I'm just going to admit it:
On some level, I'm going to be sad to see Rick Neuheisel go.
Just so we're clear, my personal top criteria for a UCLA football coach was and is "No prior ties to UCLA football." For me, both Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel were mistakes if for no other reason than their prior association with the program. What others saw as "we need a UCLA guy because only a UCLA guy will understand the culture at UCLA and deal with it" I saw as "we need an outsider who won't go along with the UCLA football culture because it is the culture that's the problem and the culture needs changing and only an outsider will try and seriously change the culture."
No matter - my point is not to declare "I told you so" nor is it to point up other reasons why Rick Neusheisel was the wrong choice. It doesn't matter now who said what, way back when.
But I did want to say, that even though I was never his biggest proponent, I'm going to miss him when he's gone.
See, for the last 15 years or so, the Rick Neusheisel coaching regime and what he might do as head coach was a specter hanging over the program, an unfulfilled myth wrought with potential and promise. From the moment Terry Donahue passed Rick Neusheisel over for the offensive coordinator's position and imported Bob Toledo from Texas aTm and Rick Neusheisel left to become Bill McCartney's OC in Colorado, UCLA fans - me included - have wondered what kind of head coach Rick Neuheisel would be at UCLA.
And when Rick Neusheisel had some success at Colorado, both as a coordinator and again as their head coach, and when he duplicated some of that success as the head coach at Washington, UCLA fans were left to wonder what he could do as our head coach. When we fired Bob Toledo, surely Neuheisel was considered as a replacement, though the timing wasn't right given some of his problems at UW. But when Dorrell didn't cut it, the time had arrived: After years of wondering what would happen if Rick Neuheisel became our head coach, we'd finally find out.
I saw or heard an interesting remark recently, not sure if it was on Bruins Nation or somewhere else. The point of the remark was that if Rick Neusheisel had taken over a program at the top of its game, he might have been able to sustain it. What did happen, though, is that he took over a program Karl Dorrell had washed up on the rocks and he simply has not been able to dig the ship out and get it back on the water.
It's now time to burn the boat and start all over again.
But I'm feeling a sense of impending loss as the Rick Neuheisel era comes to a halting, stuttering end. What I'm missing is the potential of the Rick Neuheisel era we clung to for all those years; I'm starting to feel the empty space where the myth of Rick Neuheisel lived. It was a myth filled with images of a riverboat gambling offense, of incredible recruiting of star playmakers and of scoreboards lit up like pinball machines. The mythic Rick Neuheisel was supposed to take chances, keep people guessing and make things fun. He was supposed to change the UCLA culture from the inside (he being an insider himself) and re-create the program as something we've always longed for -- something fun and exciting and winning on a consistent basis.
Instead, the reality of his program was none of those things. The reality was "punting is winning" and lots of field goals. The reality was a shift from a passing offense to an option running game (despite not really having any quarterbacks on the roster who could run real well). The reality was recruiting that started off great when the program still had potential and that went south with the reality did not match up with expectations.
The one thing about the myth of Rick Neuheisel that scared us when it was still just potential was his "Slick Rick" reputation. This was a guy who was supposed to take too many chances and the fear was he'd get caught breaking a few rules off the field while baffling opponents on it. The opposite proved true. Neuheisel played by the rules off the field (credit where credit is due) and played it close to the vest on the field.
Now that it's all coming to a close and the dream is dead, we are left to wonder what happened. I don't know if we'll ever be sure if the conservative culture of UCLA football was simply too much for him to change and if its restrictive nature infected his on the field approach. We'll probably never know if his run ins with the NCAA prior to coming to Westwood subdued him, left him more conservative and less daring. And we'll really never know if his finally arriving back at UCLA, if his prodigal son returning home, simply left him feeling like he made it and with nothing left to prove, Maybe he spent too much time simply trying to keep his job, instead of trying to do his job.
And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Colorado Buffaloes edition:
- The over under on the UCLA Colorado game if 55.5. Do you like the over or the under?
- Taylor Embree is going up against his dad, the head coach at Colorado? How many touchdowns will Taylor get against his dad?
- With all the stadium talk and given the importance of this game (one more win and were bowl eligible -- yippee!!!), will attendance break 55,000?
- Final bonus question: Be the first person to name the player Karl Dorrell said he forgot about in his first game as head coach, played in Boulder against the Buffs.