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T.J. SIMERS

Neuheisel gets an 'F' on biggest test of season

September 23, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

Tough times at UCLA these days. The way the school has it set up, the sports information director can see the media arriving from his window, and so spotting Page 2 on Monday he got up and closed his door.

I thought about waiting for him to open it, but it could be basketball season before he does.

They've got their football schedule posted in the lobby of the Morgan Center, but it's 2007, because who wants to know who is going to beat the stuffing out of UCLA next in 2008?

I thought it was time, though, to give the new UCLA football coach the Page 2 Test on Monday, all newcomers in town getting the same treatment at one time or another.

The results, though, were shocking. Rick Neuheisel came off more uptight than Karl Dullard, and a bigger drip.

Neuheisel is supposed to be Mr. Personality, oozing charisma all over the place, but when given the Page 2 Test, he became rattled. Gary Matthews comes to mind, and he might have an excuse -- no one knowing yet if an inability to appear interesting is one of those HGH side effects.

Neuheisel had the advantage on Matthews and Dullard, too, in taking the Page 2 Test, because we go back to when he was playing quarterback for the Chargers during the 1987 strike.

Maybe he was uptight because he thought I was going to nickname him "Scab."

No question the Scab wasn't the same guy I remembered, and I hadn't even mentioned Karl Dorrell's efforts in leading Miami past the Patriots and obviously outsmarting Bill Belichick.

I wanted to ask if he had called Dorrell seeking advice -- Dorrell starting his coaching career at UCLA 1-2 after not being left much by Bob Toledo, everyone making fun of him but then coaxing his team into winning five in a row.

Anyone like the Scab's chances of coaxing the Bruins into winning the next five games in a row?

Never had the chance to mention Dorrell, because Neuheisel couldn't get past the first question on the Page 2 Test without curling up into the fetal position.

Asked about his history of hot starts with Colorado (20-4 the first two years) and Washington (18-6), before going into the tank, isn't this start at UCLA a little scary?

Easy answer, if you're Mr. Personality oozing charisma. Maybe, "this time I'm saving the best for last," or "I hear Manny Ramirez calling your name."

Instead Neuheisel went on the defensive. "We started 0-2 at Washington and ended up 7-5. I'm not sure [that's] a hot start."

"Would you take 7-5 right now?" A no-brainer, if someone lets you go 6-3 the rest of the way with this group.

"Um, I'm just focused on the Fresno State game. The long term will take care of itself," Neuheisel said. "We're just trying to get better every week."

Now I lay myself down to sleep, and if I close my eyes, is that Dullard talking?

You just never know. Ramirez aces the Page 2 Test, which is all about pushing buttons, and Slick Rick fails.

As someone here in the office pointed out, if Neuheisel isn't winning the title of Mr. Congeniality this year in the Pac-10, he isn't winning anything.

Right now personality and oozing charisma is all Neuheisel has going for him in buying time for the Bruins' development, and yet he's acting as if NCAA investigators want to know if he's still alive in an NFL losers pool.

Neuheisel opened his news conference saying, "We look forward to a game with Fresno State."

Makes you wonder if the guy has trouble telling the truth. You think UCLA is looking forward these days to playing anyone?

"You've got to be encouraged," I said, "by the Pac-10, because everybody is so terrible and it gives you a fair shot to win."

More coach-speak. "Everybody gets a chance to take care of their own problems," Neuheisel said as if he were giving a deposition. "We got enough things to deal with here other than concern ourselves with what else is going on in our conference."

"That's a nice speech," I said, but how about flashing a little life?

"If you're struggling," Neuheisel said, "and you're looking down the road, you're missing the opportunity to improve at the time that you need most to improve, which is now."

Sounds like malarkey to me, or something Mike Scioscia might say, Neuheisel quick to point out, "that's your term, 'malarkey,' " and yes it was, and maybe he really did think this was a deposition.

"Do your players really buy into this garbage you give them?" A standard Page 2 Test type of question.

"The young people in this program are aware we need to improve now," Neuheisel said, and if they aren't aware they need to improve after scoring three points on their last 22 offensive drives, how did they ever get into UCLA?

"Do you have the talent to be Pac-10 competitive here this year?"

"Uh," Neuheisel said, and keep in mind he graduated from UCLA. "That's our aim -- to be Pac-10 competitive this year."

You notice he didn't answer the question, which allows for the Page 2 annoying follow-up. "I know, but do you have the talent here to be competitive?"

"I'm not going to talk about whether or not the talent exists," Neuheisel said, but of course he is.

The question just has to be asked again.

"I believe we do have the talent here," Neuheisel said, finally coughing up the answer he could have given 10 minutes earlier -- prompting Page 2 to tell him he had failed his exam.

Now if he can't handle the Page 2 Test, how's he going to contend with Pete Carroll, who already has all the answers?

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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