UCLA still looking for D-coordinator
UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel announced two changes to his coaching staff Thursday, but neither involved the hiring of a defensive coordinator.
Neuheisel hired Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro to coach the tight ends and fullbacks for UCLA and fired defensive line coach Todd Howard.
But the ongoing search for a defensive coordinator, a position open since Chuck Bullough was fired Dec. 18, remains unfulfilled.
"I'm still working through it," Neuheisel said. "I've got a list of candidates which I've talked to all of them and I've let most of them know that I'm going to make a decision by this weekend. I'm trying hard to be done, but I've got to be thorough because I've got to be right."
Neuheisel said the search for a defensive coordinator has been frustrating. He said he's had three different coordinators picked, but they all fell through for one reason or another.
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They are believed to be Rocky Long, who chose to accept a promotion to head coach at San Diego State rather than joining the Bruins staff; Vic Fangio, who followed Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers; and Rocky Seto, who was eliminated at the 11th hour before his hiring was announced.
"I've had the guy picked three times now, but circumstances have led the search to re-continue," Neuheisel said. "It's a complicated deal, but again, it doesn't matter how long it takes -- it matters what the results are."
Neuheisel said he hopes to have a decision "by this weekend" but that he "wouldn't rule out one more interview." He has come under fire from UCLA fans because of the slowness in the decision-making process. It's created a public image that nobody wants the job and that UCLA is a program in turmoil, but Neuheisel said he can't get caught up in those things.
"I understand the scrutiny, I understand the perception and that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, none of that matters," he said. "What matters is that we play well next year and to play well next year, I've got to make the best possible decision."
He did not name any possible candidates, though former Miami coach Randy Shannon, long considered a candidate, has interviewed, Neuheisel said.
"I have talked with Randy and was impressed with Randy," Neuheisel said.
Another candidate reportedly on the list is Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown, who interviewed earlier this week.
Seto, a former USC defensive coordinator, appeared poised to take the job last week, but at the last minute, Neuheisel had a change of heart.
"Before it reached the regents approval, which was necessary, other factors came to light that made it probably not the right time," Neuheisel said of the decision to pull Seto off the list. "I just have to be wary of everything. It just became not the right time."
Mastro has spent 11 years on the staff at Nevada, where he helped develop the Pistol offense UCLA attempted to clone last year. Neuheisel said his hiring was meant to help fine-tune that portion of UCLA's offense, but that the Bruins would not exclusively run the Pistol as they had last year.
Mastro said he was looking forward to the challenge.
"The Pistol is a process and the thing that was appealing to me about this is they already had the foundation laid," he said. "We've just got to go fine tune it. The nuances of it ... I like their team, I like their talent, I like their offense. They ran the ball for 170 yards a game, that's good. That's really good. I look forward to making this better."
Howard coached the defensive line at UCLA for five seasons and has already accepted the same position at Washington State. Neuheisel said he told Howard in December to prepare for a change.
"I just wanted him to know that as I was looking for a new coordinator, he needed to be ready to make the next move," Neuheisel said. "I just felt that we needed to make a change and I also wanted whoever is the new coordinator to have the opportunity to help with another staff member."
Peter Yoon covers colleges for ESPNLosAngeles.com.