All the Right Moves
Published Apr 1, 2008 9:00 AM
Maybe you recognized the friendly voice on the answering machine.
"Hi. This is Rick Neuheisel, and I'm excited to be the new head coach of the UCLA Bruin football team. I wanted to take a moment through this broadcast message to reintroduce myself to the Bruin family, Bruin donors, season-ticket holders and many of the UCLA alumni and Southern California football fans. ..."
The automated telephone message — which went out to 200,000 Bruin fans and friends — rolled off his tongue in one take, Neuheisel says. "It was like I had written it myself years ago, dreaming about having this chance," he says.
Copyright ©Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
But even if you didn't get the call, you'd have been hard-pressed to miss the characteristic whirlwind of activity by and attention for the energetic, personable — and at times controversial — new coach, who wasted no time building his staff, wooing potential recruits and getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with everyone in the program.
Within days of his hiring as UCLA's 16th head football coach on Dec. 29, there was the peripatetic Neuheisel on TV, being interviewed in the stands during a timeout at the USC-Illinois Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1. Several days later, there he was at Pauley Pavilion, reconnecting with Bruin fans and delivering a heartfelt, "It's great to be home" speech during halftime of the UCLA-Washington State men's basketball game.
And the Bruin alumnus certainly doesn't need coaching on how to honor UCLA tradition. One of the very first things Neuheisel did was to schedule a breakfast with Coach John Wooden, calling it "a treat. I wish it for everybody."
But Neuheisel, 47, is doing much more than just getting his face out there. It took the new coach only three weeks to score two major coups: He retained defensive guru DeWayne Walker, who many feared would leave UCLA to take the defensive coordinator job at the University of Washington. And he hired Norm Chow — formerly of the NFL's Tennessee Titans and, even more significant, USC — as offensive coordinator. The teaming of Neuheisel, Walker and Chow already has Bruin fans (and sportswriters) salivating.
"If [USC Coach Pete] Carroll really loves competition as much as believed, he must be in competitive heaven right now because UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel just threw the gauntlet down so hard it shook the walls of Heritage Hall," wrote the Daily Breeze's Steve Dilbeck. "UCLA now has as impressive a trio of top coaches as any program in the country."