Before we move on to the Jim Mora era at UCLA in the midst of spring ball, lets take some time and reflect on Rick Neuheisel's tenure there now that the dust has settled. It's been five months since the beleaguered coach was fired from his dream job, and all the talk in Westwood is currently about the new regime. It wasn't too long ago that the same could be said about "Slick Rick" himself.
While many were expecting big things from Neuheisel's homecoming, things simply did not go according to plan. The Bruins' record got worse from Neuheisel's second season to his third season, and their arch rivals torched them 50-0 in his last season.
Now, instead of bashing Neuheisel for his porous record, his team's inconsistency and his overall lack of improvement on the field, let's give credit where credit is due. As of now, there were no violations to record under his tenure and really from the outside, at least, it appears Neuheisel ran one of the cleanest programs in the Pac-12, if not the country during his time (obviously, this is subject to change in the future).
It would appear he truly took to heart his past mistakes at Colorado and Washington. Have all the animosity towards his team's play on the field, but Rick represented the university off the field with more dignity and passion than any coach in previous memory.
His enthusiasm for UCLA football is something no one can deny, and his genuine belief in the program’s potential was a breath of fresh air when he was first hired. It’s ironic, because that same enthusiasm drove him part of the way out the door, whether it's fair or not.
His constant optimism, whether it was warranted or not based off the team's performances on the field, drove UCLA fans crazy when it was evident the Bruins weren't making progress. But that's where Rick deserves credit in my mind. He really believed he could turn the program around until the very end, and he was not going to let the media take away from his tireless efforts.
Now, the proof is in the pudding and talk can only go so far and his teams were simply not competitive enough for him to stay. It was time for him to go. That’s the nature of the coaching business.
The reason to believe that his relentlessly optimistic attitude during his tenure was genuine ultimately lies in how he handled the news of his firing. His interviews and public comments after his firing demonstrated nothing but class and respect. He will always be a great Bruin.
His constant stance of making sure to thank Dan Guerrero for the opportunity to coach in interviews is a true sign of his maturity. After his firings at Colorado and Washington, Rick simply would not have handled being fired as well as he did or shown he was a class act.
It is neat to see that, although his success on the field did not match up with his previous stops at CU and UW, his character was on display not only in the wake of his firing, but the whole time he was at UCLA.