BYU football: The energizer

Published September 11, 2008 1:38 am
Coach has L.A. abuzz over Bruins
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LOS ANGELES - He's been featured in bold advertisements in the local papers. He's appeared on countless television and radio programs. He's even used a helicopter to streamline the recruiting process.

Rick Neuheisel has landed back in the college game and injected an instant energy into the UCLA football program.

Hired last December to rebuild his alma mater, Neuheisel couldn't have scripted a better beginning, as the Bruins rallied to beat then-No. 18 Tennessee in overtime in the season opener at the Rose Bowl.

The next test comes Saturday when UCLA travels to Provo to face No. 18 BYU.

"It was all I remembered," Neuheisel said of coaching his first college game in six years. "It was just an absolute magic carpet ride. It was really fun to be on the sideline, and that was before the game was ours. I was enjoying every minute of it. It really was an electric feeling to be back in the saddle, so to speak."

Electric is the best way to describe the jolt Neuheisel, 47, has provided the college football scene in Southern California.

For the first time in a long time, there is a buzz about both programs in the crowded L.A. sports market.

Neuheisel possesses the energy and charm to match coach Pete Carroll at rival USC. Having a program with similar ranking and stature is also part of Neuheisel's master plan.

Neuheisel let it be known he's not intimidated by the juggernaut across town by saying, "when we catch them, and I say 'when' we catch them," at the Pac-10 Conference media day in July.

UCLA's marketing department provided some added emphasis by placing an ad in the major L.A. newspapers stating, "The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over."

Despite his track record of success, UCLA took a gamble in hiring Neuheisel.

Colorado and Washington were both placed on probation for NCAA violations committed under Neuheisel, and he was dismissed from Washington for his involvement in an NCAA college basketball betting pool.

"A lot of people had to stick their necks out to get me this chance," said Neuheisel, who quarterbacked UCLA to a Rose Bowl title in 1984. "It could have been an easier path maybe to go in another direction than to take the slings and arrows that go with hiring somebody who's got some blemishes."

Neuheisel is a stark contrast to the man he replaced, Karl Dorrell, whom a local columnist nicknamed "Karl Dullard" for his lack of personality.

In his first nine months on the job, Neuheisel has likely made more national radio appearances than Dorrell did in his entire five years.

The UCLA players noticed an immediate difference once Neuheisel charged in preaching his "relentlessly positive" message.

"There is a lot more energy and a lot more excitement," junior cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "He is more interactive and more into it with the players instead of being in the back and letting other people do things. He is more in your face and hands on."

It was the minor details that impressed UCLA fifth-year senior center Micah Reed.

"He told us he would have everyone's first and last names memorized by spring ball, and he did," Reed said. "I came here as a walk-on, and the last couple of years I don't know if every coach knew my name. But he made it a point."

Building a sustainable program will require Neuheisel to learn a few more prominent names in the area's rich recruiting landscape.

He crossed paths with Carroll at a high school game last Friday, but didn't offer Carroll a ride in the chopper donated by a UCLA donor to allow Neuheisel to beat the L.A. traffic.

But Neuheisel realizes grand entrances and charisma can only take him so far. It's winning and titles that ultimately matter in L.A.

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