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A UCLA win benefits Rick Neuheisel and Lane Kiffin

If the favored Trojans beat the Bruins, there might be a coaching change in Westwood and the series might actually become competitive.

November 22, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • USC Coach Lane Kiffin, left, shakes hands with UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel following the Trojans' 2010 victory. Kiffin says UCLA shouldn't get rid of Neuheisel.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin, left, shakes hands with UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

There's nothing like a good chuckle to begin a new day, so I give you Lane Kiffin:

"I think UCLA would be crazy to make a change in head coaches," he says. "I think they're on the right track.''

I know, I giggled when he said it, telling USC's head football coach, "My hand is shaking I'm laughing so hard, but I'll try and write it down anyway."

It might be the most damning thing ever said about Rick Neuheisel, his crosstown rival now going overboard as his No. 1 cheerleader.

If I was coaching USC, I'd want Neuheisel coaching UCLA, too.

What more could any coach ask for than the team across town getting hit hard by NCAA restrictions and having to replace Pete Carroll — and Mike Garrett coming up with Lane Kiffin?

It was new life for Neuheisel at a time when UCLA really needed a boost. And while most people around the country laughed at the mention of Kiffin's name, an argument can now be made he's Coach of the Year.

One more loss to USC and Neuheisel is probably coach no more at UCLA.

As for Kiffin, he's done everything right. Two of his freshmen were just named Pac-12 offensive and defensive players of the week.

A win over UCLA, though, might be his first misstep.

If USC wins Saturday, UCLA probably goes looking for a new monopoly player to take on the Trojans. And everyone knows how hard a new coach works, whereas the recruiting battle a year ago between Neuheisel and Kiffin was no contest in favor of USC.

UCLA probably spends more money than it has in the past because of alumni pressure. Maybe the Bruins get lucky and find the next Jim Harbaugh.

But if USC loses Saturday, Neuheisel might return and the Rose Bowl will again feel like a ghost town. Yes sir, there's no question USC has incentive to lose. If USC loses, Bruins fans hoping for a fresh start will be so upset.

And if Kiffin's team loses to the Bruins, no big whoopee since it won't impact the Trojans' bowl plans.

Maybe it even gives Matt Barkley incentive to return if he refuses to end his USC career with a loss and vows to beat UCLA next season.

As excuses go, Kiffin will have one if USC falters. It's the perfect football trap, the favored team inexplicably losing after spilling its guts against Notre Dame, Stanford, Washington and Oregon.

A similar torturous stretch led to USC's letdown against UCLA in 2006 when the Trojans needed a win to advance to the BCS title game. But they had nothing left in the tank and lost, 13-9.

For those who enjoy a good laugh, it would also keep Neuheisel talking.

"We have closed the gap more with USC," he says. See what I mean?

As gaps go, the oddsmakers have USC as a 14-point favorite, but Neuheisel sees things that most of us do not.

"Well, in my mind, from my vantage point, there has been lots of progress," he says. "I understand the frustration of the fans out there. They may not be able to see it because they didn't come to all the practices and they don't sit where I sit."

Hey, Karl Dorrell sat where Neuheisel now sits, and based on results, he proved to be a better hire than Neuheisel.

He gave UCLA fans the thrill of a 10-2 campaign. He beat USC and took away the Trojans' chances of playing for the national championship. He finished his UCLA career with eight more wins than losses and a conference mark of 24-18.

Neuheisel has yet to defeat USC, has six more losses than wins and an 11-21 conference record.

"I think regardless of this game he'll be back," Kiffin says. "He's done too many good things and he's finished strong this year."

I don't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised if UCLA was pushing hard to keep Paul Hackett on the job as USC's head coach before Carroll arrived.

Everyone talks about the bitter rivalry, but it's nice to see both schools showing such support for each other.

ONE OF our reporters emailed to say he had been informed that UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero had not visited former UCLA basketball coach Walt Hazzard in the many months he was at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center on the UCLA campus before his death.

I didn't pursue it — until Tuesday afternoon when UCLA passed along "Word from Westwood," Guerrero's weekly blog.

Guerrero wrote, "It really hit me like a ton of bricks when I got the news last Friday afternoon that Walt Hazzard, a valued member of the Bruin family, had passed away after a long illness."

I was curious then to find out if Guerrero had made the walk across campus in the months that Hazzard had spent in the hospital — given how hard he took the news of his passing.

A school official, reaching Guerrero in Hawaii with the basketball team, reported back to say Guerrero told him he had visited the hospital a month ago and had talked to Hazzard's wife.

But "out of respect for Walt,'' the school spokesman said, Guerrero did not go into his hospital room.

"Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Walt on a personal level know that he was intensely loyal to his alma mater and to his players and that he took a great deal of pride in the four letters that he donned across his chest," Guerrero wrote. "We will miss him dearly."

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