Neuheisel officially fired, Johnson takes over after Pac-12 championship

As reported following UCLA’s 50-0 loss at USC on Saturday night, Rick Neuheisel is out as UCLA head coach.

The school announced the firing on Monday morning effective following the Pac-12 championship game, which is set to kick off on Friday at 5 p.m. in Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, at the conclusion of which, first-year offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will take over on an interim basis.

“I have a great deal of respect for Rick Neuheisel and the manner in which he has run this program during his tenure as UCLA head football coach,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a release. “Decisions such as this one do not come without a great deal of heartache. However, it is apparent to me that a move was necessary at this time in order to give UCLA the best chance to enjoy the success that we all desire.”

Guerrero, who it was announced will be holding a live press conference at 2:30 p.m., addressed reporters briefly following the Bruins’ loss to USC and said Neuheisel’s status would be discussed after the season.

Neuheisel made his best pitch for continuing as head coach on Sunday during a press conference with reporters.

“I was told that we need to move the needle and if the needle moved that we would be fine and I’d get to continue along my five years of my five-year contract,” Neuheisel said. “We have won five conference games as opposed to three last year. We have won the right to represent the South in the conference championship. We’ve certainly had some unfortunate evenings where things haven’t gone our way, but I think the program is headed in the right direction.”

Multiple sources close to the program have said that the school is ready to make a financial commitment to football, with Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin atop a short list of desired candidates.

Neuheisel, who will receive a $250,000 buyout, went 21-28 in four season at his alma mater, with two 4-8 finishes and to 6-6 regular-season campaigns. In 2009, the Bruins appeared to be heading in the right direction with a win over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl, but the team regressed to 4-8 last season and suffered five losses of at least 25 points this season.

“Rick Neuheisel’s strong personal values, integrity and tenacity made this decision extremely difficult for Dan Guerrero and the University. We wish Rick the best in his future endeavors,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in the release. “UCLA’s athletic program has built a rich and proud legacy throughout the years, producing student-athletes who are winners on and off the field. While we insist on emphasizing academic performance by all students–including our student-athletes– we also have a strong commitment to ensuring our athletic programs are successful overall. I have complete confidence in Dan’s ability to recruit and hire a head coach who can revitalize UCLA’s football program, and have pledged my full support in this process.”

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Bruins headed for all-or-almost nothing

Forget 11 games, forget more turbulence than a Midwest thunderstorm, forget anything about anything prior to 7 p.m. on Saturday night.

That was UCLA’s plan.

Win the next three hours and win the Pac-12 South division outright, a defiant showing against crosstown rival USC at Los Angeles Coliseum giving both teams identical 6-3 conference records and UCLA the title.

That was UCLA’s plan.

But a 50-0 loss to the Trojans has the Bruins crawling up to Eugene, barely dragging themselves over the state line and into what is expected to be a raucous Autzen Stadium
“We didn’t want to sneak in there because of a technicality, we didn’t want to be an asterisk in the record books,” junior quarterback Kevin Prince said. “We wanted to earn it.”

Instead, UCLA ekes into the conference’s inaugural showcase after suffering its fifth blowout loss of the season, which dropped its record to 6-6.

The mere appearance of the Bruins in what was expected to be a star-studded affair has roundly drawn criticism from across the country. Most had simply thought Utah would defeat heavy underdog Colorado in Salt Lake City on Friday night. Instead, the Utes missed three crucial field goals in a 17-14 loss to the Buffaloes.

Insert UCLA.

Insert punchline.

National media has taken to Twitter to thrash the Bruins, the Trojans sported “2011 South Division Champion” T-shirts and UCLA will likely be fodder for late-night television by Monday night.

The only thing louder than Autzen Stadium on Friday night might be the backlash on the Bruins championship berth.

“I don’t care what people think,” UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “As far as I know, they’re sending a plane to pick us up and we’re gonna get on it.”

Added junior cornerback Andrew Abbott: “It’s basically all or nothing. We didn’t do it (Saturday), so this is it. Lay it all on the line. Let the chips fall where they may.”

The Bruins know the alternative.

This isn’t a poker game, it’s a high-stakes slot machine, with just two results: Either UCLA advances to the Rose Bowl or it becomes bowl ineligible at 6-7, forced to petition the NCAA for a waiver just to appear in a low-level bowl.

This is no $6 jackpot on the line.

“We’re aware of the stakes,” Prince said. “It would’ve been nice to have won this one and not have to worry about the whole petition part of it, and now it’s win or go home, pretty much for us. We have to win to make a dream come true.”

The players are dreaming because their reality is so dire.

Neuheisel made the rounds throughout UCLA locker room on Saturday night to comfort the players, offering pep talks to the more forlorn.

Minutes earlier he had trudged off the Los Angeles Coliseum field surrounded by four police officers, rushing to catch up to junior tight end Joseph Fauria, whose massive shoulders on his 6-foot-8 frame were drooped to about three inches off the ground.

“What the head coach and I discussed was between he and I, but at the same time, it was positive. He’s a positive guy, and right there I kind of needed that, because it it’s difficult walking off that field knowing we left some stuff on there.”

Neuheisel knows because he’s been there.

Four previous times this year, in fact.

The loss to USC was the Bruins’ fifth of more than 25 points.

“If you’re not careful, you can leave a locker room feeling like the coaches feel it’s all the players’ fault,” Neuheisel said. “I think it’s important to realize we’re in this together and that we’re a team and that we share in victory just as we share in defeat.”

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Last of press conference tidbits

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel on:

On making his rounds across the locker room and offering words of encouragement:
“If you’re not careful, you can leave a locker room feeling like the coaches feel it’s all the players’ fault. I think it’s important to realize we’re in this together and that we’re a team and that we share in victory just as we share in defeat. The key going forward was to continue was to believe in one another and get the focus on the task at hand. Which meant taking today as a player and getting rid of the sting of last night.”

On why he tunes out negativity:
“It’s more than a belief, its knowledge. It happens all the time. You have to be relentlessly positive, and you’ll get back to where you need to. Hope is not a strategy. This is a conviction of optimism, and we are going to rise again.”

On the postseason:
“We have a right to go to a bowl game, we finished season at 6-6 and that qualifies you for a bowl game. If we’re unsuccessful, then we have right to play in postseason like everybody else with 6-6 record.”

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Even MORE from press conference

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel:

On the practice schedule:
“It’s a little different, but most times the kids have Mondays off. Today’s the day off. Gives coaches ample time to give ourselves a plan to put together because you have to play fast against a team like Oregon. We’ll try to polish it up tomorrow afternoon until we practice tomorrow night.”

On offensive issues:
“We didn’t score. There were plenty of opportunities to score lots of points. Poor execution.”

On preparing for Oregon’s tempo:
It has to be a portion of it, no question. They play at a speed that’s unlike any other and we have to understand that and not be worn out by it.

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Even more from press conference

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel on…

On giving players a day off while Oregon practiced today:
“Players are not involved today. The hour of last evening and the emotional cost of last evening, better in my mind to get away from it for a day, and get ready for a great practice tomorrow.”

On outside criticism:
“I don’t care what people think. As far as I know, they’re sending a plane to pick us up and we’re gonna get on it.”

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More from press conference

UCLA QB Kevin Prince…

On the topsy-turvy season:
“We know how the pattern of this season has gone by – we know that when we’ve had losses, bad losses, we’ve been able to bounce back pretty strong. We’re also aware were playing a very good opponent and it won’t be easy.”

On stopping criticism:
“Win it. If we win, then people can say too much. They can still say we back d into it but it doesn’t take a legitimate win, which that would be.”

On the bowl scenario:
“Yeah, it’s a unique situation considering its kind of Rose Bowl or no bowl almost. I know we can petition for one. But obviously our goal all season has been to win the Pac-12 championship and we have the opportunity to do so. We still have lots to play for; it’s still a somber time because of what happened last night. It’s good we have a day off. After the Arizona game, we had a couple days off to sit back and reflect on what we did better, how we can improve individually kind of taking same approach this week.”

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Assorted press conference quotes, notes

UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince on…

On back-dooring into the Pac-12 championship game:
“It’s a little weird. Obviously things didn’t go the way we wanted last night. We would’ve preferred to make the conference championship game by winning it outright. But the situation turned out that we have the opportunity to redeem ourselves. We’re still excited about the opportunity. Definitely not the way we wanted it to go down.”

On moving the ball but scoring zero points:
“Lack of execution when we got down to the red zone. We got it down within 10 yards three different times. We just weren’t able to put it in the end zone. That comes down to me. It comes down to me not executing when I needed to. We had a chance to run a couple in that I didn’t take advantage of. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
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UCLA vs. USC Report Card


Kevin Prince’s first pass of the game was woefully overthrown, and he didn’t get much better.

Derrick Coleman’s Inability to plug it in from yard out started USC’s landslide.

Nelson Rosario was impressive while going over the 1,000-yard mark, but little from elsewhere.

Not altogether awful, but needed to have a tremendous performance and it didn’t.

If Matt Barkley had any more time in the pocket, he could’ve watched the entire first season of Law and Order: SVU.

Just completely lost in pass defense and not nearly impactful enough in the run.

Marqise Lee, Robert Woods ran circles, triangles, squares and parallelograms around them.

Unsurprisingly, punter Jeff Locke was the lone bright spot for UCLA. Thank God punting is winning, then.

The 50-0 margin of defeat was the largest in 81 years. Enough said.

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One good statistical note for UCLA

Nelson Rosario became the seventh UCLA player to hit the 1,000-yard mark after his seven-catch, 118-yard performance against USC.

Rosario now has 55 grabs for 1,008 yards on the year – moving up to fifth on the UCLA career yardage mark with 2,209 yards – after his fourth 100-yard game of the year.

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UCLA coaching update

Multiple sources close to the program are indicating that UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel will be relieved of his duties following the team’s appearance in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday.

Dan Guerrero said on Saturday night that Neuheisel would coach against the Ducks but would not elaborate further after calling the loss “devastating.”

“He’s carried this program all year long; I indicated we’d evaluate this program at the end of the season,” Guerrero said. “We have one game left and we’ll do that.”

If UCLA loses at Oregon, the Bruins would technically be ineligible for a bowl game at 6-7, but the conference is able to apply for a waiver with the NCAA to get the team into the postseason.

“We’re talking to the conference office this week to see what options are in that regard,” Guerrero said.

Sources have said Neuheisel was on perilously thin ice after the Bruins’ 48-12 loss at Arizona on Oct. 20, but that back-to-back wins over Cal and Arizona State prolonged his tenure and eventually changed the opinion of decision-makers.

After the team’s 31-6 loss at Utah, though, the ice went back to being just as thin – if not thinner – and sources said that even if the team defeated USC on Saturday, or at the very least put up a good fight, Neuheisel would still be a candidate for termination.

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