The Golden Boy has lost his shine. Rick Neuheisel came to UCLA with the reputation of being an offensive guru; but two games into his third season as the Bruins head coach fans are still waiting for results. A master mechanic who can’t get the ’68 Camaro off the blocks it rests on in the front yard.
In December 2007, Neuheisel was hired as the head coach of the UCLA Bruins football team. Excitement was in the air in Westwood as the prodigal son was coming home. As a starting quarterback, Neuheisel led the unranked Bruins to a rout of #3 Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl. As a head coach, he inserted high octane offenses at both the University of Colorado and the University of Washington. Now he was coming home, and Bruin fans could not be happier.
It did not seem to matter to the Bruins faithful that Neuheisel left a trail of destruction behind him. The NCAA placed Colorado on two years probation after an investigation uncovered 51 recruiting violations by Neuheisel. When it became apparent the NCAA was about to come down hard on Colorado, Neuheisel jumped ship and took the head coaching job at Washington. Four years later he was fired by Washington for lying to school administrators on two separate occasions, which was soon followed by the worst five year stretch in the history of Washington football.
What mattered was that UCLA had a pretty good defense and needed an offense to go with it. Who could be a better fit than an alum with a track record of leading teams with a potent offense? USC had not only been dominating the Los Angeles football scene, but the Pac 10 as well. UCLA needed to make a hire that would help put UCLA football back on the map and compete with USC for command of the LA market. So with much fanfare, Neuheisel came to Westwood. Neuheisel wasted no time, and pulled off a major coup by hiring Norm Chow to run the offense. Chow is an offensive mastermind with a resume of success dating back to the mid-70’s. The prodigal son was going to lead them to the promised land.
Neuheisel’s tenure at UCLA started off with a bang, by defeating Southeastern Conference powerhouse Tennessee at the Rose Bowl. UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero looked like a genius for hiring Neuheisel. The honeymoon was short lived however, as UCLA was humiliated by BYU in their very next game, 59-0. As the season progressed, the losses kept mounting and UCLA finished 4-8. Even the big victory over SEC powerhouse Tennessee to start the season off lost its luster as Tennessee ended up having their worst record in 31 years. UCLA ended the 2008 season with their lowest scoring average per game since 1971.
2009 started off well, with the Bruins winning all three of their out of conference games. UCLA then went on to lose their first five conference games, and finished 3-6 in Pac 10 play. Their only victories in the conference came against the three teams which did not make a bowl game, the conference bottom feeders.
More alarming however, was the uninspired play from the offense. This was supposed to be Neuheisel’s specialty, and yet the Bruins finished 9th in the conference in points per game, and 8th in yards per game. On the national scale, UCLA ranked 93rd in scoring and 88th in yards. Not exactly the kind of numbers UCLA fans were expecting when Neuheisel came back to town.
With the natives getting restless in Westwood, the 2010 season opened up with muffled optimism. Neuheisel’s highly touted recruit at quarterback, Kevin Prince, was going to have a year of experience behind him and the Bruins appeared to be stacked at running back. After two games however, Bruin fans are beginning to question if their prodigal son is a fraud. UCLA ranks 115th (out of 120 teams) in the nation in points per game, 111th in yards per game and 115th in passing yards per game. Last week’s 35-0 loss to Stanford was nowhere near as close as the score indicated.
Neuheisel came to town riding a wave of affection and hope, that the combination of his and Chow’s offensive genius was going to bring the program to the next level; Pac 10 Championships and Rose Bowl victories. Instead, he has fallen off his surfboard and is tumbling in the coral. Rick Neuheisel is not an offensive genius, his genius lies in convincing people that he is an offensive genius.
UCLA has the worst offense they have had in decades. It has not improved under Neuheisel’s guidance,in fact it has gotten worse. On the flip side, the once proud UCLA defense has turned into a punching bag. It is beginning to look as if he is going to leave UCLA in the same condition he left Colorado and Washington, a wreck. It is about time people start seeing Neuheisel for what he is, somebody who talks a good game and cannot back up his talk with results.
Bruin fans and alums can’t say they weren’t warned either. They chose to ignore the trail of destruction in Neuheisel’s wake. Surely he would not do that to them, he was one of them, where his loyalties lie. Unfortunately though, loyalty doesn’t win football games, talent does. The sooner UCLA admits that Neuheisel pulled a fast one on them, the sooner the program can get back to respectability.