Former Washington coach Rick Neuheisel is in his first season as coach at UCLA, the school where he played quarterback and was the most valuable player in the 1984 Rose Bowl. The unranked Bruins' first two games are against No. 18 Tennessee and at No. 16 Brigham Young.
LOS ANGELES — The first time he met with his new players at the University of Washington, coach Rick Neuheisel told them he was bringing back gold helmets.
Nine years later, he stood before his new UCLA team last winter and also invoked history. He told the Bruins about playing in the 1984 Rose Bowl, the feeling, the week leading up to it. The magic of it.
“We were kind of hanging on his every word,” says linebacker Reggie Carter.
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No wonder: Here is where Karl Dorrell, Neuheisel’s predecessor, got the Bruins in his five seasons: The Silicon Valley Classic. The Las Vegas Bowl. The Sun, Emerald, Vegas again. They lost four of five.
That got Dorrell pink-slipped. Enter the charismatic, controversial Neuheisel from the Baltimore Ravens’ staff after a long search that vetted to UCLA’s satisfaction his sundry missteps at Colorado and Washington.
“Now you’re excited about all the stuff that’s going to lie ahead; maybe that’s the most fun,” Neuheisel says of his return to college coaching. “Now there is a future, as opposed to wondering whether it’s ever going to happen.”
Here is more history: At Colorado, Neuheisel had quarterbacks — Kordell Stewart (as an assistant) and Koy Detmer. He had them at Washington — Marques Tuiasosopo and Cody Pickett.
It’s debatable whether the Bruins are so blessed. That issue was already out there for Ben Olson, who suffered the latest in a dizzying string of injuries to UCLA quarterbacks when he broke a foot Aug. 9.
Pat Cowan’s career was already finished with a spring knee injury. Until Olson overcomes his sixth injury-related absence since he arrived at UCLA in 2005 — he is to return in October — the job goes to JC transfer Kevin Craft. He is a 6-foot-5 former starter at San Diego State, where his dad, Tom, coached from 2002 to 2005.
Over the long haul, UCLA hopes to curtail injuries with the hire of strength coach Mike Linn. One of the Bruins’ summer regimens was a 300-yard shuttle drill in 50-yard increments, done three times, followed by squat-lifting. Players found it diabolical.
“After you run one, you’re pretty much exhausted,” says tight end Logan Paulsen. “So those days are definitely tough.”
This team shouldn’t fail for lack of coaching acumen. Neuheisel retained respected defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, keeping him from the clutches of Washington’s Tyrone Willingham, and, on the other side of the ball, he lured quarterback guru Norm Chow from the Tennessee Titans with a three-year contract.
The Neuheisel-Chow dynamic will be worth watching. The two are rock-star figures — Chow in a more understated fashion — and it is worth remembering Chow and USC coach Pete Carroll had a publicized split after early success.
“When I found out he was going to be our offensive coordinator, I was a little shocked,” says Paulsen. “He’s such a big name and there’s a lot of hype around him.”
“I think he’ll have a huge influence,” Neuheisel says. “I guess the biggest noticeable influence is that every quarterback in the country calls us, wanting to see if they can come. There’s a great allure to Norm Chow.”
Walker’s unit likely will have to carry this team, because the offensive line includes a mere two players who have seen time at the position.
Meanwhile, Walker has a pair of sturdy tackles in Brigham Harwell and rising star Brian Price. At linebacker, Carter moves from outside to the middle, in front of an inexperienced secondary.
Nonetheless, says Carter, “As an entire defense, I think we’re going to shock the country.”
In time, Neuheisel’s mission will be to contest the USC dynasty, not settle for the Emerald Bowl.
“You have to embrace it,” says the 47-year-old Neuheisel, referring to the USC challenge. “They’re that elephant in the living room. You can’t be the head football coach at UCLA and not find a way to compete successfully with USC.”
It’s not going to happen tomorrow or next week, only with a couple of more letters-of-intent days.
“He tells us we’re rarely going to see him,” says Carter, “because he’s out recruiting.”
The Bruins are the most decorated all-around athletic program in the country, so the USC monster represents only one deficit for Neuheisel.
“We can recruit the finest in the land to come to UCLA,” he insists. “There are 103 national-championship trophies one floor below where I sit. We can recruit.”
Someday, the story here might be more about the Bruins than about Neuheisel. But not yet.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
|All times Pacific|
|Sept. 1||vs. Tennessee||5 p.m.|
|Sept. 13||at BYU||12:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 20||vs. Arizona||Noon|
|Sept. 27||vs. Fresno St.||12:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 4||vs. Wash. St.||TBA|
|Oct. 11||at Oregon||TBA|
|Oct. 18||vs. Stanford||1 p.m.|
|Oct. 25||at California||TBA|
|Nov. 8||vs. Oregon St.||TBA|
|Nov. 15||at Washington||TBA|
|Nov. 28||at Arizona St.||6:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 6||vs. USC||1:30 p.m.|