Neuheisel promises clean, fun program for Bruins
LOS ANGELES -- Mixing solemn promises with sprinkles of humor, Rick Neuheisel walked back onto the UCLA campus as the new football coach.
"We're going to have two rules. One rule is to get the job done, no matter what it takes," the former Bruins quarterback said. "The second rule is to enjoy each others' company and laugh every day, because this is a special, unique place."
Among his promises were not to do anything to tarnish the school's reputation.
His previous head coaching stints at Colorado and Washington were marked by winning records -- and turmoil.
He went 33-14 from 1995-98 at Colorado but, after he left for Washington, the Buffaloes were placed on two years of probation for recruiting infractions that occurred on his watch. He had a 33-16 record at Washington and guided the Huskies to the Rose Bowl in 2000, but was fired in 2003 for participating in a betting pool on the NCAA basketball tournament.
He sued for wrongful termination and settled in 2005 with UW and the NCAA for $4.5 million, and eventually was cleared by the NCAA in the betting scandal.
The 46-year-old Neuheisel readily acknowledges his mistakes.
"I was a young coach when I got the job at age 33, and maybe in an effort to prove that I belonged to the older peer group, I did some things that probably weren't necessary in an effort to try to compete and show everybody I was going to outhustle them," he said.
"I can't change the past, but I can learn from the past."
He recalled being a non-scholarship player at UCLA who was excited by each small step of progress, from getting his own locker, then his own number after sharing No. 24 with another player, "Then to actually getting into a game, then actually getting into a game when the score was still meaningful."
He said he comes into the new role with the Bruins feeling calm because of his experience in leading programs at Colorado and Washington, and noted how he wasn't quite so confident when he first came to Westwood as a walk-on.
Recalling a game of catch with another player, Neuheisel said, "I was a little nervous that he was throwing a much better spiral than I was."
He grinned and added, "And he was a tight end."
That brought laughter from the crowd at his news conference, with the alumni and university staffers in the back of the room giving the news conference a sort of pep rally atmosphere.
Tight spirals or not, Neuheisel became the Bruins' starting quarterback and was the MVP of their 45-9 upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl. Two of his four touchdown passes that day were caught by Karl Dorrell, who was fired as the UCLA coach on Dec. 3.
The quarterback and the receiver remained close, with Dorrell serving on Neuheisel's staffs at Colorado and Washington. Neuheisel called Dorrell when he learned he had been dismissed by UCLA.
"He's a great man and a great leader and he'll always be a Bruin, and as long as I'm in charge of this program, we're going to speak of Karl Dorrell in reverent tones," Neuheisel said, adding that he knows Dorrell will land another job soon.
There is a marked difference between the two, with Neuheisel more outgoing -- at least in public -- than the quiet Dorrell.
"He wasn't very talkative," Neuheisel said, smiling. "He wore No. 8 and I wore No. 10, our lockers were that close together. And he was a sophomore before he said hello."
A handful of UCLA players showed up for the news conference, and seemed to like what they heard.
"We're excited," quarterback Ben Olson said. "He's definitely got a lot of charisma. It's been a challenging couple of years, and he's determined that we're going to take this city over."
That would mean knocking the USC Trojans and coach Pete Carroll out of the limelight.
Neuheisel drew more laughter when he mentioned meeting some of the players in the hallway before the news conference and telling them, "The message is this: Guys, we're all the same, we got recruited by UCLA ... me for the first time."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press