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College Football | UCLA AT WASHINGTON Today at Husky
Stadium, 4 p.m., TBS

Neuheisel Catches a Downward Spiral

Coach feeling heat despite getting extension, his team is struggling, and recruiting violations cited.

November 02, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — It's a tried and true means of coping with misery -- finding those more despondent than you and taking a malicious satisfaction in their misfortune.

Germans call this feeling Schadenfreude. Although there is no word to describe it in English, the closest translation at the moment is believed to be, "The way Bob Toledo feels about Rick Neuheisel."

Toledo has endured hardship as UCLA coach this season, losing Pacific 10 Conference games to Oregon and California that many believe the Bruins (5-3, 2-2) should have won.

But Neuheisel, the coach at Washington, is in even more dire straits. The Huskies (4-4, 1-3) lost their last two games and are hurtling toward their first non-winning season in 26 years.

There is dissension and apathy among Husky players. And boosters are questioning the wisdom of the six-year contract extension given to the coach in September.

Though Toledo won't say so, he must take a measure of pleasure in Neuheisel's troubles. The Washington coach is a former UCLA quarterback whose name comes up every time Toledo's job performance is questioned.

But the 42-year-old Neuheisel's golden-boy image has been tarnished by multiple recruiting infractions while he was coach at Colorado in the late 1990s.

No wonder Toledo was flabbergasted by comments Neuheisel made about UCLA's recruiting practices last year. The Washington coach charged that UCLA did not stop recruiting Clayton Walker after the lineman had committed to the Huskies.

"If you live in a glass house, you shouldn't throw rocks, you know what I mean?" Toledo told a Seattle reporter during the off-season. "We never had a problem in the conference until he started talking about negative recruiting. Now I'm going to start talking."

Toledo accused Neuheisel of twisting the truth in comments to recruits Jarrad Page and Eric McNeal, safeties who came to UCLA this year.

Then there is the disparity in pay. Toledo makes less than $600,000 a year while Neuheisel's contract extension calls for $1.2 million a year plus a $1.5-million loan that is his to keep if he stays for the duration of the contract.

The extension was announced days after a 31-29 loss to Michigan on a last-second field goal after the Huskies were penalized for too many players on the field. Understandably, Washington followers wondered if the coach was worth the cash.

"I'm a little bit embarrassed that this announcement comes on the heels of a mortifying defeat," Neuheisel said at the time.

Three victories over inferior opponents followed, but all that did was give the Huskies a false sense of security. The defense was untested and Neuheisel became infatuated with the passing of senior quarterback Cody Pickett.

When Washington lost at home to California, 34-27, alarms went off. Then a razor-thin victory over Arizona was followed by one-sided losses to USC and Arizona State, causing the Huskies to crack at the seams.

Lineman Terry Johnson complained about the defensive scheme after the USC loss and was forbidden from talking to reporters for a week. Finger-pointing was rampant, with older players suggesting the younger ones were going through the motions.

"That's kind of the attitude of our team -- we have next year," senior guard Elliott Zajac said. "The seniors don't have next year."

During practice Tuesday, safety Greg Carothers walked to the sideline and overturned benches the Huskies use to sit on during breaks.

"Sometimes I think we talk too much," he said.

Still, the talk continued. Senior linebacker Jafar Williams called a players-only meeting this week and the seniors addressed the team.

"It's starting to spiral -- you can feel it," Carothers said. "If you don't realize as a player that, if this game is lost, that it will really start to spiral, then you're stupid.... Losing this game could be a pivotal moment in a disaster of a season."

The Bruins were similarly distressed a week ago, but beating Stanford, 28-18, temporarily assuaged the desperation triggered by letting potential victories slip away against Oregon and Cal.

A loss today, however, and the critics will no doubt point out that Toledo's record since a 10-0 start in 1998 has fallen below .500, to 22-23.

This is the first time since 1989 that UCLA and Washington are meeting with neither team ranked. Nobody on either side is happy about that.

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