Coach Rick Neuheisel will feel the heat if Bruins don't win this season
Rick Neuheisel is just 15-22 in three seasons at UCLA, and another losing season could be his last with the Bruins.
Times college football reporter
Times' Pac-12 tour continuesToday: UCLA Wednesday: USC Thursday: Stanford Friday: California Saturday: Oregon State Sunday: Oregon
Bruins at a glanceLast year: 4-8 (9th in Pac-10).
Coach: Rick Neuheisel (4th year at UCLA, 15-22; 81-52 overall).
Leading lights: RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Taylor Embree, C Kai Maiava, LB Sean Westgate, S Tony Dye, P Jeff Locke.
Worth knowing: In Neuheisel's three years, Bruins have thrown for 28 touchdowns and 47 interceptions.
The schedule: Bruins, who miss Oregon and Washington this year, face revenge-bent Houston and Texas the first month, then open Pac-12 play with road games at Oregon State and Stanford.
LOS ANGELES — Can it be? Can it be that Rick Neuheisel, who seemed so perfect for the UCLA job ... isn't?
"As a coach on the proverbial hot seat," he began remarks at Pac-12 football media day last month, "I guess you're excited to be invited to any of these things."
Later, he explained that he really doesn't consider his a hot seat, and never mind his 15-22 record. No coach has started a UCLA tenure with fewer wins over three years since Edwin Horrell (1939-44).
"I consider this a great challenge," Neuheisel said. "No one thinks you can do this. Go do it.
"Every now and then, I allow myself to imagine what it'll be like (a breakout), and the what-it'll-be-like will be that much more special, because it's my school."
Neuheisel was 25-10 his first three years at Colorado, 26-10 at Washington. Then came the imbroglio over NCAA gambling pools at UW, his firing and eventually a return to an alma mater badly in need of his enthusiasm.
But grabbing the mike to address the postgame crowd at the Rose Bowl hasn't meant much in the face of erratic play and injuries at quarterback and the offensive line. Anything less than a bowl game would leave Neuheisel in a precarious position.
"We're working every day for Rick Neuheisel," says running back Johnathan Franklin. "We're going to take care of him.
"We gotta turn things around, not just for coach but for UCLA, period. Because we're pulling in the wrong direction right now."
Neuheisel talks about small events — say, an opening win at Houston — kicking off a momentum swing. That's one concept Tony Dye can embrace.
Dye is the standout Bruins safety who saw a Jake Locker pass coming his way at the Washington 30-yard line last November, with the Bruins up 7-0 and "nothing but end zone ahead."
In what could have been a fifth victory for the Bruins — one win from bowl eligibility with two to play — Dye dropped the ball.
Then there were the Huskies, who didn't do much offensively all night and would have fallen to 3-7 with a loss. How different might Washington look today if it hadn't gone to, and won, the Holiday Bowl?
"It haunts me," says Dye. "That's why I've been out here all summer working on the Jugs machine. It was the worst moment of my football career."
It has been like that for the Bruins. Last year, there was the part-time move to the Pistol offense, a knee injury to quarterback Kevin Prince and the uneasy departure of vaunted offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
More recently, there were Neuheisel's raised eyebrows over quarterback Richard Brehaut's decision to play baseball in the spring, and the arthroscopic knee surgery that has kept touted freshman Brett Hundley out until probably this week.
"I have zero problem with Richard Brehaut," insists Neuheisel. "But I do know the demands of the quarterback position, and I'm not going to lessen the demands just because he wants to play baseball."
Elsewhere, things seem to be falling into place, even with five new assistant coaches. The defensive line should be stout with the return of Datone Jones, injured last year. But until the Bruins get consistent, injury-free quarterbacking, it's probably not going to matter.
"We don't need an all-world, Matt Leinart-SC quarterback," says Dye. "Just somebody to feed our playmakers the ball."
As for the big picture, think about this: In the last decade, the best bowls the Bruins have crashed are the Las Vegas and Sun.
"It's to the point now where it has to get done," says senior receiver Taylor Embree. "There's too many guys who have just been kicked around too much."
If the losing continues, that might include the coach.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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