Rick Neuheisel gets to think about Oregon this week, and for him that's a good thing.
Most football coaches would dread having to face one of the most prolific offenses in the country but for Neuheisel, game planning for a team that is favored to beat his by 30 points Friday in the Pac-12 championship game is a welcome distraction from what has been going on off the field.
Neuheisel was fired Monday, but is staying on to coach one last game.
"It’s a welcome relief because I don’t have to sit and think about the future," he said. "I have Oregon to think about, as welcome as that can be. It’s business as usual and that’s the way it should be."
Tuesday's practice was an attempt to keep business as usual, but the surrealism of a lame duck coach leading the team was difficult to ignore. Neuheisel led offensive drills, coached his quarterbacks during plays and went through all the regular motions of a normal practice day, but watching it all, you couldn't help but wonder if the players were actually listening.
After all, what would be their punishment if they didn't?
But that isn't the case, the players say.
"You respect him," cornerback Andrew Abbott said. "It's tough knowing that he's coaching his last few practices. For a lot of us it's emotional because he gave us our chances so we feel for him and I think it's going to bring out the best in us on the field on Friday."
Running back Johnathan Franklin, a team captain, said he and the other team leaders have made an effort to make sure the players stay focused during a difficult week.
"We have great leadership so I feel like we’ve done a great job of keeping guys mentality right and I feel like we’re ready to go," Franklin said. "It’s vital for us to stay positive and to work hard and just put all the distractions aside and focus on Oregon."
Neuheisel's lame-duck status is somewhat of a distraction, but Neuheisel said it's less so than it might have been had he not been fired. Coming off a 50-0 loss to USC last week fueled speculation that Neuheisel would be fired regardless of the outcome against Oregon, so getting it out of the way is somewhat of a relief, Neuheisel said.
"There’s no question this would have been a distraction had we been asking these kind of questions all through the week about what I needed to do to keep my job and so forth," he said. "I’m glad in that respect that the decision is behind us. I would have liked the decision to have been otherwise, but we are all big enough to handle the eventualities that exist in this sport."
By removing that distraction, Neuheisel has put the focus back on the game, and it can only help the Bruins come Friday night to not be worried about Neuheisel's job status.
"It’s no longer a question," linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. "It’s out of the way, we don’t have to worry about what is going to happen and who is doing this and who is doing that. The focus is strictly on the game and I feel like we owe it to Neuheisel to play our best and focus our best and not slack off."