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T.J. SIMERS

Rick Neuheisel can't talk his way out of it: His Bruins have not progressed

After UCLA's latest embarrassment, a 55-34 loss to Arizona State, the coach's oft-stated optimism seems no more than hot air.

November 26, 2010|T.J. Simers

From Tempe, Ariz. — He's done it since he arrived, and after the latest embarrassment he said he will do it again.

Next week following the UCLA- USC game, Rick Neuheisel will walk to the middle of the Rose Bowl to shake Lane Kiffin's hand and then he will return to the Bruins' sideline.


FOR THE RECORD:
UCLA football: In his column in the Nov. 27 Sports section, T.J. Simers wrote that UCLA's football team would draw a break next season, replacing Oregon and Oregon State on the schedule with Utah and Colorado. In fact, the Bruins are scheduled to play Oregon State on Sept. 24 at Corvallis. —

He will take a microphone and he will speak to the Bruins' fans behind the team's bench.

Should be interesting to hear what he has to say, and what reaction he gets in return.

He might want to figure out a way to win that game.

Three years ago most fans swooned when he was hired. He was, after all, UCLA's charismatic answer to Pete Carroll.

Bruins followers had little doubt the school's marketing department was right on target with the "The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles is Officially Over" advertisement.

Had someone said at the time Neuheisel would run a clean program and the Bruins would not play in a bowl game two of the next three years, almost no one would have believed it.

After all, the coach's nickname was " Slick Rick."

But as impossible as it might be now to think of Slick Rick going Boy Scout on everyone, it's just as dumbfounding to learn that under Neuheisel UCLA is still not up to Pac-10 standards.

Take all the poor offensive plays and breakdowns on defense and that might be the most damning thing to be said about UCLA's football program.

Looking back, how monumental was that one-point UCLA victory over Washington last season?

If the Bruins don't win, they fail to qualify for a bowl invite all three years under Neuheisel. By now, I suspect, he might have regretted that crazy idea of grabbing the microphone after every game and talking to the Bruins fans.

UCLA finished 6-6 a year ago, a miracle by this season's standards, sending the Bruins to the Eagle Bank Bowl, but only because Army lost its final game.

Take all the optimism Neuheisel has sputtered over the past three years, and it's proven to be only hot air — three Pac-10 wins his first year, three more the second, and regressing now to two with only USC remaining.

Two weeks ago Washington scored 24 unanswered points to beat UCLA 24-7. On Friday the Bruins took a 17-0 first-quarter lead only to have the Sun Devils outscore them 55-17 the rest of the way.

If you can't beat Washington and Arizona State down the stretch to become bowl eligible, why is there any talk at any time about competing for the conference title?

But that's how this season started, just like the first one under Neuheisel and the next. Is there any coach anywhere with a more inflated opinion of his team's chances for success? Or, as Neuheisel put it on Pac-10 Media Day late in July, "It's time for UCLA" to become a part of the national picture.

Maybe it is, but while Neuheisel aims high, he continues to be way off the mark. His greatest achievement to date, besides staying out of trouble, is a win over Texas. But now we know more about Texas, which is wrapping up its first losing season since 1997.

You lose to UCLA and that's what it does to a program.

"We're not up to Pac-10 championship caliber, that's a fact," Neuheisel said in stating the obvious, but it's more than that. The Bruins have been unable to hang with the middle of the Pac-10 pack, and one more loss will leave UCLA 4-8 — just as the Bruins were under Neuheisel his first year.

It's hard to answer any questions that include the word "progress" in them.

Neuheisel told the media after this latest laugher he will work as hard as he ever has in his life to turn around UCLA. But most coaches work hard, as hard as they can to win.

He said he will evaluate everything to give UCLA a better chance for success. But that's why he was hired — to get it right the first time around based on his previous experience as a head coach.

He said his freshman class is the reason why everyone should still be excited about UCLA football, but isn't that just another example of optimism at work?

He really thought the NCAA problems that USC had to confront would provide UCLA with an opening and a chance to grab the local spotlight. He got the spotlight all right.

It's difficult to factor in hope the way the Bruins have lost the last five out of six. The best hope now, as some Bruins fans see it, is getting rid of the offensive and defensive coordinators.

A year from now they might be talking about the head coach unless he really can turn around the Bruins' fortunes after three swings and misses to date.

The Bruins draw a break next season, replacing Oregon and Oregon State on the schedule with Utah and Colorado, but the schedule wouldn't matter if Neuheisel's program sat on solid ground.

"We're going to rise again," Neuheisel continued to say over and over again.

But as hard as it is to believe, given the seemingly universal criticism of Karl Dorrell, his teams found a way to advance to the playoffs five straight seasons.

So far, the best that can be said of Dorrell's replacement: He has talked a better game than he has coached.

Looking ahead to next week — that's good.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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