Commentary

Career-defining win for Rick Neuheisel?

UCLA's 34-12 victory over Texas is a significant achievement for the Bruins' coach

Updated: September 26, 2010, 12:09 AM ET
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- Strange things seem to happen when UCLA visits Texas for a football game.

Program-changing things. Career-defining things.

Last time, those things happened to Texas and former coach John Mackovic. On Saturday, they very well may have happened for Rick Neuheisel and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireUCLA's 34-12 win over No. 7 Texas could be remembered as a turning point in Rick Neuheisel's embattled career.

Neuheisel marched his team into Darrell K. Royal Stadium on Saturday and unleashed the defining moment of his three years at UCLA with a 34-12 trouncing of No. 7 Texas.

It was an eerily similar repeat of when UCLA last came here in 1997 and defeated then-No. 11 Texas 66-3 in what is widely considered the worst loss in Texas football's storied history.

It was certainly the defining loss of Mackovic's career. He was fired the day after that season ended, coached at Arizona for three seasons, went 10-18 and was fired after starting 1-4 in 2003.

Texas hired Mack Brown to replace Mackovic and the Longhorns have been a national power ever since.

Could this year's UCLA-Texas game eventually propel the Bruins into the national scene? And what about Neuheisel? Could this be the springboard he needs to finally make good on his 2008 hiring promise that the football monopoly in Los Angeles is over?

"Time will tell," Neuheisel said. "I've been here before. You don't have to look very far into my resume to know that I'm the ugly duckling. But you keep believing good things will happen and if you work hard enough, they do."

Neuheisel's resume includes clouds of controversy left behind at Colorado and Washington. NCAA investigations, accusations of recruiting violations and gambling overshadowed his coaching accomplishments.

He returned to his alma mater in 2008, made that famous promise, but had yet to deliver any signs of knocking crosstown rival USC of its perch as football king.

This year, Neuheisel's third was to be a big turnaround season, but it didn't exactly get off to a flying start. The Bruins were coming off a 7-6 season and expected to improve, but fell to 0-2 and were going nowhere fast after a dreadful performance in a 35-0 loss to Stanford on Sept. 11.

Talk of firing Neuheisel began flooding sports radio and Internet message boards and it wasn't difficult to imagine he wouldn't last at UCLA any longer than his four years at Colorado or four at Washington.

"Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have won any election," Neuheisel said. "Now those results would probably be skewed in the other direction.

That's because the Bruins have taken down Top 25 teams in consecutive weeks. Last week, they grounded the high-flying offense of Houston in a 31-13 victory.

Saturday, Neuheisel put his team up against the nation's top-ranked run defense and told it to run the ball. And the Bruins did, rushing 56 times and 264 yards against a team that had given up only 44 yards a game in its first three.

"Everybody has bought in to what he's saying," said senior defensive lineman David Carter. "Yeah, we got off to a bad start but he had us believing we could get it turned around. We never doubted him and if that's not a sign of a good coach, then I don't know what is."

Neuheisel said the victory over Texas was "up there" on his list of coaching moments but was quick to acknowledge that this one victory does not turn around the program and that the last two don't make his career. UCLA can be taken seriously on the national stage only with consistent performances, he says.

Still, some pretty important people see this victory over Texas as a major step in the right direction.

"We knocked off two teams that were nationally ranked the last two weeks," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "Wins like that give us a chance to look forward to some promising things. Rick truly believes that these guys have a chance over time to be something special and that we can get back into the national picture and I believe it, too."

Why not?

UCLA victories over Texas tend to change things.

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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