The nice thing about how UCLA showed Neuheisel the door … well, there really was no way around it

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(AP Photo/Jae Hong)
Rick Neuheisel walks the sidelines in the first half of Saturday’s game at the Coliseum against USC.

There’s no real nice way to say this.

Thanks a bunch Rick Neuheisel.

You were a bang-up recruiter, a stand-up person and wore your alumni power blue well.

But . . .

It’s just that being a nice guy heading a football program that really didn’t close any gaps, didn’t move any needles and doesn’t deserve to be in the Pacific 12′s first conference championship game is no slide of Westwood heaven

When UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero pulled the trigger this morning and fired Neuheisel – but let him stay on long enough to coach Friday’s conference title game in Oregon, but not a possible bowl game after that – he put a football program still fumbling around with the Pistol offensive formation out of its misery.

It was Old Yeller style, as Bruins fans were still yelling about last Saturday’s outcome at the Coliseum against USC.

“There’s pain and heartache involved,” Guerrero said today. “Rick is a great Bruin. His energy and enthusiasm was second to none. He gave it his very best shot in his four years. … There’s no one who wanted him to be more successful than me … ”

OK … wait for it . . .

“But we had some losses of epic proportions in the last half of the year. The inconsistencies hurt us. I had to tell him to today because I didn’t want to be disingenuous in the process.”

So please accept this $250,000 buyout, a 21-28 record in four seasons, a win once upon a time over Temple (really?) in something called the Eagle Bank Bowl, and, as UCLA chancellor Gene Block said in a press release, “We wish Rick all the best in his future endeavors.”

Nicely done.

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Add to that this tweet from BruinsNation: “Thank you Coach Rick Neuheisel for trying. We know you tried. It just wasn’t enough. Good luck (to) you (the) rest of the way. #GoBruins.”

For all inconsistencies and purposes, Neuheisel was a dead man walking about six minutes into that 50-0 loss to the Trojans. He looked whiter than the surrendering all-white uniforms that Adidas talked him into wearing for the rivalry contest.

“I didn’t ask,” Neuheisel said this morning when questioned if Guerrero told him that the outcome of the USC game was the last straw. “I don’t need reasons and all that kind of stuff.

“This has always been a place I wanted to have a chance to bring it to where everybody would be proud. Obviously, we’ve fallen short of that. But there are lots of things that happened that I’m proud of in my time here, and they don’t always make it to the front pages of the newspaper.

“It won’t be a bitter memory at all.”

Maybe that was Neuheusel’s problem. He wasn’t bitter enough to get better.

Call it a percentage move. As in, Neuheisel had the lowest winning percentage of any UCLA coach in history with 20 or more games – 42.9 percent.

Most get fired quicker with that kind of track record, which includes an 0-for-4 effort against USC.

But . . .

The majority rules. They liked him too much to give him the Karl Dorrell treatment a year or two too early.

Eventually, those who write the donation checks aren’t showing up to games and are tired of being embarrassed year after year working next to Trojan alums who make them the butt of their jokes.

No question, the 50-year-old once dubbed “Slick Rick” had learned from his experiences at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado.

There was nothing done to tarnish the UCLA brand — no gambling on NCAA basketball office pools that we know of, no forfeiting games because of ineligible players, no recruiting violations, no real discipline problems, no secret interviews for open NFL jobs.

And no negative karma. He was the poster boy for Dale Carnegie’s power of positive thinking.

“You have to be relentlessly positive,” he said at a recent press conference, “and you’ll get back to where you need to. Hope is not a strategy.”

Many hoped the program was headed in the right direction.

But . . .

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It was starting to smell a lot like Steve Lavin all over again.

Lavin coached UCLA’s basketball team from 1996 to 2003, piling up a record of 145-78. The Bruins went to the Elite Eight in his first season. They made the Sweet 16 six times, following six seasons in a row with 20 wins. He had the top-rated recruiting class a couple of times. Seven players he coached at UCLA are still in the NBA.

But . . .

There was still criticism from fans who thought the teams underachieved. A 10-19 finish in his last season certainly didn’t reflect the talent he had stockpiled on the roster.

Guerrero, who had become good friends with Lavin, had to fire him.

If you count the number of UCLA football players in the next couple of years that go in the NFL draft, maybe it’ll be more apparent just what kind of roster Neuheisel had put together, but failed to get the results.

If Neuheisel had the reticent smile and reassuring handshake for the parents of the recruits to get them into UCLA, it was time for Guerrero to give him the golden handshake. He couldn’t shake the critics.

In 2007, the one-time walk-on who led the Bruins to the 1984 Rose Bowl as their quarterback triumphantly returned to the Westwood campus with a five-year deal paying him $1.25 million a season. Incentives could have added another half million each year.

But . . .

That all looks like Monopoly money now.

The football monopoly on hand-wringing over Neuheisel’s tenure in Los Angeles really is officially over.

Only Neuheisel has to pass through Oregon before he goes directly to unemployment.

“Sad, sad,” Chip Kelly, the Oregon coach who faces Neuheisel in Friday’s Pac-12 title game, said this morning. “I like him a lot. Rick’s a good person. Rick’s a good football coach.”

But that’s just how the game of life works in college football.

Nice gig if you can get it.

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