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UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Kevin Prince share common causes

The Bruins coach and his quarterback, neither of whom has a job guarantee next season, have learned to navigate together as the team's title hopes have revived.

November 24, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and Coach Rick Neuheisel have a discussion during training camp this summer.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and Coach Rick Neuheisel have a discussion… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

There was a moment during UCLA's game against Washington State when two paths joined.

Coach Rick Neuheisel was running out of time. Quarterback Kevin Prince was running out of chances.

In a fan vote that October night they would have been the two most disliked people at the Rose Bowl.

The Bruins trailed in the third quarter and Neuheisel pulled Prince aside.

"He said, 'I trust you, you need this and I need this,' " Prince said. "Both our futures were looking a little, uh, hazy."

Prince, a redshirt junior, directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 28-25 victory. And the fog lifted ever so slightly.

Neuheisel and Prince navigate together heading into Saturday's game against USC.

A month ago, television cameras caught the two in a tense moment, barking at each other during a timeout in the Bruins' embarrassing 48-12 loss to Arizona.

These days? Asked if Neuheisel would be the best man when he eventually gets married, Prince joked, "No, but he'll be invited."

A common goal has led to common ground. The questions about Neuheisel's future as coach have increased. The oft-injured Prince can look over his shoulder and see freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.

Neither has a job guarantee beyond this season.

"We have talked about that," Neuheisel said. "I told him, 'You and I, our tails are on the line.' "

The Bruins had a 2-3 record heading into the Washington State game. Prince had lost his job to Richard Brehaut. Neuheisel had lost his job in the minds of prominent boosters.

Brehaut suffered a broken leg in the second quarter and UCLA fans greeted Prince as if he wore a cardinal and gold jersey as he ran onto the field. The booing stopped when Prince completed a 41-yard pass to Nelson Rosario on the third play.

Meantime, catcalls had made Neuheisel's curtain calls PR-risky. He had stopped his postgame address to Rose Bowl crowds this season, blaming media attention. He resumed under the cover of a 45-6 victory over Colorado last week.

"We were both in similar situations midway through the season," Prince said.

Prince's standing is better.

He has passed for 1,118 yards and run for 356 in winning four of six games to give the Bruins a chance of reaching the conference title game. It hasn't been a smooth ride, with team malfunctions in road losses to Arizona and Utah.

But Neuheisel said Prince "has delivered" and called his performance against Colorado "a complete game."

This has been a competitive relationship from the start. Neuheisel, while recruiting Prince, asked him to solve a number problem.

"It's a game where you erase a number with the ultimate deal to take the last one," Neuheisel said. "I wanted to see how much Kevin wanted it.

"Kevin was getting frustrated with it, so I said, 'That's enough, we'll try it again next week.' "

Later that night, Prince called.

"I beat him," Prince said.

The relationship has had rocky moments. Neuheisel's habit of screaming at quarterbacks after mistakes during games wore on Prince. More than once, Prince met with his coach to talk about it, according to people in the program.

"He was really animated when I was first here," Prince said. "He said he would be better this year, and he has. I feel more productive in terms of the way he has communicated with me."

Both said the miscommunication stemmed from Neuheisel's not being directly involved with the quarterbacks the past three seasons. Norm Chow was the quarterbacks coach.

"It was difficult to spend a lot of quality time with the quarterbacks, because it could have looked as if I was meddling," Neuheisel said. "I didn't want it to be seen that way."

Neuheisel is now the quarterbacks coach.

"I have a much greater grasp on what he might have thought on a play," Neuheisel said.

Said Prince: "I was getting one thing from Coach Chow and maybe another thing from Neuheisel. We kind of had a disconnect."

Now their relationship is "terrific," according to Neuheisel, and "solid," according to Prince.

Terrific and solid may be what they both need to move forward.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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