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Neuheisel rebuts claims by Norton

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on Monday denied accusations made a day earlier by USC assistant Ken Norton that the Bruins were using bait-and-switch tactics on football recruits.

Norton, the Trojans’ linebackers coach and an All-American linebacker at UCLA in the 1980s, said in an interview with The Times on Sunday that the Bruins were trying to lure recruits by telling them he would join the UCLA staff if defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker were to take another job.

Walker reportedly is a front-runner to become head coach at New Mexico State, and he was meeting with officials there when UCLA released a statement by Neuheisel concerning Norton’s claims.

The statement opened with support of Walker, who, Neuheisel said, “has done a great job for us and I hope he stays at UCLA for many years. . . .”

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But Neuheisel added, “That being said, I was sorry to read the comments Kenny made in the Los Angeles Times. I have not told any recruits that if DeWayne left, Kenny would be the defensive coordinator at UCLA, and neither have my assistant coaches.

“Despite the fact that Kenny is a great Bruin, we have more than enough positives at UCLA to interest recruits and convince them that this is the school at which they can flourish both academically and athletically.”

Neuheisel and Norton did speak about a year ago about Norton’s possibly joining the UCLA staff as an assistant head coach. But Norton stayed at USC -- and Sunday he said that’s where he would remain.

After practice Monday, Norton and USC Coach Pete Carroll declined to identify which UCLA coach or coaches allegedly had spread the rumors about Norton. Such tactics are not in violation of NCAA rules but are generally considered underhanded.

”. . . I’m not just going to make something up. Something’s being said,” Norton said Monday. “I just want to make sure that it’s known that it’s being said and that we clear the air with it.”

Carroll told The Times’ T.J. Simers, “Talk to the recruits.”

Asked whether he would consider an offer to become the coordinator at UCLA if Walker left, Norton said, “My issue is just talking about the recruits. That was my issue with this. And I just wanted to make sure that that’s clear, that I’m here [at USC] and that I’m recruiting here and this is where I’m working.”

Walker is expected to accept the New Mexico State job if it’s offered to him. Neuheisel said, “If he has the opportunity to become a head coach, I know he would do a fine job and I would support him in any way possible.”

Neuheisel also said he did not have a replacement set if Walker were to leave.

“There has been a lot of speculation about Kenny’s return to UCLA in the media and on the Internet, and perhaps that has confused people about who has said what,” Neuheisel said in the statement. “If DeWayne leaves, I would consider several candidates for the defensive coordinator job. Kenny probably would have been among those considered, with no guarantees. However, his quotes in the paper say he is staying at USC, so we wish him well.”

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chris.foster@latimes.com

gary.klein@latimes.com


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