From Corvallis, Ore. -- You can understand how upset Bruins fans must be this morning.
It’s already a foregone conclusion, isn’t it, that Rick Neuheisel is a goner? It might’ve been as soon as this morning had UCLA lost to a team that couldn’t beat Sacramento State.
But here we are, four more wins and Neuheisel is still the Bruins coach next season.
Five more and Neuheisel is probably asking for a raise.
A South Division title, a Pac-12 championship-game victory and a Rose Bowl bid remain in reach, and forgive me for stating the facts, but then how many times does someone get to witness a UCLA conference win on the road?
If you can’t feel giddy about a UCLA football win, no matter where it comes and against whom, you might never get that chance again.
Glory be, the Bruins won 27-19, and a week ago I’m in the Rose Bowl press box at halftime, I’m talking to several UCLA alums, every one of them dressed in blue, and they are convinced the Bruins won’t win another game the rest of the season.
The faithful are not very faithful.
So here it is halftime again, 900 miles away, and I’m talking to another UCLA die-hard at halftime. I might have to start going to funerals to cheer myself up.
UCLA is winning 21-10, but the true blue I’m talking to wants the coach fired — now, at halftime.
The Bruins had a 21-3 lead, which suggests they were dominating their opponent on the road. The Bruins chose to remain aggressive, recalling how Houston did so in Week 1 and turned it into a touchdown.
But UCLA fails to get a first down, has to punt with less than 40 seconds left in the half, and the Beavers return it for a touchdown. Of course they do, because Neuheisel is coaching the Bruins.
Punt it away 50 times, and the Beavers probably return one all the way. But they do it now and the UCLA die-hard wants the coach fired because he didn’t manage the clock and settle for a 21-3 advantage.
It gets worse. Neuheisel is interviewed at the end of the half and says, “I wanted to kick the ball out of bounds. We didn’t get it out of bounds and unfortunately, you know, we paid the price.”
Right away I hear from the office from someone who is monitoring the interview. He interprets Neuheisel’s remarks to mean, “In other words, I told those kids what to do and they didn’t do it! Not my fault!”
I know if I use exclamation marks in a column they will be edited out, but here I’ve got an editor shouting them at me in an email. I’m not surprised. Everyone right now is pretty much expecting the worst from Neuheisel, every borderline bonehead play his fault without hearing his say.
I know from experience in dealing with the McCourts — piling on is a waste of time. When it’s time for the jokers to disappear, they will be gone. Then we will party and make fun of them again one last time.
A smattering of email follows the editor’s, and they all conclude the same thing: Neuheisel is throwing the punter under the bus and trying to weasel his way out of taking responsibility. Many of them include exclamation marks.
Game over, UCLA wins, and Neuheisel meets with the media. He brings up the punt without prompting.
“I’m disappointed in myself for the end of the first half and allowing the chance for that great punt return,” he says, unaware that he’s been second-guessed across the social media network, which isn’t always so sociable. “We should have kicked the ball out of bounds, and that’s on me.”
A moment later, he’s advised some folks didn’t interpret his remarks the same way.
“If I intimated that it was anybody else’s fault, then I was wrong. I said, ‘I wanted to kick it out of bounds,’ and I never got that to our punt team coach. I was trying to get on the phones [to the press box] but maybe he was coming down. It was the end of the half. I did not get that accomplished, so it’s on me. The head coach needs to be smart, and I was not.”
So much for the need for exclamation marks!!!
When things go well, and in sports that’s called a victory, shouldn’t there be a moratorium on looking for reasons to can someone?
Plaschke gave us all those last week, and here’s one for you: Would you rather see Neuheisel fired or Plaschke looking foolish for suggesting as much? Tough one, isn’t it?
There will be plenty of opportunities, beginning next week at Stanford, to blister Neuheisel. If everyone is right about Neuheisel, there will be eight more chances to bury him.
But as discombobulated as he appears to be at times, and I just like that word, shouldn’t he get kudos for preventing a Bruins collapse after the punt debacle?
“I told the team at halftime we played terrifically,” Neuheisel says. “I told them I take a full responsibility for the punt return. That’s on me. Now you guys have to pick me up as you do each other and we’re going to wrestle momentum back from them.”
That makes Neuheisel 1-0 in pep talks, Lasorda 0-1 when talking to the Bruins. Now raise your hand if you were watching Saturday’s game and expected the Bruins to go on and lose.
The Bruins didn’t lose. They beat a Mike Riley-coached team that has lost seven of its last eight games, Riley signed through 2019 but so poor in his decision making in this one he couldn’t beat Neuheisel — who is not supposed to make it to 2012.
Remember a few years ago when folks were disappointed because UCLA didn’t hire Riley?
Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.