UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel's Offseason Dilemmas Help USC Trojans

Michael TierneyAnalyst IJanuary 15, 2011

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is facing multiple dilemmas that will affect his job security in 2011, and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's too.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is facing multiple dilemmas that will affect his job security in 2011, and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's too.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The recruiting clock is nearing the midnight hour and UCLA only has eight recruits (averaging only 3 stars according to Rivals rankings). With the February 2 National Signing Day looming, will coach Rick Neuheisel hire a coaching staff that can help recruit better talent and in such short order?

Will Neuheisel scrub UCLA’s Pistol offense that ranked 103rd out of 120 in FBS total offense? What are the chances of capturing top-rated offensive linemen to help stop the sacks? These are serious questions that may affect coach Neuheisel’s job security in 2011 and that may be helping the USC Trojans.

After UCLA’s 28-14 loss to USC on December 4, Neuheisel said that he would take his time in evaluating his coaching staff. “We’re going to go through the process, from top to bottom, as quickly as we can,” Neuheisel said.

Time is very precious during the eight weeks of Prime Recruiting Time (PRT) between the end of the regular season and National Signing Day. The hope was for efficiency in making changes, especially with key-coach replacements that impact recruits’ decisions.

Changes were expected for UCLA after going 2-7 in the Pac-10. Coach Neuheisel’s three-year record of 15-21 is the worst Bruin losing percentage since UCLA coach James Cline went 2-10-3 back in 1923-24. Regardless of numerous player injuries during the season, poor quarterback performance, or implementing their impotent pistol offense, coaching changes were at the top of Neuheisel’s agenda.

Coach Neuheisel's repeated refusal to say whether he wants offensive coordinator Norm Chow back for the 2011 season cast a curious shadow over the final two weeks of this season.

Coach Neuheisel added, “Financial concerns would not prevent UCLA from making coaching staff changes if a shakeup is deemed necessary.”

It only took two weeks into the eight-week PRT calendar before the defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and wide receivers coach Reggie Moore were both fired. Stanford’s Vic Fangio was believed to be atop of his list of DC candidates, but that possibility evaporated with Fangio joining Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers.

Then, for the next four weeks, news out of Westwood went quiet. Christmas came and went. The Under Armour All-American game came and went. The Army All-American Bowl game came and went. During that time, many recruits UCLA was hoping for signed with other universities.

Safety Wayne Lyons committed to Stanford. Wide receiver Devon Blackmon committed to Oregon. Defensive lineman Danny Shelton committed to Washington. Defensive end Jason Gibson committed to Cal. Offensive tackle Patrick Flavin committed to Illinois. Offensive tackle Donavan Smith committed to Penn State and many others that UCLA was counting on chose to go elsewhere. And the PRT clock continues to tick.

Alas, on January 12 news broke for the Bruins that Mike Johnson was added as the offensive coordinator for UCLA. Johnson was the interim OC at the 49ers after Jimmy Raye was fired. But isn’t Norm Chow is still the OC at UCLA?

This confusing news has generated several reports asking the question: Who will be running the offense for the Bruins next year?

Coach Neuheisel came out quickly the next day to report that Mike Johnson is not on the UCLA staff and that Norm Chow is. He added that he still hasn’t filled the defensive coaching positions either. The most interesting revelation is that coach Neuheisel said, “Too early to tell. Too early to tell,” when asked if UCLA would be running the pistol.

This sounds like a coach in several dilemmas. Perhaps he has an offensive coordinator that he does not want but the school is stuck with (Norm's contract). Perhaps word got out too fast that he will be hiring a new offensive coordinator. There may be up to four coaches that will be replaced on UCLA’s staff, and only one (Johnson), might have been identified but nothing is firm yet.

Time is running out for recruiting and UCLA has only eight commitments. The offense was near the bottom of the FBS barrel last year and there is a possibility of starting over in this respect. There are too many negative events going on in Westwood right now and this negativity is going to affect recruiting.

A quick prospect search on Rivals football recruiting page while selecting UCLA (only prospects with offers), will list 133 offers. Out of 133 UCLA offers made to prospects, 93 have committed to other schools and 18 others consider UCLA very low on their list. That is over 83 percent. UCLA does have 14 offered recruits who are still considering the Bruins.

But of the 14 recruits, who are still considering UCLA, only seven are from California, which makes them more likely to choose a school from the west; however, UCLA is only in their final decision pool with other schools.

These numbers would lead most recruiting analysts to predict that UCLA may expect to sign three or four of these players. This will only slightly help their present class of eight verbal commitments (only one 4-star player). Coach Neuheisel may be looking for leftovers on February 3.

The PRT clock is running out for UCLA. Coach Rick Neuheisel is behind the curve finding a coaching staff. In fact, Johnson may be the selection for OC but it might have been done prematurely. The offense UCLA will run in 2011 in undetermined and there is very little chance that UCLA will capture a few top-rated offensive linemen to help stop the sacks.

They may not even sign a full recruiting class at a time when their cross-town rival was supposed to be down. To compound UCLA’s problems, USC is signing a top-10 recruiting class again this year. All these dilemmas will affect coach Neuheisel’s job security in 2011 and athletic director Dan Guerrero is at risk too.