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Blue in your face

Neuheisel takes it very personally when his UCLA quarterbacks don't perform well, but coach's sideline rants are nothing new

November 19, 2009|Chris Foster

Rick Neuheisel knows it, he just struggles to control it.

"I'm hard on quarterbacks," he says.

That goes for when things are going well, such as last week, when Neuheisel was in Kevin Prince's face even as the Bruins were routing Washington State . . . and when things are going not-so-well, such as when backup Richard Brehaut was admonished after his one series against Washington ended in a fumble.

"It took me a little bit of time to understand why Coach Neuheisel does that," says Kevin Craft, who was often the object of red-faced, drill-sergeant-like rants when he was the starter last season. "He's passionate about this and wants to coach us, and he's doing it in a manner that it's on you."

The Bruins have a quarterbacks coach in Norm Chow, who mixes his own version of tough love with a professorial approach and nurturing words. On game days, though, Chow's umbilical cord is the telephone line to his seat in the coaches' box at the top of the stadium. Neuheisel's face is the first one a quarterback sees when he comes off the field.

Neuheisel's taskmaster style has been felt by quarterbacks at Washington and Colorado too. Some praise him; at least one prefers not to talk about him.

While Neuheisel says he defers to Chow in handling UCLA's quarterbacks, his I've-been-there, done-that experience and position as head coach is hard to suppress.

Neuheisel was a UCLA quarterback during a highly competitive era, when the team had five starters in five seasons and still went to three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. His timeline -- from playing for Homer Smith, the Bruins' demanding offensive coordinator, to years teaching the position in college and the NFL -- shaped strong views that spill out in emotional moments.

"I'm inquisitive," Neuheisel says. "I need to be a sounding board, getting the information and giving it to Norm. A lot of my conversations start with, 'What just happened?' If I don't feel like they know, then I get agitated."

The chain of command can get complicated.

"Norm and I talked about this before he ever took the job, that it would be much easier for the quarterbacks if I were more of a silent entity than offering opinions that might be contrary," Neuheisel says.

But being a silent partner can be difficult, especially during games.

Chow works most closely with the quarterbacks, but when push comes to shove, he says, "Rick is the boss."

Neuheisel offers opinions in practice and makes it clear what he wants during games. Compliments almost always have a rider attached, usually about needing to be more consistent.

"I get a lot of my instincts from having played the position," Neuheisel says. "I have been the fifth-string guy all the way to the starter. I know exactly where each kid is emotionally."

UCLA's quarterback play this season has experienced peaks and valleys. The CliffsNotes version:

Prince played well before suffering a broken jaw in UCLA's second game, against Tennessee, sat out three weeks, struggled with consistency upon his return, and, just when he looked to be pulling things together, suffered a concussion in the second quarter on Nov. 7 against Washington.

Brehaut, a first-year freshman, has played sporadically -- and, lately, not particularly well. Against Oregon State and Washington, he played one series -- each ended with him being sacked and fumbling.

Craft, a senior, also has played in spurts, his highlight coming against Washington, when he guided a UCLA comeback despite having not taken a practice snap in two weeks.

Prince was back in the lineup last week against Washington State, passing for 314 yards and running for 76.

Yet there he was on the sidelines in the second quarter, getting a scolding from Neuheisel even though he had already passed for one touchdown and ran for another in building a 23-0 lead.

"You just have to play like you know how and accept the criticism when things go wrong," Prince says. "That's the way Coach Neuheisel coaches. He gets riled up and wants to win badly."

Neuheisel began formulating his philosophies as a walk-on at UCLA under coach Terry Donahue and coordinator Smith in 1979. By his senior year, Neuheisel had a scholarship and was the Bruins' starter, leading them to the Rose Bowl, where he was MVP.

"Homer Smith demanded you soak up knowledge," says former Bruins quarterback Tom Ramsey, who entered UCLA with Neuheisel in 1979.

"You not only had to know what 11 guys were doing on the field, you had to know what all 22 guys were doing. If you didn't, you weren't going to be on the roster."

Says Neuheisel: "Homer didn't just teach UCLA football, he taught you the history of football. It was like astronomy or chemistry class, and you had to get an 'A.' I wasn't as athletic as the other guys, so it allowed me to compete."

As tough as Smith was, Neuheisel went from bench-warmer to starter under his guidance.

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