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UCLA football tries on another new look under Coach Rick Neuheisel

Coming off a 4-8 season, Neuheisel revamped his staff with three new coordinators. The Bruins have only 15 wins in his three seasons, so this one could be his last if they don't improve significantly.

August 07, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel reacts after the Bruins stopped Arizona State on a fourth-down play during a Pac-10 game at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel reacts after the Bruins stopped Arizona State… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

The cheers escalated into a standing ovation.

Rick Neuheisel, UCLA's new football coach, stood at center court in Pauley Pavilion during halftime and introduced offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. The Dream Team, it was billed.

Neuheisel closed by shouting to delirious Bruins fans, "Thank you very much and, fellas, we're just getting started."

Two things at UCLA have been clobbered by a wrecking ball since that January day in 2008: Pauley Pavilion and that Dream Team.

And for the football program, renovation has become reconstruction.

Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's message was clear after a disastrous 4-8 2010 season: "Rick knows there is maybe one shot to straighten this thing out." So Neuheisel, with his job on the line, is getting restarted.

Walker left after one season to be New Mexico State's head coach. Chuck Bullough, his successor, was fired days after the 2010 season. Chow was shoved out the door, taking a $500,000 buyout check and a job at Utah.

UCLA begins training camp Monday with a new high command — Mike Johnson (offensive coordinator), Joe Tresey (defensive coordinator) and Jim Mastro (run-game coordinator).

Asked why this staff will work, Neuheisel said: "I just believe we'll do what it takes to make it work. The hard part of answering that question is you're doing a compare and contrast and you end up taking shots at the old staff. I don't want to do that."

Some UCLA players are moving forward.

"The new staff laid out the expectations," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "It's on our shoulders."

Others are looking forward . . . to UCLA's game against Utah, new to the Pacific 12 Conference this year.

In a recent Twitter post, tight end Joseph Fauria said, "Dear Chow, I'm so glad you're gone. Can't wait to beat that [butt] Nov. 12!! Enjoy that big check! You don't deserve any of it."

Neuheisel said the purge was necessary because "we lacked optimism to go forward with great resolve, and so forth. Sometimes you just need change. Sometimes you just need to put up new window shades, change how things look."

Here is how it used to look. . . .

Chow came with a resume that included three Heisman Trophy quarterbacks and three national championships. At UCLA, quarterback Kevin Prince could not stay healthy. Neuheisel then ditched Chow's philosophies, switching to the "pistol," an option-based offense.

And here is how it looks now. . . .

Neuheisel now handles the quarterbacks while Johnson, the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator last season, oversees the offense. Mastro coached the pistol at Nevada, giving Neuheisel "an expert."

"They actually ran the ball well," Mastro said of the 2010 Bruins. "They had the fundamentals down, but adjusting to what you see on game day is tough. It needed a little fine-tuning."

On defense, injuries hamstrung Bullough last season but gave young players experience and improved the unit's depth. That wasn't enough to save his job. Neuheisel has acknowledged that Tresey was his fourth choice, but it was clear during spring practice that he had hired a firm hand.

"He's crazy," one UCLA player said. "But in a good way."

During spring practice, Tresey told players to get off the field when their efforts displeased him.

"They have to have their motors running all the time, whether it is running to class or running on the football field," said Tresey, who was defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and South Florida.

Upgrading the Bruins' mind-set — something Neuheisel said "was not where it needed to be" — was the spring cleaning.

"They needed to understand how to work and how to practice," Johnson said. "Those things are what I wanted to get accomplished, more so than schemes and plays."

The message was received, Mastro said.

"About three-quarters of the way through spring ball we got on some offensive linemen, jumped their butts a little bit," Mastro said. "I walked to the back and I heard one kid say to another, 'Now I see why Nevada won.' "

Guerrero said in a question-and-answer session produced by the athletic department that the new staff "brought an exciting energy to the practice field during spring ball." Of course, it's what Guerrero says after the season that will matter.

Tresey shrugged that off, saying: "Everyone worries, 'Oh, Rick's on the hot seat.' You know what? There are very few people in this profession who are not on the hot seat when they have losing seasons. You control what you can control."

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