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


(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.


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 . . .


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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A Cyber Monday Dodger souvenir so cool, they’re all hot for it in Arizona


It’s product ID 23-07454 on the Baseball Hall of Fame website store: A Rawlings baseball with a Dodger logo on it for $8.99 (linked here).

And here’s the sales pitch:

“This Los Angeles Dodgers logo baseball is a tried-and-true classic. Regulation-size white baseball with red stitching allow the Los Angeles Dodgers logos to take center stage. Each baseball features the Rawlings logo on the back and commissioner signature on the top. Packaged in a clamshell with a home plate display stand. A must have for the Arizona Diamondbacks fan!”

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Play It Forward: Nov. 28-Dec. 4 on your sports calendar

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:


Golf: Chevron World Challenge, Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Thursday through Sunday, Golf Channel and Channel 4:

The TV spots for this year’s Tiger Woods charity event claim that “Hollywood isn’t the only place for characters.” Not to be accused of character assassination, but by calling Woods a “game changer,” we assume it’s not so much based on the fact he changes his game every couple of years. He is grateful that he didn’t fall out of the Top 50 in the official world ranking before he was able to qualify for his own event. Sure, he could have got some kind of sponsor exemption, but then the tournament wouldn’t satisify the rules for giving out world-ranking points, thus softening the lure for the field of 18 who got invites.


The ads call Bill Haas “the champion” (he just won the FedEx Cup). Dustin Johnson is a “powerhouse,” Rickie Fowler a “rising star,” Bubba Watson the “bomber,” K.J. Choi is the “tank,” Paul Casey is the “Union Jack,” and Jason Day is the “young gun.” Graeme McDowell? No. 14 on the World Golf Rankings is a no show. He decided to head over to Japan and China the last two weeks to play in some more lucrative Euro events. As the U.S. Open champ a year ago, McDowell knocked down two clutch puts that gave him the greatest comeback win ever against Woods — the host squandered a four-shot lead as McDowell holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff, and then hit another from almost the same spot on 18 to deny Woods a victory. What a character. Golf Channel has the first two rounds Thursday and Friday starting at 1 p.m.; NBC takes the last two (Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.)


College basketball: UCLA vs. Pepperdine, Sports Arena, 8 p.m., Prime:


So here these Bruins sit at 1-4, ranked 226th in the nation in field goal percentage, 288th in rebounds per game and 212th in points per game. Pepperdine, meanwhile, is 306th in field goal percentage (38.5). This one could get really ugly fast. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jay Bilas says on his blog that the Bruins’ Reeves Nelson has just about worn out his welcome and it’s time for coach Ben Howland to cut his losses. “It is easy for me to opine from afar,” wrote Bilas, who covered the Bruins’ games during the Maui Classic last week. “The talented junior has become a major distraction, and is holding his teammates hostage with his attitude and behavior. The bigger issue for me is Nelson’s body language on the court, and he seems to have little connection with his teammates. At one point, when he was taken out of the game, no one on the bench even acknowledged Nelson, and his only real emotion came from when he did something, not when a teammate did. I hope Nelson figures it out, but I think his time is running out. Howland doesn’t deserve this, and neither do UCLA’s other players.”

NHL: Kings vs. San Jose, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:


The Sharks are a plus-14 in goal differential so far, and it doesn’t matter which goalie they have in the nets — Thomas Griess (4-3, 1.99 GAA) is even more stingy than Antti Niemi (9-3, 2.37), who recorded a 4-2 win over the Kings back on Nov. 7.

NFL: N.Y. Giants at New Orleans, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

The Giants’ giant task: Facing the Saints is followed by games against Green Bay, NFC East-leading Dallas twice, Washington and the rival N.Y. Jets. They have fallen to 31st in the league in rushing (83.2 yard a game) going without the injured Ahmad Bradshaw for the last three contests.


College basketball: Loyola Marymount vs. Saint Louis, Gersten Pavilion, 7 p.m.:

Rick Majerus’ 6-0 Billikens, who just won the 76 Classic in Anaheim by squashing Oklahoma over Thanksgiving weekend, make a stop in Westchester before heading back.

College basketball: Duke at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., ESPN:

It ain’t the Victoria Secret Fashion Show (Channel 2, 10 p.m.), but close enough for Dick Vitale.

NHL: Pittsburgh at N.Y. Rangers, 4:30 p.m., Versus:

The Penguins are 3-0-1 since Sidney Crosby’s return.



College basketball: USC at UC Riverside, 7 p.m.:

The Trojans (3-4) have been getting nearly 14 points and more than six rebounds a game from 6-6 forward Aaron Fuller, numbers slightly better than what he did in his first two years at the University of Iowa before transferring. Before outlasting Pac-12 team Washington State in the last game of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, UCR (2-5) had only scored its previous victory against Cal Lutheran. Stan Morrison, the UC Riverside athletic director until he retired after 12 years in August, coached the Trojans’ basketball team from 1979-’86.


NHL: Kings vs. Florida, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

The Panthers entered the week leading the Southeastern Division with 35-year-old veteran Jose Theodore in the nets most nights.

NFL: Philadelphia at Seattle, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network:

The Eagles make a quick turnaround from playing last Sunday night and then flying across the country.



College football: Pac-12 title game: UCLA at Oregon, 5 p.m., Channel 11:

The last two teams that USC polished off on their non-bowl schedule meets for the right to move into the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl. With reports that Rick Neuheisel’s future in Westwood isn’t all that rosy, maybe the Bruins have one more trick up their silky white Adidas sleeves: Can they pull out another new alternate jersey that will leave Nike’s Ducks so daffy that they just roll over? Oregon has already been made a 30-point-plus favorite in some Vegas books, which has nothing to do with the fact that the Ducks downed the Bruins 60-13 last season at Autzen Stadium, as Darron Thomas threw for 308 yards.

College football: MAC title game: Ohio vs. Northern Illinois in Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2:

The Bobcats (9-3) are the superior team in Ohio this season.


Tennis: Davis Cup final: Argentina at Spain:

Spain’s Rafael Nadal comes into this after an early exit in last week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London, but he’s back on a red clay surface with a roof over Olympic Stadium in Seville to join David Ferrer against Argentina’s David Nalbandian and Juan Martin Del Potro. Nadal and Ferrer are a combined 25-0 in Davis play when on clay, and Spain has won four Davis Cup crowns this century: 2000 (Australia), 2004 (U.S.), 2008 (Argentina) and 2009 (Czech Republic).


College football: SEC title game: Georgia at LSU, 1 p.m., Channel 2; Big Ten title game: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State in Indianapolis, 5:15 p.m., Channel 11; ACC title game: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson in Charlotte, N.C., 5 p.m., ESPN; Conference USA title game: Southern Miss at Houston, 9 a.m., Channel 7:

What happens when Georgia knocks off No. 1 LSU to win the SEC, but the Tigers still make it to the BCS title game against conference rival Alabama because that’s what the pollsters and computers say is the best matchup? The Wisconsin-Michigan State game is a rematch of the one that ended with the Spartans pulling off a Hail Mary on the final play to win 37-31 on Oct. 22. And Houston could be the only undefeated team left when the day’s play ends.

College football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, 5 p.m., Channel 7; Texas at Baylor, Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.:


No title game in the Big 12 this year, which only has the 10 teams remaining. You’ll have to be satisfied with watching Robert Griffin III having another top-notch Heisman Trophy look against the Longhorns.

College football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh, 9 a.m., ESPN2; Iowa State at Kansas State, 12:30 p.m., Prime; UNLV at TCU, 11:30 a.m., Versus; New Mexico at Boise State, 3 p.m., MNT; BYU at Hawaii, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2; Fresno State at San Diego State, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network:

The rest of the schedule, with ranked teams still playing, and one of them, trying to finish an undefeated regular season.

College basketball: UCLA vs. Texas, Sports Arena, 1:30 p.m., Prime:

Longhorns junior guard J’Covan Brown has put up 35 (against Rhode Island), 28 (against Boston University) and 25 (against Oregon State) while leading the team in assists (6.4 a game).

College basketball: USC at Minnesota, 11:15 a.m., Big Ten Network:

Gophers coach Tubby Smith is still waiting for 6-foot-11 senior center Ralph Sampson III to start living up to his name.

College basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky, 9 a.m., Channel 2:

CBS starts its college hoops season sending Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg to Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats happen to be ranked No. 1, playing the Tar Heels, who were No. 1 very recently.

NHL: Kings vs. Montreal, Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., FSW:

The Canadiens, who stop over in Anaheim on Wednesday before this one, are in the top three in the league in penalty killing at better than 90 percent.

Boxing: Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito, New York, 6 p.m., pay per view:


Three years ago, Cotto suffered his first loss as Margarito wore him out via a TKO in the 11th round. But then, did Margarito, who captured the WBA welterweight belt, accomplish it with plaster wraps inside his gloves? The New York State Athletic Commission only recently approved a license to Margarito, coming back from surgery on his right eye to remove a cataract that developed after Manny Pacquiao broke Margarito’s orbital bone during their fight a year ago. Promoter Bob Arum might have been forced to move this world super welterweight title fight out of Madison Square Garden if the license wasn’t granted. They’re asking $54.95 for this one. Can you wrap your wallet around that, or is buying “Larry Crowne” with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts on an all-day pass for much less a better value?

Boxing: Abner Mares vs. Joseph Agbeko, Anaheim’s Honda Center, 6 p.m., Showtime (delayed at 9 p.m.):

Mares (22-0-1) of Hawaiian Gardens defends his IFB and WBC silver bantamweight titles against the two-time IBF bantamweight world champ in a card in Anaheim that includes Anselmo Moreno defending his WBA bantamweight title against Vic Darchinyan.


NFL: Detroit at New Orleans, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:

The original schedule had Indianapolis at New England in this slot, but NBC flexed out of it. Wise move.

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That’s the ticket: Trivial things never get in the way of a USC-UCLA game


Not to question your knowledge of the USC-UCLA football rivalry that began in 1929, but we will anyway:

== 1. Which Trojans head coach has lost a game to the Bruins: a) Lane Kiffin, b) Howard Jones, c) Paul Hackett, d) Sam Barry?

== 2. Which Bruins head coach has beaten the Trojans: a) Rick Neuheisel, b) William Spaulding, c) Pepper Rodgers, d) Karl Dorrell?


== 3. Thirty years ago, he broke through on the final play and blocked a 46-yard field-goal try by UCLA’s Norm Johnson to preserve USC’s 22-21 win and knock the Bruins out of the Rose Bowl: a) Joey Browner, b) George Achica, c) Dennis Edwards.

== 4. Twenty five years ago, UCLA quarterback Matt Stevens faked a knee, then completed a 61-yard Hail Mary pass that put the Bruins up 31-0 at halftime (in a 45-24 win). Who caught the pass: a) Flipper Anderson, b) Paco Craig, c) Karl Dorrell?
== 5. Fifteen y
ears ago, the only overtime game in the series ended with his 25-yard TD run in the second OT, giving the Bruins a 48-41 victory, after USC squandered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter: a) Karim Abdul-Jabbar, b) Skip Hicks, c) DeShawn Foster.


== 6. Which Bruin intercepted Rob Johnson’s 3-yard pass in the end zone with 56 seconds left to preserve UCLA’s 27-21 win in 1993, knocking the Trojans out of the Rose Bowl: a) Marvin Goodwin, b) Donnie Edwards, c) Nkosi Littleton?


== 7. His 38-yard field goal with two seconds left gave USC a 29-27 win in the 1977 game, knocking UCLA out of the Rose Bowl: a) Chris Limahelu, b) Steve Jordan, c) Frank Jordan.

== 8. USC’s Todd Marinovich hit Johnnie Morton with a 23-yard TD pass with 16 seconds left to cap a 45-42 win in 1990, but which UCLA player scored on a 1-yard TD run with 1:19 left to put the Bruins up 42-38: a) Kevin Smith, b) Tommy Maddox, c) Ricky Davis?

== 9. The 1944 game ended in a 13-13 tie when UCLA’s Johnny Roesch scored twice in the last two minutes, capped by an 80-yard punt return with no time left. Who kicked the extra point that hit the crossbar and rolled over to tie it: a) Bob Waterfield, b) Tom Fears, c) Bob Wilkinson?

== 10. The starting quarterback for UCLA during its last win against USC (13-9 at the Rose Bowl in ’06) was: a) Ben Olson, b) Kevin Craft, c) Patrick Cowan?

== Tie breaker: This is the third year in a row the game has been played at night. In 2009, it was at 7 p.m.; last year, it was 7:30 p.m. What’s the latest kickoff ever: a) 7:45 p.m., b) 8 p.m., c) 8:30 p.m.?



1. c) Hackett (he was 2-1 from 1998-2000; 2. d) Dorrell, in 2006; 3. b) Achica; 4. c) Dorrell; 5. b) Hicks; 6. a) Goodwin; 7. c) Frank Jordan; 8. a) Smith; 9. a) Waterfield; 10. c) Cowan. Tie breaker: c) 8:30 p.m., in the 1945 game, on a Friday night at the Coliseum.

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Hey Royce, you hear about …


A photo I once snapped of Royce Hummer as he was in a line during a food distribution in Santa Monica, probably six or seven years ago.

We’re trying to focus on the things that we are truly thankful for, and I’m thinking about Royce Hummer.

The last time I saw Royce walking around on the streets of Santa Monica, it had to be more than five years ago. Shame on me.

I’ve tried to track him down now and then but I haven’t seen him since. No one who I ask around the vicinity of the Ocean Park Community Center has seen him in a long while, either.

He might have been in his 50s or 60s, but having been homeless for years, yet sporting a nicely cut gray beard, it’s hard to tell how much all of that can really age a human being.

He was always buried under a pile of brown jackets, with a brown stocking cap on his head, and deep brown passionate eyes. He walked slowly, but his mind worked fast.

And he enjoyed talking about sports. Especially anything related to Cincinnati, for some reason. I can only assume he lived there at some time. The Reds and Bengals were stuff we could meet on one level and discuss news that either one of us may have heard.

I asked Royce once where he lived.

“Over in those bushes,” he said, pointing to an area near the Santa Monica City Hall front lawn.

I didn’t press it any further. I couldn’t. He was there just to get a lunch that our group was handing out, and maybe find some clothes from what we brought that he could swap out with what he already had.

It turned out that Royce was also a poet.

Somehow, he got hold of a manual typewriter and pounded out poetry. The black, gritty keys of this typewriter as they hit the paper, in various degrees of misprints and shifted black ribbon strikes, made his poems even more stark and real.

He would sell his poems on the street corner for a dollar apiece. That was how he made money to feed himself for the day.

He entrusted me one day to take a batch of his poems so I could run over to the nearby Kinkos and run off a few hundred copies so he didn’t have to worry about finding a way to print them up for awhile.

Of course, I kept a stack of them for myself to read.

The collection of poems that Royce had put together, he titled it “Truth,” and dedicated it to his daughter, Rebecca – another topic of conversation we’d have. He missed her. She didn’t know where he was. And he knew it was better that she didn’t.

I found Royce’s book of poems this week, and had a good cry while reading them again.
He’s not just a poet. He’s one of those street philosophers who knows far more than he’s willing to let on.

“i wanna tell you the truth,”

That’s how one poem begins.

“but you would just call me insane
“maybe laugh in my face
“but who are you to tell me that I am wrong
“don,t you understand that in the end we may all end up in the same place
“maybe you think you are finer than the flowers
“maybe you think you have a box seat in this life
“i,m here to tell you how wrong you really are”

His poem called “I Know” begins:

“i know what its like to have a tormented mind
“i know the feeling of a knife in the heart
“i know the lost of a soul
“i tell you i know”

I wish I could tell Royce today that I know how he feels, but I can’t. And I don’t.

I wanted to see if he had heard about Carson Palmer leaving the Bengals and going to the Raiders.

Or if he even knew that Joey Votto had been doing so well with the Reds. He loved talking about all the battles the Reds and Dodgers once had back in the ’70s. He reminded me about how Sandy Koufax was a much better basketball player at the University of Cincinnati than he was a baseball player, and wouldn’t that have been something if he pitched for the Reds instead.

Instead, I find another poem by Royce, maybe the one that gets to me the most this weekend, called “I Wanna See,” that includes the lines:

“i wanna see a get down and get dirty football game
“i wanna watch a good old baseball game
“i wanna see what makes you tick
“i wanna see you once more”

Truth is, I want to see Royce, at least once more, and I’m not sure if time has run out.

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