Everyone could see it except Rick Neuheisel.
UCLA was losing the all-important recruiting wars. The Bruins were 21-28 in Neuheisel’s four years as head coach.
A 50-0 loss to USC Saturday night clinched it. Losing in such a humiliating fashion would be hard for fans, boosters and students to accept.
And on Monday, Neuheisel was fired by athletic director Dan Guerrero even before the Bruins play in the Pac-12 championship game Friday at Oregon.
Neuheusel will be permitted to coach in that game but then assistant Mike Johnson will guide the program while a national search will be conducted for a new coach.
Don’t feel sorry for Neuheisel. He has a year remaining on his contract and will collect a 2012 salary from the Bruins.
Neuheisel kept saying he was the right football coach for UCLA. He said there was progress, as evidenced by the Bruins winning five conference games this season after winning three last season.
But he was missing the point.
While USC was on NCAA probation the last two years the Trojans kept bringing in the best high school players in Southern California. This was a time for UCLA to close the recruiting gap but Neuheisel and his staff couldn’t do it.
UCLA has – and should have – high standards. There were plenty of years in the past when the Bruins were right there with the Trojans. Now, with USC ineligible for post-season play it was Oregon and Stanford, not UCLA, which gained command of the conference.
UCLA not only lost to Stanford and USC this season, as expected, it faltered against lesser conference opponents Arizona and Utah.
The 50-0 loss to USC was apparently the last straw. Guerrero issued a statement Monday saying it has become apparent UCLA needs to do better.
It actually became apparent to almost everyone else months ago.
Maybe Guerrero recognized it months ago too. I’m just guessing, but I suppose a two-year payout to a fired coach would have been difficult in these tough economic times. So, get one more year out of Neuheisel before hiring a new coach.
As for the new coach, we can forget about Urban Meyer, the most successful former coach available. He’s going to Ohio State for a six-year, $24 million deal. I don’t think UCLA can compete on that level.
The Bruins’ best chance was to capitalize on the Pete Carroll era at USC ending. But Lane Kiffin, a former Trojan assistant with considerable baggage, came in and kept the Trojans prominent. Kiffin, despite all his perceived shortcomings, is a strong candidate for national Coach of the Year.
Next season USC will be off probation while UCLA will try to emerge from the depths.
The new coach will try to begin a more successful program, but a lot of damage has been done.