The Saga Ends

Rick Neuheisel pointed to chemistry issues and a lack of success as the catalysts in the decision to replace Norm Chow as offensive coordinator at UCLA.

Then he pointed to the man sitting to his left, Chow’s replacement Mike Johnson, lightly tapped him on the arm, and assured reporters that the new man in charge of the offense would ignite a unit that has fallen to tremendous depths.

Neuheisel formally announced the hire of Johnson as UCLA’s new offensive coordinator on Saturday morning; by Saturday night, Utah formally announced the hire of Chow as its new offensive coordinator, bringing to a close a three-year stint that started with ample promise and ended in disarray.

“I think dysfunction may be too strong of a word, but when it’s not functioning at the highest level it leaks down into the program,” Neuheisel said to reporters during halftime of the Bruins’ men’s basketball game against Stanford. “It isn’t anybody’s fault, but it is correctable and it has to be corrected and that responsibility falls on me.”

And so, it seems, will a large portion of the UCLA offense in 2011.

Neuheisel said that he will play a substantial role in the play-calling going forward – though he said that it would be a collaborative effort – and would coach the Bruin quarterbacks, while Johnson would serve as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Johnson was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers last season and previously coached with the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons, where he helped groom Michael Vick early in his career.

Johnson was officially hired on Thursday and has been acting in the capacity of a coach since then, including on the recruiting trail, where the Bruins have been struggling in recent weeks. Neuheisel said Johnson’s recruiting abilities as an assistant coach at Oregon State piqued his interest when he was head coach at Washington in the early 2000s, and that he tried to acquire Johnson’s services then.

“Down the road at Washington, I became very aware that there was somebody kicking our tail in LA in the recruiting department, and it was Mike at Oregon State,” Neuheisel said. “In that game where Oregon State played Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, I think 16 of 22 starters for the Beavers that day were Mike Johnson recruits. I tried to steal him away from Oregon State at that time.”

Johnson said he was excited to embark on the recruiting trail before reuniting with the offensive staff to determine how to resolve an offense that has been inconsistent at best, sometimes downright awful, during Chow’s tenure. Neuheisel and Johnson both said they needed to discuss the viability of the Pistol offense, which debuted to disastrous results in 2010 as the Bruins finished 104th nationally in scoring offense, after finishing 109th and 94th in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

“Now that I’m here, I’m excited; next week and a half I’m going to go out and beat the streets of Los Angeles and see if we can get a couple guys in our boat,” Johnson said. “Once that process is over, we’re going to sit down and get started on the offense, and develop an offense that can be effective, be diverse, be multiple, both running and passing, and make sure we can marry the two in detail.”

As late as Saturday morning, Neuheisel and UCLA officials were mum on Chow’s destination, even after a report in the Salt Lake Tribune during the week that said Chow had reached an agreement to return to his alma mater.

Chow agreed to a buyout of a roughly $1 million two-year contract extension that was agreed upon during the summer but delayed until December, though details were not made available.

“We reached a mutual agreement on terms of separation,” a UCLA spokesman said. “The agreement allowed for a smooth transition, was satisfactory for both parties and was amicable.”

The agreement ended a long standoff that drew the ire of UCLA fans and the national media, a process that began with speculation of Chow’s departure as early as November, when Neuheisel would not commit to his return.

Now Neuheisel turns his attention to the Bruins’ two remaining coaching vacancies, the defensive coordinator spot left open when Neuheisel fired Chuck Bullough – along with wide receivers coach Reggie Moore – on Dec. 18, and the newly opened additional offensive spot, created by the loss of Chow.

Sources close to the program said that Neuheisel is scheduled to interview former Miami head coach Randy Shannon for the position today.

“It’s a process, and there are some things that have to be dealt with as you try to put pieces in place,” Neuheisel said. “It takes a great deal of thought and careful deliberation before you come up with the perfect formula. I didn’t anticipate it taking this long, but to get it right, it’s worth waiting.”

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  • Headliner

    I thought the Bruins fired a wide receiver coach and a defensive coordinator. Chow’s departure creates three openings with Mike Johnson filling one. Is UCLA going to hire two new coaches or use all the money to hire one defensive coordinator?

  • http://www.insidesocal.com/ucla Jon Gold

    Johnson is OC and WR coach.

  • Blitzed

    The 49er’s were terrible on offense even with one of the best running backs in the league, an underrated TE and a great young wide out. How is a guy who can’t manage a sliver a success with that going to come to UCLA and be better then Chow? By the way, Mike Vick had a TON of issues in his game when he was in Atlanta. He wasn’t some great polished QB and any expert will tell you that.

    How bad is it going to look if Utah shows up in the Pac 12 and looks amazing on offense with Chow running it. This is the desperate act of a man who knows his time is running out. I couldn’t wait to see what Chow could do with Hundley. And now he’s gone and we’ve got Mike Johnson and I’m supposed to have hope? Uhg.

  • BruinRogue

    Horrible. Chow managed to make QB’s like Craft, Prince, and Brehaut look barely decent rather than completely abysmal. Brehaut’s been showing some promise as well. And he was a key recruiter when it came to getting fellow Mormon recruits (Su’a Filo, Hasiak) or even being in contention for others, which we will now likely lose to Utah and BYU. The guy can make the most out of junk, which is pretty much what he’s been given thanks to injuries, etc.

    People talk about Mike Vick’s development under Johnson, but Vick never really became a great passing QB in the pros until he went to Philly. He was a great runner in Atlanta but a horrible passer. For a QB coach, a resume of pre-Eagles Vick, Doug Flutie, and Alex Smith isn’t very pretty.

    I like us reaching out to Shannon, who’s a proven DC in the collegiate level though. I guess we’re going to be seeing less than 14 points per game so we’ll need a defensive coordinator that knows his stuff. Chow and Shannon would’ve been a true dream team but 1 out of 2 is better than nothing…

  • Jono

    What Blitzed said.

  • Doug

    Jimmy Raye was the SF Offensive Coordinator to start the year and was fired after his inept offense struggled at the beginning of the season. Johnson took over from him, and while the offense did improve, their is no way to vastly improve an offense and change things in regards to scheme without a training camp and time to change things. He wasn’t afforded that in SF. Everything he did was Raye’s, and he did the best he could with it. Also, let’s be clear. Frank Gore got hurt and missed the end of the season. Vernon Davis, while talented, is a head case. Michael Crabtree, while talented, dropped too many balls. Finally, Troy Smith and Alex Smith couldn’t get a job in the CFL, let alone the NFL. They had quite possibly the worst offensive talent in the league, with a head coach (Singletary) who insisted on running the ball no matter what. Johnson is a college coach with great ideas and is a great recruiter. He will end up being a very good hire.

  • 1987Bruin

    < > Perhaps instead of pointing to others for the failures, instead, point to yourself Coach Rick.

  • Bruintx

    The 49ers offense has sucked for many years now. Mike Johnson was promoted from QB coach to OC in mid-season last year. How on earth can anyone pass judgment on his OC skills based on that situation? Wake up!!

    What Doug said…

  • Coach Thom

    Hasiak is not LDS. Wrong info on that one. The $UC trolls are on fire tonight. Coach Rick has made the right decision with Coach Michael. Now bring aboard Coach Randy, and we’ll be looking very good. A great step in the right direction, Coach Rick. Now, bring in the recruits.

  • Brock

    It makes me cringe to be associated with all of you other UCLA fans. You seriously bitch about every move UCLA makes. You complain about our offense being terrible for the past two years, then you complain about chow being fired and bringing in an offensive coordinator from the NFL. You guys are backing Chow right now… the guy who insisted on keeping Prince in at QB while injured after missing all of Fall camp, and don’t even give me the argument of Brehaut not being as well of a QB as Prince, because Prince looked like a highschool QB out there throwing up floaters that were 5 yards short.

    Honestly, our offense can’t be much worse than it was last year, and I am hoping that maybe Neu and Johnson coming together and helping a team work together hopefully with Shannon.

  • Johnny Angel

    Sounds good for Chow and Utah but bad for UCLA. ‘Nuff said.

  • Reformed Droog

    I’m repeating an earlier comment of mine:

    The way I see it, we bought a Ferrari, but couldn’t afford 91 octane gas. We hoped it could make do with 87, but, three years later, we’re not seeing the top performance some thought was guaranteed.

    Fine. Shit happens. But the fact of the matter is that we’re not going to be able to afford 91 octane for a while, nor do we have any in the tank. It’s all 87 and 89 in there. (And gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if this Ferrari could adapt to the 89?)

    So, do we hold on to the Ferrari knowing that it’s not capable of flourishing with the gas it’s got? I mean, the hot girls (Media) stopped giving us handjobs long ago just because we’re driving last year’s Ferrari…

    …or do we admit that the Ferrari is just not a good fit for us, for the gas we have, and trade it in for a Civic – a car that can do amazing things with 87 octane? The possible rewards seem to outweigh the risks.

  • No Lo

    I hear the Big West wants to expand. UCLA should accept. They would have a built in football rival: Cal Poly SLO.

  • Bob

    When the coaching staff is disconnected so be it for the team. If Rick can bring in a coaching staff that has the same excitement but at the same time realizes and accepts who the head coach is, you will have a winning combo. I think these new coaches Rick is bringing in, has what it takes to recruit So Cal.

    Good Job Bruins, out with the old and in with high energy.

  • BRUINBEATCH

    @Brock-AMEN TO THAT BROTHER! This was a great move!Chow wasn’t working.People stop being so F N negative!GO BRUINS!

  • Anonymous

    Brock and Bruinbeath – Thank you! Rumor over on a pay-site about an NFL DC interviewing tomorrow as well as Shannon. The name Mike Nolan is being thrown around.

  • sam

    Blitzed said it all perfectly. Next year slick rick will be gone, and the Utah offense is going to rock and roll. This is all pretty depressing because you want to see progress in a program, especially your alma mater. Now we’ll have a mediocre at best recruiting group, another wasted year of spinning our wheels, then the coach gets fired, maybe the athletic director too, and we start fresh all over again from scratch. That’s way too much time lost for a program needing direction. Thanks for the help there slick rick, now crawl back to that rock you came out of.

  • Blue Critter

    Brock & Bruin Beatch, Right on. Chow was good at directing QB’s but was a terrible signal caller. He was much to passive on the practice field with a total team but ok when one on one with a QB. Coach Rick made the right call, period.

  • Anonymous

    What a tragic spectacle. UCLA is now the laughingstock of college football.

    Cue unbearable doses of TrojanGloat.

  • Anonymous

    Analogies.

    It wasn’t Chow’s fault that tires kept blowing, the engine blew a gasket, and the transmission went on a mission.

    It’s news to me, but if playing a never-practiced-and-therefore-undeserving Prince over an unpolished-but-aggressive-and-healthy Brehaut was Chow’s call, then he judgment was poor.

    Regardless, this looks bad. Really bad. But if Neu can get a great DC, he and his OC can call a dynamic and aggressive offense, and the team can avoid major injuries, then good for UCLA.

    GO BRUINS!

  • samohopar

    How does this looks bad? Chow did NOTHING in three years. I don’t care how poor the talent was. Where was the improvement? Where was the creativity? If I don’t do my job I will get fired. I don’t know anything about the new OC, but I do know Chow wasn’t working out and he needed to go.

  • Reformed Droog

    The injury excuse is old for me. We’re not the only program in DI to have a slew of injuries.

  • Coach Rick Neuheisal

    Guys, guys, guys… just calm down a second. Remember three years ago when I addressed the crowd at Pauley and introduced Coach Chow and Coach Walker, we got all excited, called them the Dream Team and we talked about beating that school across town?

    Well, this time I mean it. This time I’m really hiring the guys that are going to turn things around. We’ve learned from our past mistakes and we’re growing as a team. Now, next year, we’re going to be young and there will be some stumbles along the way, but stick with us, we’re going to improve, we’re going to represent your school with class and we’re going to win some games.*

    In addition, for you students that actually go to the game and stick around for the end, I am petitioning the University to make my post-game speeches qualify as a 1-unit seminar. We’re just ironing out a few details, I wanted the seminar titled “Inspiration in the face of overwhelming adversity” but the Dean keeps wanting to do something with crisis communications. Anyway, we’ll get it ironed out and it’s going to be great!

    Coach Neu

    * – Not necessarily games against Southern Cal or enough to go to a bowl game, but all I said was some games, right? CRN

  • Anonymous

    That should have read “his judgment.”

  • Free_Thinker

    February 5, 2010 10:42 PM FreeThinker said:

    Norm Chow is grossly overrated and this year he can prove how great he is. Here are some FACTS:
    -Chow has had 5 major jobs – BYU,NC State, USC, NFL Titans & UCLA. He has only been “successful” only when working s an assistant to winning coaches, LaVell Edwards & Pete Carroll. Carroll’s teams were highly successful after Chow left finishing in the top 10 every year but 2009.
    -Chow teams other than at SC only finished in AP top twice, 1994 and 1996… and they were actually Edward’s teams.
    -Chow left BYU under pressure for poor finishes. Here’s a quote from the Deseret News from the time he left: “Chow has been the target of the ire of BYU fans for the Cougar’s rocky performance in recent years, especially this year after BYU lost its last three games of the regular season.”
    -The Titans fired Chow. Here a nugget from ESPN “The Titans fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow after a season of struggling to score points,..”
    -While Chow may get credit for developing QBs, he may have just benefited from good talent. We’ll find out soon enough
    -Under weak coaches, (NC State, Titans, UCLA) Chow has been less than stellar, mediocre is the better term.

    Looks like lot’s of hype around a guy who is good at best. This year will tell it all. In the meantime WHAT’S YOUR DEAL and other bRUIN trolls ought to stick to their own lair.

    Come back in 10 months and tell me how great Neuweasel and Chow are then. What’s Your Deal!
    February 5, 2010 10:42 PM

    10 months is over. Chow is overrated. Neuweasel is too!