Mike Johnson's candidacy to Bruins Nation, I drafted a basic primer of Johnson and his football career. While I noted that he had worked with Neuheisel with the Baltimore Ravens, Neu had known - and liked - Johnson for some time before that. They first met when Johnson was a QB at Arizona State, and Neu gave him a few pointers while playing in the USFL. Their paths crossed again when, as an assistant to Mike Riley at Oregon State, Johnson was beating Neu's Washington Huskies for recruits in Southern California. Rick mentioned that he had wished to add him to his UW staff, before Johnson followed Riley to San Diego upon the latter's taking over the Chargers. Neu raved over his recruiting ability, particularly in Southern California. Johnson added that he had already hopped on the recruiting trail, and would continue focusing on recruiting in the final two weeks before signing day.
While the Bruins added a coach to the staff, it stood to reason that another would leave the fold...
While the writing was on the wall as soon as the credible news of a replacement came out, it was also not until the past Saturday that Norm Chow left the UCLA staff. Chow's recently-signed contract extension was reportedly bought out under mutually acceptable terms, allowing him to take the offensive coordinator position at his alma mater - and soon-to-be conference rival - University of Utah. Like with the Johnson hire, news of Chow's imminent departure to Salt Lake City broke quickly, but did not gain traction until late in the process. While waiting for the process to sort out, we noted that the lack of decisiveness, or even credible information coming from either coach Neuheisel or Morgan Center on both the Chow/Johnson situation and the vacancy at defensive coordinator was causing the program to take a PR hit.
While the chemistry between the two on staff may have been less than ideal, Coaches Neuheisel and Chow were able to part ways on friendly terms.
"Norm is a fine man and an outstanding coach and I have enjoyed working with him. He will do a great job at Utah.
"I thank him for his contributions to our program and wish Norm and his family well in the future."
"We're disappointed it didn't turn out the way we hoped it would, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort or a lack of teamwork," he said. "Rick and I are friends. I feel like we worked very very well together and it's just unfortunate that the results didn't show that.
"I told Rick, when all this settles down, the four of us [Chow and his wife, Diane and Neuheisel and his wife, Susan] should all go out to dinner. "
Chow added that his history with Utah, as a graduate of the University as well as where his family came together, makes his return special. I hope that we can all thank Norm for his time in Westwood - even if it did not turn out the way that anyone though would happen - and good luck in the future. Just not on November 12.
While leadership on the offensive side of the ball is taken care of, the defensive coordinator position remains open. While the several weeks since Bullough's firing have seen names such as Vic Fangio come and go without much substance, it now seems that UCLA has finally advanced far into the search process. According to 'program sources', defensive coordinator candidates have begun to be interviewed. Jon Gold cited such sources stating that former Miami head coach Randy Shannon was set to interview for the position yesterday, while another high profile defensive coach was also rumored to be coming in to talk about the position.
Shannon could be a mutually beneficial hire for Neuheisel and UCLA. While his teams' overall success and records were not at the level of his predecessors at The U, his defenses were typically top-notch, while maintaining a disciplinary record that was likewise unknown at The U (his team accruing just 4 Fulmer Cup points during his tenure - hell, we racked up 9 points just for last year's backpack theft). As a result of his dismissal from Miami, he is still being paid by the U, and therefore the financial cost of bringing him on board is not as onerous as it might otherwise be for a coach of his stature. It is reasonable to assume that Shannon would like to opportunity to take another head coaching position in the future, and with nothing open at the moment, taking a defensive coordinator position for a year or two would be a good way to bide his time and prepare for his next position. The nature of the hot seat under Neu's behind should not be much of a deterring factor to him, for similar reasons as above - if Neu does not last past 2011, Shannon will likely look for a new head coaching job, whether applying for a vacant position in Westwood or elsewhere.