Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coachpocalypse: Neuheisel a goner

Previously in coachpocalypse: No more Zooker, no more hilarious punts

I assumed the other day that Rick Neuheisel would officially retain his job through the Pac-12 title game and then get canned after losing by 30. UCLA didn't bother waiting that long; when you know, you know. I'm pretty sure they knew after the 50-0 (lol) loss to USC.

Speaking of which, has there ever been a coach fired prior to participating in a conference championship game? Anybody? It says a lot about the Pac-12 South that the nominal winner was so bad that the coach is gonna be fired even if said team miraculously makes it to the Rose Bowl. Pathetic.

Anyway, so Neuheisel's gone (or about to be gone). This is not overly surprising given his complete lack of success through four years at UCLA. Alma mater or not, a winning season is usually a good thing to bolster the ol' resume. Neuheisel technically had one -- UCLA went 7-6 in 2009 -- but needed a bowl win to get there after going 3-6 in conference play that year. At no point was UCLA anything resembling "good."

I mentioned in my Ron Zook post that Zook at Illinois was basically the younger/waterskiing/Midwest version of Dennis Erickson at ASU: one good year early on followed by a couple crappy years and then a couple mediocre years that featured minimal signs of real progress. In a slightly different sense, Neuheisel is the West Coast Zook: consistently excellent recruiting classes followed by on-field underachieving/disappointment.

The recruiting classes have been seriously good (according to Rivals, anyway):

2008: 13th
2009: 14th
2010: 8th
2011: 45th

FYI, the main reason the 2011 ranking is so low is that UCLA had only 16 scholarship to give out after signing ridonkulous classes in each of the previous three years. It's hard to do much better than that unless you're in the SEC and can just sign 32 players a year like Nick Saban.

The whole "winning" thing didn't go quite as well, which made sense with Zook but made a lot less sense with Neuheisel, who had all of one losing season before coming to UCLA. The guy was 66-30 before the weird "no gambling for you" firing from Washington and his ensuing five-year hiatus from college football. Maybe he got too infatuated with the NFL style of play? I dunno. All I know is that a guy with a 66-30 record showed up at a decent program with an amazing recruiting base and proceeded to go 21-28 in four years despite bringing in a lot of apparent talent.

And it was always the offense: UCLA finished 111th, 88th, 100th and 56th (this year) in total offense in Neuheisel's four years, which is inexplicably awful. The Norm Chow hiring made a lot of sense given what the guy did at USC but never really worked out. ESPN Los Angeles hits the nail on the head in explaining why:
... without great talent to mold, you get Chow's three ineffectual seasons as the offensive coordinator at UCLA.

In three years he worked with eight quarterbacks: Ben Olson, Patrick Cowan, Kevin Craft, Osaar Rasshan, Chris Forcier, Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut and Nick Crissman.
That is a murderer's row of blah quarterbacks. The aforementioned recruiting rankings look shiny and swell but meant nothing for an offense that was supposed to be heavily dependent on good quarterback play and never got it. That's probably the single most obvious reason Neuheisel's offenses (and thus his teams) sucked. Quarterbacks: They're good to have.

The defenses went from OK to pretty bad to terrible under Chuck Bullough and then Jim Tresey (who was yanked away from the UFL, of course); the inconsistency there didn't help given the consistently crappy offense. I'm guessing Neuheisel would reconsider his coordinator hires if given a second chance. He actually came out Tuesday and said something related but much less self-damning, claiming that working at UCLA is like "taking a knife to a gunfight." Neuheisel = Sean Connery.

Here's the rest of the quote:
"I think every program across the country has to make a determination as to what their expectation level is and then finance that expectation level, and in some places those numbers don't jibe," Neuheisel said.
I'm assuming he's talking about the salary pool for assistants, which was probably a factor in bringing in UFL retreads rather than guys like Randy Shannon. Then again, Norm Chow was making about $550,000 a year, which is a LOT. Perhaps the money problem was in the distribution rather than the volume. Neuheisel wasn't making a lot (about $1.25 million) but also hadn't been a head coach in a while and was a UCLA alum, which probably made the job more desirable to him than other similar candidates.

Regardless, he's gone now. I'm guessing he'll get another shot somewhere soon; he's only 50 and still has a good overall track record, especially as a recruiter. He'd be worth a call for a school like Kansas or Ole Miss (although he's worked almost entirely in the Pac-12 footprint).

As for UCLA, the job is a pretty good one as long as the money's there, which it should be (if Ben Howland can get $2 million a year, the football coach can get more). I know the campus is in a crappy part of town and doesn't quite stack up with USC, but it's pretty obvious that getting recruits to come to Los Angeles isn't overwhelmingly difficult. There's some money and some tradition and a legendary stadium and all that stuff; in short, there's nothing that should stop somebody from winning at UCLA. That's not insignificant. It's also why the fans are irritated that UCLA continues to lowball its offers and thus price itself out of a lot of good coaching candidates.

The Los Angeles Times says Chris Petersen (surprise!) is atop the list and will be offered $3 million a year. Everything I heard last year was that Petersen wouldn't even seriously entertain offers; I doubt he jumps at the UCLA job for a significant-but-not-ginormous raise, especially after turning down Stanford last year. The other guys allegedly on the short list are Jon Gruden (of course) and Kevin Sumlin. I should throw in Urban Meyer and Bill Cowher just because their inclusion would make this the most cliche list in the history of lists. At least they're aiming high.


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