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Rick Neuheisel, ex-UCLA coach, blossoms in different medium

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Rick Neuheisel, former UCLA football coach, blossoms in on Pac-12 Networks
On "Under Center," Rick Neuheisel chats with Pac-12 quarterbacks
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Rick Neuheisel works with a microphone instead of a headset these days, but he's still recruiting.

On a recent Monday morning, the former UCLA coach was minutes into a telephone interview when another incoming call got his attention. He excused himself and came back on the line a few minutes later

"That was [Oregon quarterback] Marcus Mariota," Neuheisel said. "We're getting him on the show."

OK, so the recruiting has a different endgame.

Neuheisel, two years removed from being removed as UCLA's coach, has blossomed in a different medium.

His work as an in-studio analyst for the Pac-12 Networks earned him a Sports Emmy nomination. His occasional musical tributes — while strumming a guitar — are an unusual and, it turns out, popular approach to delivering college football news. He has his own show, "Under Center," on the Pac-12 Networks that is produced by his company, Passion Bucket Productions.

He appears to be on a path leading away from coaching, only it keeps circling back.

"I'm never far away from the game," Neuheisel said. "Coaches are used to a certain regimen. There are seasons, the recruiting season, the spring season, the evaluation season. It just keeps going."

Neuheisel then chuckled, having found a fictional comparison.

"It's like in the movie 'Shawshank Redemption,' where the one character gets out of prison and doesn't know how to exist in life outside of prison," Neuheisel said. "That's kind of the way it is with coaches."

Television has kept him in the game and, at the same time, "I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be," Neuheisel said. "I can go play golf with my youngest son, goof around and spend more time with my wife."

So, no more coaching?

"I won't tell you I will coach again. I will tell you I think about it all the time," Neuheisel said.

Right now, other things fill his docket.

"Under Center" is patterned after "Jon Gruden's QB Camp" on ESPN. Once a week, from the basement of his home — Neuheisel calls it "The Dungeon" — he interviews Pac-12 Conference quarterbacks and dissects their performance. (And yes, his tone is far different than it was during his animated sideline critiques of UCLA quarterbacks, rants that were often caught by television cameras.)

Neuheisel said the show goes beyond Xs and O's.

"I ran into a great group of people," Neuheisel said of his production team. "They are young, just breaking into the industry. I'm kind of Methuselah to them. We're having fun."

Neuheisel's time at UCLA ended after four seasons and a 21-29 record.

In an odd way, his timing was good.

The Pac-12 Networks, which hit the air in 2012, needed personalities. Neuheisel had one.

The network got a Pac-12 alumnus who remains the only person to win a Rose Bowl as a quarterback (with UCLA in 1984) and as a coach (with Washington in 2000). Neuheisel got an outlet for opinions, bringing along a self-deprecating sense of humor.

"I have no shortage of thoughts; whether they are coherent or intelligent, I leave that to the viewer to decide," Neuheisel said. "I have a lot of things to say about our conference and the state of things. Stir the conversation. Create a debate."

Cue the band.

Among Neuheisel's musical efforts was a parody of the Marty Robbins' country classic "El Paso," poking fun at Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and a tribute lauding former USC interim coach Ed Orgeron, sung to the tune of Harry Belafonte's "Day O."

Said Neuheisel: "If it makes somebody laugh, it's worthwhile."

Neuheisel was nominated for an Emmy in the sports personality-studio analyst category. He is the first among the Pac-12 Networks' on-air talent to be nominated.

"They told me I was nominated and I said, 'Thanks,' and they told me I was a finalist and I said, 'I'm going to be what?'" Neuheisel joked. Turning serious, he said, "More people need to be singled out here. It's a team effort."

But, as a perk, he said, "My wife and I get to hobknob and rub elbows with the famous in New York."

It's enough to make a guy forget about coaching — or not.

"I look at this as a separate career," Neuheisel said. "It's not unlike the industry I left. There is competing, like in that other one. It hasn't made me forget what I enjoyed about coaching."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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