LOS ANGELES -- Rick Neuheisel took the microphone about the same time he took the floor on Feb. 2 at Pauley Pavilion. As halftime shows go, it sure as heck beat gymnasts in tights trampoline dunking.
Lately, UCLA has needed a football program its storied basketball could be proud of, so why not turn carnival barker? And what better place to start than here, stoking this Battle for Los Angeles? Three hit men, ready to take back the city.
|After all the problems and the drama, Neuheisel is back at his alma mater. (Getty Images)|
This wasn't a moment, it was a movie trailer.
"We walk out there, the fans are all jazzed up," Neuheisel said. "They go bonkers. Then DeWayne gets up there and says 'We're not going to stop until we win a championship.' And then I get the mike back and I'm feeling it, 'As for our offense' ... the crowd is going absolutely crazy.'
"That (photo of the three) is going up there," the coach said proudly, pointing to a blank wall in his corner office full of still undone and unpacked stuff. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then UCLA's new football coach is still determined to speak every one of them. That much hasn't changed in the six years Neuheisel has been away from the college game. The man has given you 70 minutes of his time and it's obvious -- halftime show or not -- he is a master at controlling the message.
It's him who not only recounts the glory days as a UCLA quarterback and Sigma Nu brother (the frat house displayed a banner: "Welcome Back Coach Neuheisel" upon his hiring), but it's also him who brings up the recent Seattle Times series on his 2000 Washington Rose Bowl team. Had the series run a few weeks earlier, it might have kept have kept him from becoming coach at his alma mater.
Somehow, Animal House unites the two subjects. Huskies were running amok back then, according to the newspaper. Parts of the movie itself were filmed at a Sigma Nu house (at Oregon).
"We told everybody that who was rushing," said Neuheisel, looking much less than a quarter century removed from those days.
Watching him on the court that night, no one should be surprised that sometimes he still can't help himself. You'd know by Chow's elaborate introduction ("Norm Choooow") that reminded the crowd of the coordinator's hand in three national championships and three Heisman Trophy winners.
You'd also know the guy can't help himself just by reading a couple of NCAA infractions reports. Whether you dislike him for suing the NCAA and his former employer (Washington), cutting corners as a recruiter or winning the 2001 Rose Bowl with a roster whose rallying cry could have been "Thug Life," you cannot dismiss one basic fact.
Rick Neuheisel gets it.
"I told our guys the most important thing is that there be no more exciting place in Los Angeles than our practice field," he said. "If you want entertainment, you come watch UCLA practice.