Concluding a football season when so much went wrong, UCLA lost the Las Vegas Bowl game Saturday, December 22, to Brigham Young when Kai Horvath’s 28-yard field goal attempt on the final play was blocked.
The 17-16 defeat capped a once-promising 6-7 season that was marred by injuries, inconsistency, and the firing of coach Karl Dorrell.
Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker was the Bruins’ interim coach for the bowl game and is a candidate for the head coaching position permanently, but as the week began former Bruin quarterback Rick Neuheisel was perceived to be the top choice.
Quite simply, the UCLA football program is a mess.
Forced to compete with the wildly successful USC program, UCLA had five years of mediocrity during Dorrell’s tenure.
And after Dorrell was fired, a comical search began for a replacement, one in which new names surfaced almost daily, an outside search firm was hired, and the school’s chancellor conducted interviews as well as the athletic director.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said he was contacted so often he ultimately let Bruin representatives make their pitch to him in Eugene. And then he said no.
It came down to three finalists, all with a significant flaw, as the week began.
Neuheisal has had problems with the NCAA in two prior head coaching jobs – recruiting violations at Colorado and a betting pool scandal at Washington. He lost the latter job but won $4.5 million in an appeal. At first UCLA officials were reluctant to consider him as a candidate, but they changed their minds.
Neuheisal is frequently called “Slick Rick” in the media. Some UCLA boosters like the fact he’d be a Bruin coach who isn’t intimidated by Pete Carroll and USC. Others worry if NCAA sanctions would follow. Some friends insist Neuheisal has learned from his mistakes.
Walker, a highly respected defensive coordinator, had never been a head coach until guiding the Bruins in the Las Vegas Bowl. Considering that Dorrell had no head coaching experience until given the UCLA job, it seems unlikely UCLA would go in that direction again.
Finally, there is Al Golden, a surprise finalist. His record as head coach at Temple the last two years is 5-19, and he’s hardly the high-profile coach UCLA needs to compete against Carroll, Bellotti at Oregon, Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, and others in the Pac-10.
In an interesting aside, Neuheisel played quarterback at UCLA as a walk-on. It’s a rarity in major college football when the starting quarterback came to school without a scholarship. And in the Las Vegas Bowl, UCLA’s quarterback for most of the game was McLeod Bethel-Thompson, another walk-on.
Finally, a thought about Dan Guerrero, UCLA’s athletic director. He’s receiving criticism for hiring Dorrell, but remember that he also hired Ben Howland, UCLA’s highly successful basketball coach.
It would be wise for UCLA to make a decision soon because every day they’re without a coach the chances increase that recruits who had verbally committed but haven’t signed binding letters of intent could change their mind.
As an example, Antwon Moutra of Culver City High, the third-leading receiver in California, has verbally committed to UCLA but took a recruiting trip elsewhere two weekends ago.