Former UCLA quarterback Neuheisel named head coach

Updated: December 30, 2007, 12:58 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Rick Neuheisel is returning to college coaching at the school where he first found fame and success.

Neuheisel, a quarterback who was the MVP in UCLA's 1984 Rose Bowl victory and later served as a Bruins assistant under Terry Donahue, was hired Saturday as his alma mater's 16th coach.

His five-year contract is for $1.25 million annually, plus incentives.

The 46-year-old Neuheisel succeeds Karl Dorrell, who was fired Dec. 3 after five seasons on the job. Dorrell, who caught two of Neuheisel's scoring passes in UCLA's 45-9 victory over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, had no head coaching experience before taking the Bruins' job.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said Neuheisel's experience and success as a head coach were significant.

"In the end it was all about 66 collegiate wins, a percentage that places him among the top active coaches in the country, and an opportunity for Rick to start anew with a clean slate at his alma mater," Guerrero said in a conference call.

Rick Neuheisel

Neuheisel

"He brings an energy, enthusiasm and a swagger that we needed."

Neuheisel spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, and will conclude his duties with them when they face Pittsburgh on Sunday. He served as quarterbacks coach in 2005-06, and was promoted to offensive coordinator last January.

"This is something that has been my blood," Neuheisel said of the college game. "I've missed it the last five years.

"It's a thrill for me to return to my alma mater and take over a program that I think can and should be one of the best in the country."

He had a 66-30 record as a head coach at Colorado from 1995-98 and Washington from 1999-2002. He hasn't been in the college game since Washington fired him in 2003 for participating in a betting pool on the NCAA basketball tournament. He sued for wrongful termination from Washington and settled in March 2005 with UW and the NCAA for $4.5 million.

Colorado was placed on two years' probation by the NCAA for infractions committed while he was the Buffaloes' coach. All were deemed secondary violations and most involved improper contact with recruits.

Neuheisel said he took full responsibility for his past errors in judgment, and assured Guerrero and other UCLA officials that he'd learned from his mistakes.

"They have my complete, unequivocal promise that this will never happen again," he said.

Guerrero said Neuheisel's problems at Washington and Colorado were a concern during interviewing process, but added, "They happened 5-10 years ago. I think he's much wiser and more mature. I don't think it's going to be an issue at all at UCLA."

After leaving Washington, Neuheisel began his road back to coaching that fall as a volunteer assistant coaching quarterbacks at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School.

He said he gained valuable experience both as a high school coach in the inner-city, and as an assistant with the Ravens.

"That [high school] was a grass roots reminder of what football is all about," he said, explaining that it wasn't just x's and o's, "but making sure kids had bus tokens to get home.

"In the last three years, I have gotten a chance to learn in the NFL and be around the best in the game. It's like the grad school of football."

The Bruins were 35-27 under Dorrell, including 6-6 this season. They lost to BYU 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl under defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who was also a candidate for the head coaching job.

Neuheisel wants to keep Walker on the staff.

"I have told Dan that DeWayne Walker is my No. 1 recruit," Neuheisel said. "I know he's a coveted, sought-after guy because of the way he's performed and the person he is."

Others interviewed for the head coaching job were Temple coach Al Golden, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Philadelphia Eagles assistant John Harbaugh.

Golden, Bellotti and Chow all took themselves out of consideration.

Ravens coach Brian Billick had been supportive of Neuheisel's bid to move back into the college ranks.

"Rick Neuheisel has been, and will make, an outstanding college coach," Billick said earlier this season. "The college game needs coaches like Rick Neuheisel."

Donahue said UCLA made a "great hire."

"Rick is a proven head coach with a very successful record in the Pac-10 and he will be able to compete with any team in the conference," Donahue said. "He will do a great job in attracting some of the best football players in the country to Westwood.

"It's great that they have kept it in the Bruin Family. A lot of the former players and alumni will be excited about this hire."

Neuheisel began his playing career at UCLA in 1979 as a non-scholarship player on special teams.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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