Going to the Rose Bowl now might not even save Rick Neuheisel’s job at UCLA.
Dan Guerrero, the Bruins’ athletic director, will sit down with UCLA’s football coach after the season is over to discuss the future. That could be as soon as next weekend, after the Bruins play Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
Neuheisel’s chances of retaining his job are bleak, according to influential people close to the program who did not want to be identified publicly because the decision was not final.
UCLA was routed by USC, 50-0, Saturday at the Coliseum, evidence that the Trojans’ monopoly on Los Angeles-area college football is as strong as ever. And the Bruins will be lopsided underdogs against Oregon on Friday night at Eugene.
UCLA will play as the South Division representative in the title game only because USC, which has a two-game edge over the Bruins in the standings, is banned from postseason play.
“We will do a valid assessment when we’re done strapping on the uniform,” Guerrero said Saturday night at the Coliseum.
As to whether getting to the Rose Bowl would be enough to save Neuheisel’s job, Guerrero said, “That we’re preparing to play for the Rose Bowl should be exciting to all Bruin fans.”
Asked whether he would bring Neuheisel back if the Bruins reached the Rose Bowl game, Guerrero ended the interview. A person with knowledge of the situation said UCLA would have to win the Pac-12 title in order for the coach to have any chance of retaining his job. And that was before the Bruins’ lopsided loss to USC.
Neuheisel has a 21-28 record in four seasons. The Bruins have a 3-25 record against teams that finished with a winning record in those four years.
Frustration among leading boosters reached a peak after a 48-12 loss to Arizona in October. The game was marred by a bench-clearing brawl.
In a message to season ticket-holders and donors on the day of that game, Guerrero said, “Returning to a bowl is just one of several steps we need to take to get this program to the level we all desire.”
He did not elaborate, but his concern about dwindling attendance is believed to be a factor. UCLA attendance has fallen every season since 2007.
“We have had many bright spots and have played inconsistently as well,” Guerrero said. “We’ll wait until the end of the season and decide where to go from there.”
When Neuheisel was asked what it would take for him to keep his job, he said, “I have no idea. All I’m trying to do is my best.”
In the meantime, he remains in limbo.
“The players are fighting tooth and nail for him right now,” UCLA receiver Taylor Embree said.
Neuheisel said this week that he had “closed the gap” on USC in four years. That was not apparent Saturday, as the Trojans beat Neuheisel’s Bruins for the fourth consecutive season.
UCLA had no answer for USC quarterback Matt Barkley or wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. The Bruins were also turned away on two first-half scoring opportunities, getting stuffed on a fourth-down run at the USC two and later when a Kevin Prince pass was intercepted in the end zone.
The game lived down to UCLA safety Tony Dye’s greatest fears.
Asked this week about the possibility of leaving UCLA without a victory over USC, Dye said, “That would be something personally damaging to me.”
The Bruins could lose bowl eligibility by losing in the conference title game. UCLA would be left with 6-7 record and have to petition the NCAA leadership council for a waiver to regain eligibility.
Under NCAA rules, the conference would have to fill all its bowl commitments before a waiver would be granted. The Pac-12 has seven bowl spots and only seven eligible teams because USC is in the last year of a bowl ban.