Before the season started, if you had said that UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel was going to take a Bruins team that had four wins in 2010, turn them around and guide them to a South division title and a berth in the first ever Pac-12 conference championship game, you would have probably thought that Neuheisel would have done enough to secure his job.
However, that was not the case, as the Bruins once again struggled in 2011, finishing 6-6 and with just one win over a ranked opponent.
The fact that they turned out to be a throw-in substitute for a much superior USC team, the real division winner, doesn’t change the fact that Neuheisel didn’t live up to his end of the bargain.
After this past weekend’s 50-0 loss to the Trojans, enough was enough.
Los Angeles has belonged to USC and will always belong to USC, and Rick Neuheisel did nothing to change that. That’s why he was fired this week.
Neuheisel will, however, coach the team in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon on Friday night, which—yes—can be characterized as an interesting development.
I know that this has happened before with coaches being fired and then coaching their final game in bowl games a few days later, but it doesn’t make it any less strange.
I couldn’t even imagine what one's mindset would be like in such a situation.
How do you give it your all for the school that just threw you to the curb?
I know everyone’s expecting the 30-point underdog Bruins to get destroyed by Oregon, regardless of if Neuheisel does his best Knute Rockne impression in the locker room or not. Even so, it’s still going to be interesting to see what the sideline shots of Neuheisel’s face are like.
We know Neuheisel loves his players and a lot of his players admire him. However, are the Bruins going to be any more motivated to pull off the upset over Oregon because of what happened to their coach?
The now former head coach may still be a little shocked since he expected to have another year to get the program moving, but he knows deep down that he just wasn't able to back up his tough talk.
What I expect from Neuheisel on Friday night is for him to be a professional, for him to be prepared and for him to give it his all on the sideline. However, that won't change the fact that his team just can't run with Oregon this year.
I'll admit, though, it would certainly be great to see UCLA beat the Ducks, win the Pac-12 and then end up in the Rose Bowl.
If that happens, we'll have the pleasure of hearing UCLA officials try to explain how they just fired the coach who guided the team to a conference championship and a BCS bowl.
I wonder if they would throw Neuheisel a few dollars of the big multimillion-dollar BCS bowl payout.
Who knows—maybe they might even ask him to come on back.