“The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over.” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel uttered those now famous, or rather infamous, words on August 25, 2008, shortly before his first season leading his alma mater as head coach. Neuheisel seemed like a logical fit, he played at UCLA, leading the Bruins to victory in the Rose Bowl in the 1983 season, despite starting the season 0-3-1. In fact, to date, that 1983 season remains Neuheisel’s lone victory over USC, 27-17. He’s had success at his two previous coaching stops, Colorado and Washington, leading the Buffaloes to a #4 ranking in 1995 and Washington to a #3 ranking, and Rose Bowl victory, in 2000. Between stops at Colorado and Washington, Neuheisel amassed a record of 66-30 and 42-21 in conference play.
On December 29, 2007, Neuheisel was hired as the Bruins head coach. His first moves seemed to be calculated and smart, retaining DeWayne Walker as defensive coordinator and hiring Norm Chow as offensive coordinator. Neuheisel even won his first game as UCLA head coach on the home opener in 2008, defeating Tennessee in overtime. Including that win, however, UCLA is 18-26 and 10-21 in conference under Neuheisel, including 12-10 in the Rose Bowl and an atrocious 5-16 on the road. “Slick Rick” is 3-9 against top 25 teams. Even worse, Neuheisel is 0-3 against USC, being outscored 84-28.
Before the season began, Neuheisel was on the hot seat, replacing DC Chuck Bullough with Joe Tresey and replacing the departed OC Norm Chow with Mike Johnson. The Bruins averaged 20 points/game from 2008-2010, this year they are averaging 23.8 points/game, a marked improvement. The Bruins averaged giving up 29 points/game in 2008, 21.2 points/game in 2009, and 30.3 points/game in 2010, this year they are averaging giving up 34.4 points/game, the worst in four seasons. The biggest concern in Los Angeles was the Bruin defense, not the offense. Many experts projected a bowl game for the Bruins, with home games against San Jose State, Washington State, California, Arizona State, Colorado and away games against Oregon State, Arizona, and Utah, getting to six wins appeared to be a reasonable task. Now seven games into the season and UCLA sitting at 3-4, the wagons have begun circling in Los Angeles.
More telling: the Bruins averaged 72,781 fans in 2008, 64,547 fans in 2009, 60,375 fans in 2010, and 53,828 fans so far through 2011. Assuming $40 a ticket (which is probably low), the Bruins are bringing in, on average, $758,000/game less this year than they did in 2008. Given that UCLA plays 6 home games this season, the Bruins should expect to make $4.548 million less than in 2008.
In 2006, Rivals ranked UCLA as having the 17th ranked recruiting class, landing such 4-star recruits as WR Terrence Austin, OL Jack Dean, OL Andy Keane, OL Micah Kia, DE Jeff Miller, OL Sean Sheller, and DT Jerzy Siewierski. In 2007, they were 40th. Then Rick Neuheisel came in, bringing in prospects for the 2008 class. His first class was 13th in the nation, bringing in a plethora of 4-stars, including RB Johnathan Franklin and WR Nelson Rosario. He brought in the 14th best class in 2009, with such 4-stars as QB Richard Brehaut. UCLA’s recruiting class was 8th(!) in 2010, bringing in a 5-star DE, Owamagbe Odighizuwa. They took a step back last year, ranked 45th in 2010, bringing in 4-star recruits QB Brett Hundley, DT Kevin McReynolds, and WR Devin Lucien. Despite the success, UCLA finished below USC in recruiting each year under Neuheisel, with USC finishing 8th in 2008, 4th in 2009, 1st in 2010, and 4th in 2011. Its not just that UCLA can’t compete with USC for recruits, as they have taken the talent they recruited and wasted it.
ESPN analysts Craig James and Jesse Palmer wondered why UCLA has struggled. James chalked it up to UCLA’s lack of athletes, while Palmer chalked it up to inferior facilities. Looking purely at the way Rivals ranked the UCLA recruiting classes, James is dead wrong. Now it might be that many of Neuheisel’s recruits haven’t panned out or he hasn’t used them properly. As for the inferior facilities, it simply doesn’t jive with UCLA’s success in recruiting, outside of last year’s class, only finishing outside of the top 15 in recruiting nationally under Neuheisel last season.
A coach’s job is predicated on wins, beating rivals, filling the stadium, and developing recruits. Neuheisel has failed in all aspects of his job. The football monopoly in Los Angeles isn’t over, but the Rick Neuheisel experiment will be, by the end of the season.