Welcome to Extreme Makeover: UCLA Edition.
Entering his fourth spring football session, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel has taken a scalpel to his coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator Norm Chow? Gone.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough? Gone.
Defensive line coach Todd Howard and wide receivers coach Reggie Moore? Gone, gone.
Special teams coordinator Frank Gansz? Gone.
It’s a surprise the ballboys haven’t been pink-slipped, but then again, the season doesn’t start until September.
All this, after a 4-8 season, Neuheisel’s second in three years at the helm of his alma mater. All this, after the Bruins slipped to 100th nationally (out of 120 teams) in total offense and 94th in total defense.
“It’s an important time for us, given all the changes we’ve made staff-wise,” Neuheisel said in a conference call with reporters last week. “For the coaching staff to get to learn how to play off each other – and make (sure) the new schemes that we’d like to incorporate on both sides of the ball (are) involved – are huge deals.”
What is now without doubt: This is Neuheisel’s team, of Neuheisel’s doing, ride or die.
Neuheisel hired former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson to replace Chow, tabbed former South Florida defensive coordinator Joe Tresey to replace Bullough and went to his good ole buddies at Nevada to poach new running game coordinator Jim Mastro. He also plucked new defensive line coach Inoke Brecketerfield from Montana and went into his own ranks to promote former UCLA tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Angus McClure to special teams coordinator.
While many of the faces of the players are still recognizable – the Bruins return 16-of-22 starters – the two most familiar ones for Bruin fans are gone: Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore.
Finding replacements for them will be Trecey’s first job.
Though both slipped in terms of production for UCLA in 2010 – Moore dropped from a nation-leading 10 interceptions as a sophomore in 2009 to just one last year; Ayers, hampered by injuries, saw his numbers fall toward the end of the season – they were unquestionably the team’s most talented and experienced leaders.
Now as Ayers and Moore head off to NFL riches, strike-delayed or otherwise, the conch in the locker room passes to senior safety Tony Dye and junior linebacker Patrick Larimore, who will miss spring football after having shoulder surgery last November.
“He’s getting healthy, doing great a job of staying in shape,” Neuheisel said. “His weight is right at 245, and that’s where we want him to be. I look forward to Patrick to be ready in the fall.”
And then there’s the offense which never seemed to gain any traction in the first year of the Pistol offense.
UCLA is expected to retool the offense in Year 2 of the scheme, with Mastro brought in to refine a running game that jumped from 97th to 32nd nationally in one season. But the passing game needs a massive overhaul – the Bruins averaged just 141 yards per game through the air in 2010 – so in comes Johnson for Chow, who was hired as offensive coordinator at new Pac-12 foe Utah.
“The Pistol is a formation and it was certainly successful in the run game; what we need now is to develop the throw game that compliments and goes along with that and uses other formations,” Neuheisel said. “We can’t just be so one-dimensional that we can be stopped when it comes to throwing the football. We’re working to make sure the run game and the throw game complement each other.”
Like April showers and May flowers, who will be throwing the ball come fall is an annual constant of spring.
With junior quarterback Kevin Prince still on the mend after in-season knee surgery, junior Richard Brehaut and freshman Brett Hundley will get the majority of reps during spring practice. Brehaut, who joined the baseball team in February but has yet to see an at-bat as designated hitter and catcher, completed 119-of-212 passes for 1,296 yards, with six touchdowns and seven interceptions, as a sophomore.
The highly touted Hundley might be under a closer microscope, though, as he entered UCLA early to participate in spring ball and now might be asked to deliver on the promise that launched him to Scout.com’s No. 2 national quarterback ranking.
“I’m excited for Brett; as is always the case, when somebody’s down, it creates opportunities for someone else,” Neuheisel said. “With Prince not able to go with spring practice, it creates more reps. (Junior backup quarterback) Darius Bell not able to go for spring practice, it creates more reps. Brett Hundley is going to be the benefactor of that. He’s going to get lots of chances. How fast he grows and matures in the offense and shows he can understand all he needs to handle to be effective, that will just enhance his ability to play and play at an early time in his career.”