LOS ANGELES -- Hours after learning he had been fired Monday, Rick Neuheisel was back on the practice field at UCLA for an evening session leading the Bruins for the first time as a lame-duck coach.
He walked briskly from player to player shaking hands during warm-up drills and later, when he met with the media after practice he shook the hands of each regular beat writer and thanked each one personally, before staring blankly into the distance for a moment when asked to assess his situation.
"I'm numb," Neuheisel said. "I guess the rational side of me should have seen this coming, but I never think that way. I always think optimistically and I think this is going to turn and my whole life it always has."
Neuheisel was fired Monday, but is staying on to coach the Pac-12 title game Friday against Oregon. He will be relieved of his duties win or lose and offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will coach the team should UCLA advance to a bowl game.
Neuheisel said the firing caught him off guard because he was so focused on preparing for Friday's game. He showed up to tape a television interview Sunday at UCLA and the questioner asked him about a newspaper report that said he would be fired.
"I said, ‘What does it say?’ and it had sources close to the top said I would be dismissed," Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel said he then asked athletic director Dan Guerrero for a meeting, and that took place Monday morning. The school issued a news release immediately after.
"I know Dan wanted to wait until the end of the year, but to me we were at the end of the year and if a decision had been made as the story alluded to then I wanted to know and I thought it fair to get it out and behind us rather than have it be a conversation through the next week," Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel has a 21-28 record as coach at UCLA, the school he once led to a Rose Bowl victory as quarterback. He coached at Colorado, Washington and was an assistant for the Baltimore Ravens before landing the job at UCLA, which he called his dream job.
Leaving that job on these terms, he said, is a nightmare.
"This is a miserable place to be to be fired from what you have dreamt about your whole life," he said.
Neuheisel, an avid college football fan, says he understands coaches getting fired is a part of the job.
"You don’t get into these jobs if you don’t understand that," he said. "That doesn’t mean that I agree with the decision. While I understand it, I still think we were very close to making some strides."
As far as what is next for Neuheisel, he said he hasn't thought about it. He still has a game to coach this week and wasn't expecting to have to make his next career move so soon afterward.
"This was not something on my radar," he said. "I was of sole mind just to continue and build and recruit and do the things that coaches do."
A career in television broadcasting might be a good fit for the affable coach, but Neuheisel hinted that he'd like to remain in coaching.
"But the coaching profession is a selfish one so you’ve got to make sure there’s a lot of soul searching before you make the next move," he said. "I love coaching. That’s in my blood. I love this level of coaching. It’s not that I didn’t love the NFL, I did. But this is a definite passion of mine and it was a dream to come back to my alma mater. I’m just sorry we didn’t move the needle far enough to get to stay."