Fixing Up Quarterbacks

Scene: A back room in the Bruins’ weight room facility in Westwood. Head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow are there with gloves on and powder blue aprons. Newsprint is all over the place, a kiln is in the corner, and there are large canisters of paste.

Neuheisel: OK, bring him in. (Trainers drag in QB Ossar Rasshan, who started several games last year.) Thanks.
Chow: Dorrell left us with some shoddy workmanship, didn’t he? Jesus. At least with some work, we can have him ready in three weeks, just in case we need another sacrificial lamb.
Neuheisel: This is not how I planned my return, Norm. I mean, I don’t remember art skills being part of the job application when Guerrero asked me to fill it out.
Chow: Aw, quiet and pass the clay. I think Ossar’s injury is one we can fix with some surplus clay and just put him in there for a bit. (Points to kiln.) Ossar, does it feel okay?
Rasshan: Coach, it’s pretty damn painful. Are you sure?
Chow: It’ll have to do, bud.
Neuheisel: Fine. (Passes clay). Look, we’re supposed to be immediately competitive with USC, right? I find out Cowan’s got rubber bands for ACLs and Karl was keeping Olson together with papier mache. I paid the teacher off so I’d pass art, y’know? Sculpture is not my bag here. I mean, now I’m resorting to bitching about Carroll’s kid cussing to get recruits. This was supposed to be easier.
Chow: Certainly isn’t what I’m used to in the college ranks.
Neuheisel: Not like some of the pros are any better. Billick insisted that marble was the best applicant to get Steve McNair back together again.
Chow: Fisher at least gave me some raw materials to work with. At least we had a budget for some decent metals and high-quality plastics for repair work.
Neuheisel: Howland gets all of the budget. It’s not new here, it’s just how it is, and he won’t share his cybernetic synthesis equipment.
Chow: You couldn’t have negotiated that in?
I was just happy to have the job in the first place. I mean, get employed, then ask for the perks when you get a little bit of a good thing going. But the facilities, that’s definitely the first thing we need to hit the circuit for.
Chow: You can. (Slops clay and smooths it on Rasshan’s left knee.) If I didn’t hate the booster circuit, wouldn’t I have a head job by now?
Rasshan: Ah, at least it cools. That feels better….
Neuheisel: Given. How long should he be in the kiln before we send him over to the medical center?
Chow: Hmmm….(reads manual.) This thing says 24 hours or so, then ship him off for finishing and rehab.
Neuheisel: OK. Hey, O, ready for the heat?
Rasshan: God, this crap sucks….let’s go for it.

(Neuheisel and Chow load Rasshan’s leg into the kiln.)

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Not Exactly The Way To Establish New Standards

College football squads have traditions, but this isn’t one I’d heard of before at UCLA: “Over the Wall” day, where players, after stretching, run and jump over the wall at Spaulding Field and leave practice for the day. Slick Rick had asked the seniors not to do it this year — yet they did.

The decision to go “over the wall,” said to have been organized by seniors, will probably cost the Bruins a day of spring practice, although Neuheisel was going to check with the NCAA whether he could get the day back.

If not, the lost day of practice might come in handy with a new offense and questions about the offensive line. It also left a handful of potential recruits and visiting high school coaches with no practice to observe. This was also a day the team was practicing in full pads in advance of Friday’s scrimmage.

Neuheisel, who has already been marking the days until the Bruins’ season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 1, grudgingly cited it as a case of college tradition.

Still, Neuheisel said, “I don’t want to make too big a deal of it. It is what it is and there are still plenty of days left in spring to get the improvement that we need.”

Problem is, the records that the Bruins have put up in the past few years under Dorrell aren’t exactly meriting of a continuation of such a tradition. Not exactly the way a new head coach wants to start when he’s supposed to lay the law down in Westwood, particularly with a serious offensive line deficiency and a new offensive system to put in.

Photo: Liz O. Boylan/Los Angeles Times

Slick Rick Will Be Back In Baby Blue.

So, the prodigal son is finally coming home — along with all 50+ of his violations from the University of Colorado, the bad feelings post U-Dub (although in this case, his suit was completely justified; they wanted to fire him for being a liar about the 49ers coaching job), and everything else — yet Dan Guerrero and UCLA have apparently made him the head coach in the latest futile attempt to compete with USC.  Yes, Rick Neuheisel is UCLA football, he is 66-30-something as a head coach, and he certainly is the best of a bad lot of options at a program where football clearly takes a backseat to men’s hoops. Let’s face it: if UCLA’s boosters and rich alums wanted to, they could hook enough fuckers in Beverly Hills, Westwood, or somewhere closer in the West Side to at least get some better on-campus facilities for the program and actual whip-out for a head coach with a little bit better of a reputation.  (The school clearly either cannot or will not acknowledge that it is a public university located in the most expensive part of the city; and that it should make some form of effort to raise decent wages from alumni so that its coaches can afford to live near the campus. Ironic, considering its toney private rival is smack dab in the middle of the much-less affluent areas outside of downtown Los Angeles. Part of Neuheisel’s appeal and proof of UCLA’s hoops-first mentality is his apparent promise of big donors for the Pauley Pavilion makeover.)

While Neuheisel is certainly the most competent and most likely to strike some form of concern into USC fans when the Crosstown Rivalry rolls around every year, let’s just say he’s not going to wow the L.A. football landscape a la Pete Carroll did quickly and easily — certainly, winning helps Carroll, but he and Ed Orgeron sold recruits and parents in what used to be in-state Bruin territory or poaching ground for SEC schools big time.  Plus, USC owns urban L.A. — and while UCLA D-coordinator DeWayne Walker is not ready to be a head coach, the Dorrell regime was, for all its faults, trying to wedge in on that territory by selling a public school in an upper-class part of town to the talented athletically, but with less money.

Slick Rick is going to have to play catch-up. But, if there’s anything he’s good at, it’s recruiting, and that’s where the problems come in — note Slate’s Jonathan Chait:

After he left Colorado, the NCAA discovered 51 violations committed during his tenure, slapping the school with two years of probation. The American Football Coaches Association formally censured him for a lack of remorse. Neuheisel later described his approach to NCAA rules as “creative.” Even when not breaking the letter of a rule, he often found ways to violate one in spirit. For instance, during periods when he was forbidden to visit recruits, he would drive in front of a prospective player’s home, call him on his cell phone, and tell him to look out the window, where he would see Neuheisel waving. Washington high-school star Larry Stevens, who had spurned Neuheisel, described how the coach’s pursuit bordered on stalking. Nonetheless Neuheisel, with a straight face, accused Pac-10 rival Bob Toledo of continuing to recruit players who had declared their intention to attend Washington.

He may have to resort to those tricks to get any edge on Carroll, who appears to have a robotic, manic intensity and an aversion to sleep when it comes to recruiting — but hopefully Morgan Center has put some clauses in his contract regarding violating that spirit of the recruiting dead period. While Neuheisel’s violations are trivial compared to those of other recent coaches (he ain’t got shit on Dennis Franchione’s email newsletter), he created a culture in Boulder that Gary Barnett, his successor, allowed to fester further, and if I found out that his pitch for the UCLA job went just as Orson parodied a few days back, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Welcome back to Westwood and the Rose Bowl; your picture is still next to “sheisty” in the dictionary. Enjoy being beaten by Carroll for the next couple of years.