Bruins move on in face of adversity

For all but 12 UCLA football players, Rick Neuheisel is the only collegiate head football coach they’ve ever known.

But the reality started sinking in for the Bruins around midday on Monday, less than an hour after the announcement that Neuheisel would be relieved of his duties following the team’s Pac-12 championship game showdown at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium on Friday night, that soon enough, that won’t be the case.

Some found out via a special team meeting with Dan Guerrero, one in which the athletic director asked players to raise their hand if they came to UCLA to go 6-6, and “not one of them raised their hand.”

Some were not so lucky.

“The feelings that happened when I found out on ESPN, I can’t really explain,” said tight end Joseph Fauria, who was in class and could not attend the meeting. “It wasn’t necessarily shock, it was hurt that I found out that way. It just hurt. You’d be dumb to say it hasn’t been floating out there for some time, but he’s our coach, he’s our leader, a guy who I personally like on and off the field, and it’s tough to grasp.”

Though Neuheisel started the season firmly planted in a scorching hot seat that only grew more and more scolding with blowout losses to Texas and Stanford, the melting point came with a 48-12 loss at Arizona on Oct. 20.

Facing a Wildcats squad that was playing under recently named interim head coach Tim Kish, fresh off the firing of Mike Stoops, UCLA was thoroughly embarrassed, left particularly red-faced by a midfield brawl that resulted in 10 total suspensions.

Soon after the game, rumors started swirling about Neuheisel’s precarious future, and players tried to ignore it, all the way up until Saturday night, when a 50-0 loss at USC seemingly slammed the door shut on Neuheisel’s tenure.

“I didn’t think about it too much,” junior quarterback Kevin Prince said. “Obviously after the Arizona game, you heard rumors, heard talk, but we came back and played a great game against Cal, played a great game against Arizona State, and you kind of forget about that stuff. You’re thinking bigger and better things after that. Even after losing to Utah, you don’t think about it.”

Monday, though, they faced the harsh truth.

They would be playing one last game for Neuheisel.

Monday’s practice was louder and sharper than it had been in a long time, players having a little extra zip because of the heightened senses – and heightened emotions – involving the decision.

Nothing refocuses the mind like hard work, they figured.

“It would be easy to say there’s an awkwardness about it, but at the same time you can’t let it spread, you can’t let it be like a cancer,” Fauria said. “You have to treat it like any other week. It’s not easy. You have to be mature, understand what’s at stake, understand what’s ahead of us.”

What lies ahead is an imposing Oregon team ranked No. 8 in the nation and a hostile home environment that will border on mass hysteria.

Prince enters the game with much riding on his shoulders, as the Bruins know that the key to a potential upset will be keeping up with the Ducks’ high-scoring, almost frantic offense, which ranks sixth nationally in total offense and third in scoring.

What’s another massive hurdle for these Bruins, though, who’ve been kicked in the face enough times this season that they feel like they know how to respond by now.

“It’s been nuts,” Prince said of the season. “Especially personally, just the highs and lows I’ve had. Getting benched after Texas, coming back after that. Win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. It’s tough, man. Throw school in on top of that, it’s a lot of stuff. But I think we’re tough guys. We’re a good team and we stick together through it all.”

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  • I partied with John DeLorean

    My favorite recent quote by CRN, said when explaining the difficulty of trying to compete with USC: “It’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”

  • Anonymous

    Another crisp practice. That translates to another blowout loss. Thanx Jon for the voodoo. These players, if they respect their coach, then they would not have quit on him. Stop making excuses. Just admit, you guys suck. Don’t say “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. It gets old.

  • Bruins Gold

    Unfortunately for Rick Neuheisel, the UCLA Players simply suck.

    They do not come into games wanting to play their hearts out. They come into games sleepy, needing a cup of coffee which they never get.

    THey are simply losers. No coach can coach most of these guys. I’ve said that for years.

  • Bruin Gold, you sound like “SUC Owns Crap” get back to your blog.

  • Trojan 70

    Hey CerritosLob – it’s me your buddy from Inside USC. I thought I would come over here and make a total jackass of myself just like you do on the USC blog on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Bruin Gold has it right, the UCLA players suck from a talent perspective. Even though they have been poorly coached, at some time, talent raises its head and someone actually makes a good pass, catch, or defends well. It is called physical talent and ability. At this time, you have the short end of the stick in this town. What UCLA player that started last Saturday night on offense of defense would crack the starting lineup at USC? I think none. Watch out Lob, or I will come over and start replicated the vile, gross, totally tasteless behavior you exhibit on our blog daily over here. By the way actual Bruin alumni, Bruin Rob never went to UCLA, he is an impostor from Cerritos. Laughing at you Lob!

  • Anonymous

    Jon, the word is “scalding.”

  • Mark

    Ucla had some top 10 recruiting classes under Rick so I don’t think talent can explain the size of the “gap”. Maybe it’s the culture of the program. Kiffin once said that he could tell within 5 minutes of meeting a recruit whether he was an SC or ucla guy. Something is there when a team consistently fails to compete.
    Before you throw rocks, SC was losing it’s identity under Pete with some of the “Miami-type” players. We didn’t have that before and we don’t have it now. We have talent that’s disciplined. We don’t need to use all our timeouts to get a play in during the 12th game of the season. We don’t go over the wall to ditch practice. Ucla needs to change the culture. No more potheads. We got rid of Baxter.

  • BruinPain

    @Mark…”We(SC) have talent that’s disciplined.”

    You mean like T.J. McDonald? I’m just surprised that Ndamukong Suh wasn’t a Trogan.

  • Mikey Likes It!

    I would have never expected this. I have been a Neuheisel fan since he entered the game against Stanford for in injured Steve Bono in 1983. I truly believed it was fate for him to win a national championship for UCLA, beat the Trojans every year……I truly believed! and I don’t regret it! UCLA’s football problems go well beyond ANY head coach they will EVER get. I hope UCLA admin finally decides to make a REAL commitment to football and STOP deceiving their recruits and fans with a half hearted commitment. It’s time to take the basketball program and implement the same commitment to football. This really hurts!

  • ender2148

    @Trojan 70

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but our talent occasionally did show up and win games. 6 to be precise, including spoiling Arizona State’s season.

    The problem isn’t talent, like you say, unless Scout, Rivals and all of the other recruiting websites are wrong. It’s a mentality, just like Mark said. I was at the game on Saturday and to see UCLA’s defense vs. USC’s offense was pitiful–guys in so soft of coverage Barkley would quick throw to Marquise Lee and Robert Woods all day for an easy first down.

    Every game UCLA’s lost I’ve seen fear and fake hustle, and, yes, that does comes down to coaching. But it’s not just Neuheisel. Go back to after the 1998-1999 season when the Bruins got blasted by Miami at the end of the season. Has the culture really ever changed? Sure there was the 10-2 season in 2005, but even then you could tell it was still little brother UCLA trying to keep up with almighty champion frontrunners from across town. (And, Texas win in Pasadena aside, SC certainly proved that they ran LA with that beat down, didn’t they?)

    You want the real solution? Here it is: If UCLA ever wants to stand on it’s own as a football program it needs to shed it’s “little brother/red-headed stepchild” complex that’s been plaguing it for…well, quite some time. It’s the same problem Texas A&M has as well as Michigan State. Think about it: First-rate basketball schools which are second-class in football compared to more established blue-blooded programs (Texas and Michigan) who have rivals they consider more important and worthy adversaries, at least on the gridiron (SC/Notre Dame, Texas/Oklahoma, Michigan/Ohio State), and have national championships, Heisman Trophy Winners, and NFL draft picks five fold of little brother…sound familiar?

    You could see that mentality with Texas A&M as they blew the game against Texas–and they got so tired of being Texas’ b**** that they moved to the SEC. Michigan State is finally starting to turn the corner: see its birth in the inaugural Big-10 championship game. What’s UCLA going to do about it?

    It’s on coaching for not coming with an attitude that’s screams confidence and expectations, true, but more importantly it’s on the administration for not committing to football and fans/alumni for being obsessed with USC instead of what they can do on the gridiron. We don’t see the same kind of loathing in basketball, do we?

    If UCLA wants to be a winner in football, EXPECT TO BE A WINNER. Pay for a big time coach who will instill toughness, aggressiveness, and confidence in this team (the mark of CHAMPIONS), but more importantly, QUIT WORRYING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS 10 MILES AWAY IN SOUTH CENTRAL. Otherwise, ’98 will be the last great season anybody will remember for a while. It’s time for UCLA to pick itself up off the mat from the Miami and Wisconsin losses over a decade ago, stop making excuses and go out and show what it’s capable of.

    The talent is there. The resources are definitely there now, especially with this new cash flow from the television contracts. The attitude and the commitment? We’ll see.

  • Trojan 70

    @ Ender – you did show up against ASU, no question. However, in the blow out losses to USC, UA, Texas etc. there were so many dropped passes, poor throws, and really poor defense. Yes, a lot of that is coaching but a dropped pass, poorly overthrown passes? That is ability, either you have it or you don’t. USC perennially gets top 10 recruiting classes. How many of those kids actually make a contribution? Frankly, maybe 50%. You folks did get some good classes but where are those kids? What have they done on the field? I just don’t think your talent level is where everyone seems to think it is. Respectfully, you did not answer my question – how many kids that started for UCLA Saturday would start for the Trojans on Saturday night?

  • ender

    @ Trojan 70

    Three of the classes Neuheisel had in his time had talent in the top 25 of ESPN, Scout and Rivals. When was the drop off? 2010-2011, after yet another 4-8 season and a change to the Pistol offense.

    Skill spots we were supposed to be just fine. At the running back spot? We run four deep not even counting Anthony Barr, I’d stack them against USC’s backfield anyday. Even after being decimated by injuries, our Oline was starting to look pretty good before (both true freshmen) Xavier Su’a-Filo left for his Mormon Mission and Stan Hasiak had a complete meltdown. Hundley (QB) and Lucien (WR) redshirted. Randall Carroll and Shaq Evans have way too much speed to be as unproductive and unused as they are. And let’s not forget the QB misfortunes we’ve had since Pat Cowan and Ben Olsen. Nick Crissman, a former Under Armour All American/Elite 11 QB who is now buried on the depth chart due to a career decimated by injuries, is another case.

    What it sounds like is a some bad luck mixed with coaching ineptitude to me. And I’m just talking about the offense. How do you not have an amazing run game with two HS All Americans in your backfield? If it was because of a patchwork O-line, why weren’t we recruiting big time lineman? How do you not develop guys like Lucien and Evans, hell, even Marvray and Rice Jr. to be busting the balls of underachievers like Rosario and Embree?

    Speaking of underachievers, your first comment pretty much sums it up — “we showed up” against ASU. WHY couldn’t they have the consistency to show up every week and play to their potential? Dropping balls, missing tackles, overthrowing recievers–that’s not lack of talent, that’s lack of execution. “Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.” Even in the Colorado game they didn’t look crisp, and still blew them out. It’s a classic case of “playing up” only when the kids feel like it.

    They may not be getting five-star recruits like you guys, but apparently the talent here is just fine. At least at the skill positions. Problem is, if they haven’t been coached well, then no one has put the onus on the players (including themselves) to be consistently focused, disciplined, and hungry. It’s a culture issue, not a talent one.

  • ender

    Sorry, I apologize for not responding. Who would start at SC? Anyone in the Bruins backfield at running back. Fauria at TE (yeah he was a transfer from ND, so what), Su’a-Filo if he comes back. Yes, I would stack him up as just as good if not better than Ryan Kalil, especially once he comes back from his mission.

    And I will say it: NOBODY on UCLA’s defense would start for SC. Even then it’s not a fair comparison. Your boys have Monte Kiffin coaching them up. It’s not just schemes or base defenses, it’s TECHNIQUE, attitude, etc. That’s my 2 cents.

  • ender

    Whoops, meant Matt Kalil…Ryan plays for the Panthers now…at center no less…