He acknowledged it shortly after he sat down at Pac-12 media day last month, calling himself the “coach on the proverbial hot seat” before anybody had even asked a question.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been,” Neuheisel said this week before UCLA opened fall practices. “I’m looking forward to getting UCLA football back closer to the top and over the hump. It’s been a while that we’ve been kind of wallowing in a valley, and it’s time to figure out a way out of it.”
Not much has gone according to Neuheisel’s plan in the past three seasons, which have included just 15 wins, one bowl appearance, numerous key injuries and a few changes in philosophy. Neuheisel has good reason to be worried about his job: The Bruins won 23 games and made three straight bowl games from 2005-07 under coach Karl Dorrell, who was fired after five largely successful seasons for his perceived failures.
The Bruins have the pieces in place to win, Neuheisel insists. He just has to prove it.
“For the first time, I feel like we’ve got some real depth,” Neuheisel said. “There’s going to be some real competition at a number of positions. We’re deeper than we’ve ever been, and hopefully that will parlay itself into a good season.”
Neuheisel’s players claim to be feeling the same vibe after an offseason in which almost every player participated in every offseason activity. The Bruins have 15 starters back from last season, including star tailback Johnathan Franklin and defensive end Datone Jones.
“This is the first time I feel like all 22 guys have bought in,” said Tony Dye, who’s moving to strong safety and taking a bigger leadership role. “We came in here in the spring and picked up all this momentum, and we’ve kept it going so far.”
Neuheisel believes the Bruins finally will find a cohesive offensive strategy after parting ways with offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who never clicked with Neuheisel in three expensive seasons together. Their surprising experiment with the pistol formation last season came to define the disconnect between the veteran coaches.
Although Neuheisel’s new offense will contain pistol elements, new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is determined to rebuild a passing game that nearly vanished last season when the Bruins spent too much time reviving their running game.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t know why (the passing game) wasn’t working,” Neuheisel said. “It was just that we didn’t devote enough time to it. If you don’t work on it, it will drift away from you. We made a mistake, and it just got away from us.”
Neuheisel also believes in quarterback Kevin Prince, who missed parts of last season and all of spring practice with injuries. He’s back along with two-sport backup Richard Brehaut, while promising freshman Brett Hundley is out until at least the middle of fall camp with a knee injury.
Franklin is among the West Coast’s top tailbacks, and the Bruins seem particularly deep in the backfield. None of it will matter unless UCLA’s three quarterbacks figure out how to get the ball to Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree and the rest of the Bruins’ speedy receivers.View Entire Story
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