Rick Neuheisel has become the UCLA football coach and he says “it’s a dream come true.”
Now it’s up to him to prevent the dream from turning into a nightmare.
Quite simply, the 46-year-old former UCLA quarterback has the credentials to restore the Bruins to football prominence. He’s been a winner in the Rose Bowl Game twice, as a UCLA player in 1984 and head coach at Washington in 2000. His coaching record in four years at Colorado and four at Washington is 66-30.
But he was replaced in both jobs – first for recruiting violations that brought two years of NCAA probation to Colorado, and then for his participation in a basketball betting pool at Washington. He sued there and was awarded $4.5 million for wrongful termination.
He earned the tag of “Slick Rick.” UCLA was so unsure it wanted him, the hiring was delayed for nearly a month while background checks were made and other candidates were considered.
Rumors circulated, including the one that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero didn’t want Neuheisel. But it’s hard to separate fact from fiction in this story because UCLA hired a search firm to help in the process and Chancellor Gene Block interviewed candidates too.
It could be that UCLA lost confidence in Guerrero because he’s the guy who hired Karl Dorrell five years ago – the coach who didn’t distinguish himself and was fired a month ago.
Where does the UCLA football program stand now? It could thrive or it could plunge to new depths, depending on whether Neuheisel has learned from his mistakes.
“I used poor judgment, I made poor decisions,” he said in a telephone conference call on December 29. “I take the responsibility for them.
“You have my absolute, unequivocal promise that they will never take place again.”
If UCLA goes on NCAA probation because of Neuheisel, however, the program would be in much worse shape than it is now, following Dorrell’s inability to get the Bruins into major bowl games. Competing against USC in Los Angeles, a UCLA team on probation because the administration guessed wrong on Neuheusel would sink the program so low it would take many years to recover.
So, regardless of what UCLA is saying, it is taking a major gamble.
It would have been easier if Chris Peterson of Boise State or Mike Bellotti of Oregon would have accepted UCLA’s overtures. But they didn’t.
In the spirit of giving someone a second chance, or a third, Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen is welcoming Neuheisel back into the league. But he says he hopes Neuheisel realizes he’s getting “a precious opportunity.”