All the Right Moves


By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Frank Ockenfels III

Published Apr 1, 2008 9:00 AM

Winning and Losing

Neuheisel graduated in 1984 with a B.A. in political science (and a J.D. from USC in 1990, although he doesn't dwell on it). He is admired among Bruin fans as the quarterback who overcame food poisoning to lead UCLA to a 45-9 drubbing of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl.

After graduation, the young quarterback spent two seasons with the San Antonio Gunslingers in the U.S. Football League and a brief stint with the NFL's San Diego Chargers in 1987. For the six years after that, he was an assistant coach at UCLA, where he helped develop some of the Bruins' all-time great receivers — J.J. Stokes '95, Kevin Jordan '96 and Sean LaChapelle, among others — and coached quarterbacks for two seasons, including future NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. For the last three years, he served as an assistant coach for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.

Yet despite his Bruin credentials, not everyone was convinced Neuheisel was the right choice for UCLA, primarily because of his past troubles at the two universities where he had previously served as head coach.

At the University of Colorado (1995-1998), Neuheisel's teams were successful, winning 33 of 47 games and all three of their bowl appearances. But after Neuheisel left, Colorado was put on two years' probation by the NCAA for infractions committed while he was the Buffaloes' coach. Most of them had to do with improper contact with recruits, and all were deemed secondary violations.

At the University of Washington, where he was head coach from 1999 to 2002, Neuheisel again enjoyed great success as his teams notched a record of 33-16 and four bowl game appearances, including a Rose Bowl victory and a No. 3 finish nationally in 2000. That ended when Neuheisel was fired in 2003 for participating in a betting pool on the NCAA basketball tournament. He ultimately sued for wrongful termination and settled with UW and the NCAA.

Strategizing with UCLA Coach Terry Donahue during Neuheisel's six-year tenure on the staff.

Those incidents gave some folks pause. But to the two people who really mattered — UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero '74 and Chancellor Gene Block — Neuheisel's past transgressions were just that: in the past.

"I know there are some issues in Rick's past that concern our constituency," Guerrero says. "We have discussed those at length with Rick and have investigated those issues with the NCAA. It has been at least five years and, in some cases, more than 10 years since the incidents occurred. We believe Rick has learned from those incidents and that he is more mature and experienced in the areas of compliance."

For his part, Neuheisel is grateful for the opportunity to coach at the university where he first found fame and success. "My mistakes have been well-documented, but I certainly take ownership of them. And I've learned from them," he says. "I've made sure that both Dan and Chancellor Block realize that, given this opportunity, I would never, ever do anything to tarnish the great reputation of UCLA or the integrity of this program."

Terry Donahue '67, M.S. '77, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and Neuheisel's former coach, says, "I think Rick is a great hire for UCLA. He knows the UCLA situation as well as anybody. Rick is a proven head coach with a very successful record in the Pac-10 and he will be able to compete with any team in the conference."