UCLA players closed Coach Rick Neuheisel’s last practice by carrying him off the field, singing the UCLA fight song Wednesday.
Neuheisel, fired Monday, led the team in the UCLA chant. He will coach the Bruins for the last time against Oregon in the Pac-12 Conference championship game Friday.
Asked whether he could have received a better tribute, Neuheisel said, “It’s tough to imagine. It’s meaningful when you work to create relationships. You want the best for them. You want them to achieve what they are capable of achieving. Despite the fact that we didn’t win enough games, I think they are achieving as people. I am extremely proud to be a part of this team and I’m looking forward to a grand finish.”
As for the game, Neuheisel was already relishing his last moments as Bruins coach.
“I’m excited to be traveling with this team one more time and I’m looking forward to a great effort Friday night,” Neuheisel said. “I don’t have any idea how this thing will go except we know we’re playing a damn good football team in a tough environment. We’ll do the best and see how it turns out.”
As for thoughts about winning, Neuheisel said, “rather than thinking about winning, I want us to think about playing our [butts] off.”
The Bruins, 32-point underdogs, would play in the Rose Bowl game with a victory. If the Bruins lose, they are still headed to a bowl game.
The NCAA granted UCLA’s request for a waiver. UCLA, with a 6-6 record, is bowl-eligible. A loss to Oregon would leave the Bruins ineligible with a 6-7 record under NCAA rules.
“They deserve postseason, we worked hard for postseason,” Neuheisel said. “It was a goal. I’m glad they are going to get that opportunity.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be the interim coach for the bowl game.
Oregon already would be bound for the Rose Bowl had the conference not split into two divisions after expansion.
The Ducks finished with an 8-1 record in conference play, tying them with Stanford for the best record. Oregon beat Stanford.
Asked whether a conference championship game was beneficial even if his team doesn’t reach the Rose Bowl, Coach Chip Kelly was diplomatic.
“Until we get the chance to go all the way through, I can’t give feedback whether it’s a benefit or not,” Kelly said.
Of course, Kelly couldn’t lie.
“If we win, I will say it is a beneficial game. If we lose, I will say it’s not a real good idea to have it,” Kelly said.
With running back LaMichael James, quarterback Darron Thomas and running back De’Anthony Thomas among the Ducks collecting headlines this season, Kelly was asked to single out the team’s unsung heroes.
“I don’t know, everybody contributes,” Kelly said.
Apparently, they will remain unsung.
A matchup between eighth-ranked Oregon and UCLA isn’t exactly a hot ticket in Eugene, Ore.
Although the game is a sellout, the average ticket resale price is 59% lower than the average resale price for Oregon games, according to TigIQ.com.