All the Right Moves


By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Frank Ockenfels III

Published Apr 1, 2008 9:00 AM

Back in Blue and Gold

When Karl Dorrell '87 was fired on Dec. 3 after five seasons as UCLA's head football coach, Neuheisel called his friend and former teammate to commiserate. "I was saddened, obviously, when the news came out that Karl had been let go," he says. "For Karl to get this chance [to coach at UCLA] was very exciting for me. And he did a lot of wonderful things. Unfortunately, they don't all show up on the scoreboard."

And when Neuheisel was offered a chance to replace Dorrell, Susan Neuheisel '88 was the first in the family to hear the good news from her husband, who called from his office at the Baltimore Ravens' facility. She recalls the conversation: "Rick said, 'Are you ready to do this again?' And I asked, 'Did you get it?'

"He said, 'We're going back home.'"

Neuheisel and Susan have three sons who have inherited their dad's love of sports. Jerry, 15, is a high school freshman who also happens to be a quarterback. ("Hard not to be!" he says, laughing.) He says he and Jack, 13, were relieved when their father was finally named UCLA's head football coach.

"For Joe, because he's younger (11) and doesn't remember everything, it's not as emotional," Jack explains. "But Jerry and I, we understand. We're really happy for our dad to get back into college football, because we know that's his favorite thing to do."

Neuheisel is well aware of what's expected of him, and he is fine with it. He's never been a part of UCLA, he says, when expectations weren't high — and that goes back to his days as a freshman walk-on in 1979.

"That's part of what makes UCLA special," he says. "You come here expecting to play for the big prize. And if you don't, it's a disappointment."

The new coach believes that UCLA's immediate goal should be the conference championship, because if UCLA beats a strong USC team for the Pac-10 crown, then the Bruins will be in the hunt for the national championship as well. And while he's not equating the Rose Bowl with a national title, Neuheisel nonetheless defends the bowl's prestige.

"Having played and coached in a Rose Bowl, there's nothing better," he says. "In my first team meeting with our guys, I described for them what that day would be like. ... I went into great detail, and it was easy to do because I've lived it. I was that kid who came out of the tunnel and didn't feel my feet hitting the ground as I ran to the sidelines. All of us who grow up dreaming of playing college football dream of playing in a game like that. So it's never going to be a disappointment to play in the Rose Bowl. It would be an honor. We've got to work hard to get that chance."

He adds, "This is going to sound corny, but when you walk down Bruin Walk, you go by the John Wooden Center. How did he get his name on that building? He came here, just like I got this chance, to be the coach. And he did it so well he's going to be remembered forever. And you can keep walking and reading the names: Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, Jackie Robinson Stadium, Ralph Bunche Hall. ... And now to be given the chance to add more honor and glory to this place that's already so full of honor and glory, well, I've gotta take my swings at that."

Rick Neuheisel, who always wanted to be the head football coach at UCLA and finally got his shot, smiles and finishes with a quote from another Coach: "As John Wooden says, 'Be quick, but don't hurry.'"