After ugly loss, little doubt about Rick Neuheisel’s future

From Tucson -- What could be worse for Rick Neuheisel than his team rolling over dead on national TV?

Worse than the embarrassment of not being able to tackle anyone, cover the opposition or stop one of the worst teams in the country from scoring seemingly every time it had the ball?

What could be worse than appearing so inept on offense against a team ranked 116th in the nation on defense?

Worse than being party to a classless brawl?


How about this: “Mr. Guerrero is unavailable for comment,” a UCLA spokesman said at halftime.

Indeed, what more can be said beyond the official announcement that UCLA has fired Rick Neuheisel as head coach?

There no longer is any doubt.

Amazing that it wasn’t done at halftime with UCLA losing 42-7, but hard to say now it won’t happen.

Later, after it was all over, Guerrero agreed to talk and said there will be no coaching change until he evaluates the program at season’s end.

Neuheisel’s team still has a mathematical chance of becoming bowl-eligible, but almost four years of evidence suggests nothing so grand is going to happen.

There are three winnable games remaining on the schedule, but then this one had to be considered a fourth.

And the stink from this one might linger for some time. As it is, there is no sizzle, no hope, no evidence to demonstrate Neuheisel’s program has improved as he claims it has.

So how can he make such an argument?

“My argument is I think I’m the right guy for the job and I’m looking forward to continue in that quest,” he said. “I’m disappointed and at a loss of words in respect to this game getting out of hand so quickly.”

Earlier in the week Guerrero said in a radio interview, “The key for our program this year was to move the needle.”

But this game puts UCLA in full retreat.

“It’s definitely a step in the wrong direction,” said Neuheisel, but he said he does not believe his team will quit and he fully intends to take it the distance.

But in his four years on the job, Neuheisel’s team has yet to defeat a Pac-10 or Pac-12 opponent that has gone on to finish the season with a winning record.

It’s almost beyond comprehension; UCLA is yet to record a meaningful conference win in that time.

The win for Arizona, which just fired its head coach, was its first over a conference opponent since it defeated UCLA last season.

“First and foremost,” Guerrero wrote in his UCLA blog this week, “the primary goal we set for our football program has never changed from the outset — to be relevant on the national scene on a consistent basis, and to do it the right way. … That said, in order to compete on the national stage, we must first achieve success in the Pac-12 Conference.”

Guerrero also suggested there will be other things he takes into consideration beyond UCLA maybe receiving a bowl-game invitation.

“We’ll look at the recruiting of student-athletes, staying healthy at the quarterback position, playing on a more consistent basis and winning games,” he said. “I’m a believer in Rick; he’s a good Bruin.

“As I said before, I didn’t hire him just to be here four years.”

Guerrero said Neuheisel addressed the melee that took place on the field just before halftime with the team, and did so forcefully.

“There is no room for that whether we’re up by 30 or down by 30,” Guerrero said. “It was very unfortunate and an embarrassment for both teams.”

Based on experience, one of things that Guerrero does best — and it’s obviously not hiring football coaches — is distancing himself from coaches he’s about to fire.

He did it before cutting Bob Toledo loose, Steve Lavin and Karl Dorrell as well, and now it’s Neuheisel’s turn to feel the chill.

“In intercollegiate athletics we’re pretty much all day to day,” he said on the radio show when asked about Neuheisel’s future with the school.

When pressed about what Neuheisel needed to do to keep his job, he told his radio interviewers, “I’m not going to be definitive about anything.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s channeling Mike Garrett, but then the suspicion here is he has already made up his mind. He has to know there is little interest anywhere in UCLA football, and an invitation to an obscure bowl game is not going to change that.

“I have not made up my mind,” he said in response to the direct question. “We’re 3-4, 2-2 in the conference and getting ready to play Cal.”

But after this debacle, it’s a pretty safe to say the Bruins will return to the Rose Bowl next week and more than likely find almost no one home.

It is one thing to have a bad football team, quite another to have a team so bad no one wants to pay to see it play anymore.

The Bruins have failed to flash the charisma that seemed to make Neuheisel the perfect choice to direct his alma mater’s football team. But there is no excitement attached to UCLA football.

He had the wrong coaches working for him, and given a do-over after last season, he botched it again.

He knew he had one year to save his job and he failed to find a defensive coordinator with the plan and ability to get the most out of Neuheisel’s recruits.

He installed an offense that did not suit the talent of the quarterbacks under scholarship and a quarterback-run oriented attack that placed them in harm’s way.

In the final analysis, Neuheisel proved maybe to be more salesman than head coach.

And right now it appears he has nothing left to sell.