UCLA's Neuheisel Enjoys USC Shakeup

There’s been a lot in the sports pages lately about Pete Carroll’s departure from USC and the hiring of controversial Lane Kiffin as coach.

Now we go across town to see what they’re thinking at UCLA, which would like to emerge from USC’s shadow.

Rick Neuheisel, the UCLA coach, has quickly gone on the offensive.

At halftime of the USC-UCLA basketball game Saturday night in Pauley Pavilion, Neuheisel arrived on the basketball court with about 20 Bruin players and spoke boldly into a microphone.

“We welcome Lane Kiffin to Los Angeles,” he began. “We’ve competed against him before and look forward to competing against him again.”

Neuheisel didn’t mention specifics, but UCLA’s football team defeated Kiffin’s Tennessee team in the recently-concluded season.

Neuheisel went on to say he won’t rest until UCLA wins the Pac-10 championship and a national championship.

I was at the game and immediately realized I wouldn’t be writing about basketball this week. Neuheisel was putting football back in the spotlight.

It should be pointed out that UCLA was only 7-6 this season after finishing far down in the Pac-10 standings. And, as usual, UCLA lost to USC.

But following his Saturday speech, Neuheisel defended his boldness to a reporter.

He spoke of being that way until the new coaching regime at USC proves itself.

Neuheisel has suffered a major recruiting setback as quarterback Brett Nottingham from Danville, California has chosen Stanford over UCLA.

Nottingham, who is 6-foot-3, completed 70 percent of his passes last season. He called Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and Neuheisel last weekend to reveal his decision, which he based on Stanford’s academic reputation.

Neuheisel has the task of replacing Brian Price, the Pac-10 defensive Player of the Year, and finding comfort with three returning quarterbacks who didn’t distinguish themselves.

But it’s interesting how times change. When Neuheisel came to UCLA he was a controversial choice because of past problems with the NCAA,

Nobody is talking about that now, and I can see how he’s delighted that Kiffin has some similar baggage.

The signing day for current recruits is February 3, and it remains to be seen if players who verbally committed to USC when Carroll was there will sign or go elsewhere.

The Trojans have been eagerly awaiting the decision of Dillon Baxter, a quarterback from San Diego who ran for nearly 3,000 yards and scored 76 touchdowns.

They were going to work a Wildcat formation into their offense and he was going to be the featured back. But when Carroll left, Baxter strongly considered Florida. However, Baxter met with Kiffin Monday and said he will enroll at USC next week.

Kiffin has hired Ed Orgeron, a master recruiter, for his staff. Neuheisel retains Norm Chow, who turned down an offer from USC.

It seems that no matter who the people are it remains USC and UCLA competing for talent, victories and prestige.


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