There is no doubt that Rick Neuheisel should be fired, and from different sources, there is no doubt he will be fired.
But it doesn't appear that it will happen this week. UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero did, in fact, say last night in a quick statement after the USC game that Neuheisel would be UCLA's coach when it plays against the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game Friday. And those same sources are reflecting that.
There has been a history of bad decisions by UCLA over the last decade when it comes to its football program.
Not to fire Neuheisel right now would be added to the list of horrendous decisions.
Here are the reasons why you need to do it now:
• UCLA's football program is in one of the most bizarre situations you could imagine right now. It ‘s a 6-6 team, and is realistically about as bad a team as it displayed Saturday in getting completely embarrassed by its crosstown rival. But because USC is banned from the post-season, UCLA will have to play the powerful Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship game and almost certainly face a similar beat-down.
Let's get this across clearly: The USC game and this situation is beyond embarrassing. Since it was against the crosstown rivalry, the pain runs deeper than the Desert Debacle against Arizona. What UCLA has done with its football program in the last decade has made it difficult for every UCLA fan and alumnus to be proud of its school, something that is at the very core of their identity. It's who you are, and like it or not, while something like football shouldn't have that kind of impact on our lives and self-worth, in reality it does. And right now, as a result of the USC game, the pain and embarrassment is excruciating, and at its zenith.
Even from a less personal and more business-related perspective, it's diminished the UCLA brand. We have talked endlessly about the impact a now mediocre football program has had on UCLA's financial bottom line, and you think that would be something at the very least that the UCLA administration would consider fairly important. You think the fact that UCLA lost about $1 million alone on the Texas game back in September when only 54,583 fans showed up at the Rose Bowl would resonate enough with the UCLA powers-that-be.
At this point, any wise and rational person who has any kind of input into the decisions that dictate the football program would have to recognize that allowing Neuheisel to coach the team in the Pac-12 Championship game would only further embarrass UCLA and diminish its reputation. He would realize that you want to stop the bleeding as soon as possible.
Picture the further blood loss this week. Neuheisel's press conference is scheduled for Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and he'll be forced to rattle off the platitudes that will only further support the embarrassment. Is he really going to try to attempt to say that he's "building something special here?" Will he try to engender some hope that UCLA will have a chance against the Ducks by saying his UCLA program has "closed the gap" in talent? Even if he steers away from those kind of longevity-implying answers, he'll still have to talk about "getting back to work to get better." It makes you cringe to think about listening to everything he's going to have to say all week. You have to commend Neuheisel because even in his post-USC-game comments, he has still continued to fly the Relentlessly-Positive Flag. There isn't much to say, and it's a testament to his oratorical and political abilities that he can avoid talking himself into a mine field. Imagine how hard it would be to take questions at a press conference in this amazingly awkward and embarrassing situation? Why would UCLA want to put Neuheisel – or itself – in this situation? If it were revealed that a UCLA administrator somehow intended to torture Neunheisel that would actually make some sense.
During the week leading up to Friday's game, every article, every TV segment, every reference to the game will have to mention the strange situation of UCLA, and paint the UCLA football program in a further embarrassing light.
Then, there are the comments from Dan Guerrero that pile on the embarrassment. He told reporters after the USC game: "That we're preparing to play for the Rose Bowl should be exciting to all Bruin fans." That's probably the most ill-advised comment that Guerrero has ever uttered. There could only be a few explanations: 1) Guerrero actually has put on his Bruin blue glasses and wants to cheer for UCLA regardless of the dire situation and, like only a fan could do, holds out hope that UCLA will beat Oregon. If this is true, and Guerrero's blue-tinged perspective has blurred his vision and judgment, then he's unfit for his job and should just go take a seat in the stands and eat some nachos, 2) Guerrero is being held by kidnappers who are making him hold off on firing Neuheisel and say these things, or 3) Guerrero, in his role as Grand Poobah Bureaucrat and Company Line Tower, has completely lost touch with the heart and pulse of the UCLA community.
We know it's not #1, and we suspect it's not #2.
Then, picture the blood-letting of the actual game. It will be pretty much what you saw against USC. It will be painful on the field, and painful to listen to everyone talking about it. Do you really want the TV commentators on a national telecast to keep repeating all the problems with this UCLA team under Neuheisel? Each comment further tarnishes those four letters. As I said above, we can't even foresee the new types of embarrassment the game could produce.
If you're a UCLA administrator with some input into the decision, it would seem to behoove you in just about every facet to soften the blows of playing in that game.
I think I say this for every Bruin fan on the planet, Blue or Crank. Please, Mr. Guerrero, Make it Stop.
It's been 13 years of agony, with the UCLA football program sucking the life out of every Bruin. If you think one more week isn't going to hurt, again, you're out of touch with the UCLA community.
• Firing Neuheisel and not allowing him to coach the Championship Game will, at least, provide a chance to start rehabilitating the UCLA football program's reputation. It will allow, first, anyone watching the game, including the TV commentators and all the endless pundits, to qualify UCLA's performance. While they're watching the inevitable destruction, they could at least say: "UCLA has recognized the problem, has fired Neuheisel and is on its way to turning over a new leaf." There will be speculation about who will be UCLA's next football coach, and that could generate some genuine excitement in the program, something that has been very scarce in a decade. It will potentially turn a devastating p.r. situation into a positive one.
It's not realistic to choose not to play in that game. So, being in this bizarre situation, this is UCLA's best recourse.
• Then, also, firing Neuheisel immediately allows UCLA to get a one-week jump on finding a new coach. This is critical. There are coaches out there who won't seriously deal with UCLA while it currently has a coach. There are other programs that have fired their coaches and are talking to these candidates – guys that UCLA would want. It's amazingly naïve to not think that every day you allow other programs to woo these candidates while you can't it's not hurting your chances with them.
This is Dan Guerrero's decision. It's all on him right now. And it's not as if this is mid-season, say after the Arizona game, when it would have taken some considerable guts to make the call. The USC loss was worse than Arizona. And after living through the Coliseum Calamity, and being one week away from pulling the trigger anyway, it's really not that difficult. I's especially so if not doing it could further damage the UCLA name, and hamper your effectiveness in hiring the next football coach.
Guerrero started off on such the right foot when he was hired at UCLA. If you remember, there was an overwhelming opinion that Guerrero wouldn't have the moxie to fire both a football and basketball coach in his first year on the job. Did Guerrero pull those two triggers merely because the coaches he was firing weren't his hires? So it was, really, partially false moxie? When he did it, he earned a huge amount of credibility. But his credit at the Bank of Credibility has just about ran out.
Really, if Guerrero doesn't pull the trigger this week, the only thing that can salvage Guerrero's rep at this point is to then hire a first-tier coach. One that will make a splash. To pay him a top-ten national salary. If not, and that pooch is screwed, the fact that he didn't fire Neuheisel after Arizona, and didn't fire him after USC, will forever be considered a huge contributing factor to not getting that top-tier coach. If it does, indeed, contribute to UCLA not getting the coach it wants, it will be perhaps the worst decision among all of the putrid ones of the last decade. If you are an optimisitic Bruin fan, you'd like to think that Guerrero not firing Neuheisel this week is an indication that some "deal is done," but I don't have any indication of that.
So, Guerrero, by not firing Neuheisel this week, is further putting a huge amount of pressure on himself.
And perhaps even a more important long-term issue than undercutting UCLA's chances with a top-tier coaching candidate, Guerrero really needs to understand this: He's losing his people. Every additional blow UCLA fans suffer this week will irrevocably chip away at every Bruin's soul.