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Neuheisel sees what he’s up against

RICK NEUHEISEL was sitting in the stands -- just where you’d expect to find a UCLA football coach these days at a Rose Bowl.

He was dressed in black, incognito from head to toe complete with a cap sporting a golf logo, worried, I guess, that wearing UCLA garb to a USC game might be considered an NCAA infraction.

It was 42-10 USC, and Neuheisel was heading for the Rose Bowl tunnel exit with almost a full quarter to play -- leaving town, I figured, after watching the Trojans and having second thoughts about taking the UCLA job.

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“No, no, I’m here to stay,” he said. “But I did notice that the team over there on the other sideline is pretty darn good.

“Look how good those guys look in their uniforms. That’s an impressive bunch of athletes. You can see by looking at their roster, though, that people love coming to L.A. No reason they can’t come to UCLA.”

No reason at all why UCLA can’t get USC’s leftovers.

JUST IMAGINE sitting there in the stands and watching Pete Carroll at work, now your No. 1 nemesis, but also maybe the best in the country at what he does.

Carroll is about to walk off with another Rose Bowl trophy, another example of dominance on the job when given time to prepare for an opponent, and you have yet to assemble a coaching staff.

At your first news conference you say, “I have told [Athletic Director] Dan Guerrero that DeWayne Walker is my No. 1 recruit,” and hours later the Sporting News is reporting that your No. 1 recruit has already accepted a job as Washington’s defensive coordinator.

“I saw that report and called Walker right away,” Neuheisel said. “He said it wasn’t true. We’re going to talk.”

He’s got the gift of gab, all right, but talking a good game also comes easily for Carroll, who has shown an uncanny ability to also back it up on the field.

In many respects, Carroll is the charismatic face of college football today, the guy who talks about having fun, while so many others in the profession look so angry and lost in thought.

“I look at USC play and I see a lot of things,” Neuheisel said. “I see how hard they play and I see what a passionate group they are. And I know they get that directly from Pete.”

UCLA is counting on the same from Neuheisel, but Tuesday he had to buy a ticket to get into the Rose Bowl.

“Some UCLA people helped us buy them from some Illinois parents,” he said. “But I did buy them.”

That isn’t an infraction, of course, but sitting next to UCLA recruits at this time of year is, which drew a laugh from Neuheisel.

“I can bring my three sons to the game,” he said, while rubbing the head of one of his kids, “and make home visits and even sleep with their mom.

“I know everyone is going to keep an eye on what I do, and trust me, I’m going to as well.”

And so for the record, he stood only once to cheer during the USC-Illinois game, the only one standing in his section and clapping when former UCLA quarterback Tom Ramsey stepped on the field in the third quarter to be honored for his induction into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

An ABC sideline reporter found Neuheisel earlier in the game, putting a microphone to his face -- the camera also finding USC season-ticket holders Sal and Yvette Apodaca, dressed in their Trojans best, and sitting directly behind him.

“Right away my phone goes off and my friends are calling and telling me to club him in the back,” Sal said, but instead of beating him, he decided to leave that to USC next season.

He said Neuheisel was nice to those who recognized him in his “nondescript clothing,” posing for pictures, signing autographs and never once bad-mouthing Carroll.

“And I was listening,” he said.

IN AN area already overloaded with excellence in coaching with the championship likes of Phil Jackson, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia and Carroll, there’s no question Neuheisel has stage presence. But it remains to be seen what kind of staying power he will have.

Carroll passed that test long ago, and while biting losses to Texas, UCLA and Stanford have kept him from lapping the field, as Neuheisel admitted, “he’s created the blueprint for this thing.

“But we’ll see what happens down the road. If history repeats, I won’t be in the stands forever.”

They have now played nine Rose Bowls since last including UCLA, but as Neuheisel pointed out, he was on the sideline in 2001 -- leading Washington to a win over Purdue.

“And it’s time to come back again,” Neuheisel said -- as if Carroll is going to let that happen.

For some reason, I just don’t picture Carroll ever buying a ticket to the Rose Bowl.

SO I’M talking to USC President Steven Sample on the Rose Bowl sideline, and as some of you might know, we go way back -- to nearly eight years ago when I first called requesting an interview.

“I was at a banquet,” Sample said, “and [former USC quarterback] Craig Fertig told the bartender to call him on his cell 10 minutes into his speech. Sure enough, Craig’s phone rings, he tells everyone it might be an important call and takes it. Then he talks into the phone and says, ‘Yeah, he’s here -- OK, I’ll tell him.’

“He hangs up and tells me in front of everyone at the banquet, ‘That was T.J. and he’d like you to call him.’ ”

Sample thought that was pretty funny, but he never called. But we had a very nice chat at the Rose Bowl, Sample telling me that “Mike [Garrett] believes [Neuheisel] was a good hire for UCLA. He said it will be a good challenge for us.”

Wait until Garrett finds out Sample is now my very own Deep Throat.

AND FINALLY, I heard someone mention the Rose Bowl and something about “the granddaddy of them all” in the same sentence. I thought that was odd. I couldn’t understand what Dwyre had to do with the Rose Bowl -- other than probably attending every one of them.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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