Sunday, December 11, 2011
Post-Neuheisel, pre-Mora era begins
By Peter Yoon
In two weeks, the Bruins went from team coached by a guy who had been fired to a team not coached by the guy who has been hired.
It's how the bizarre world of UCLA football has turned in recent weeks, but one thing we know for sure is that Sunday marked another phase in the strange season as the Bruins practiced for the first time in the post-Rick Neuheisel era.
Neuheisel was fired Nov. 28, but stayed on and coached the team through the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 3. The Bruins took last week off and returned with Mike Johnson, the team's offensive coordinator, as interim coach even though the school hired Jim L. Mora as a permanent replacement Saturday.
Mora is expected to arrive on campus Monday, but it's unclear exactly when he will assume coaching duties, so Johnson is in charge until he does.
"It’s a unique situation," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "These past two or three weeks have been really weird so you kind of just go with a flow and just do what you’re told."
Practice under Johnson had a slightly different look and feel. The team began practice with special teams work, which under Neuheisel had come at the end of practice. The tempo was also much quicker.
Also, run game coordinator Jim Mastro was not present. Mastro is under consideration for a position on the staff at Washington State and was thought to be meeting with new Cougars coach Mike Leach this weekend. Mastro is expected to be back with the Bruins this week and remain at UCLA through the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31.
The fate of the rest of the coaching staff remains to be determined. Mora said he would meet with the staff when he arrives and discuss the possibilities with each coach individually. Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said the coaches are simply doing the best they can while they await word on their futures.
"I think we were all in agreement that we want to work with these guys, get them better, keep them focused and help them improve so when the new staff comes in we’ve done everything in our power to make sure they are ready," Tresey said. "We're all aware that it's difficult to keep your job when a new guy comes in especially if you don't have a relationship with him."
In the meantime, the Bruins set about their business by using a training-camp approach to their first bowl game practice session.
"We’re going back to the basics, especially the first week," Johnson said. "We’re going back to the fundamentals and the technique of what we do and we want to make sure we do those things properly. Sometimes during the season you get away from those things."
The players didn't know what to expect coming to the field on Sunday. Most of them have had only Neuheisel as a head coach at UCLA, so the different order of drills and pace of practice caught them a bit off guard. And, of course, they missed some of Neuheisel's quirks.
"It’s obviously a little different and strange to not have coach Neuheisel out here saying 'It’s a great day to be alive and be a Bruin,' and stuff like that but it’s fine," quarterback Prince said. "We all like coach Johnson and respect the way that he wants to run practice so it was a nice little change up. You do it a certain way for so long, it’s nice to kind of change it up and do things a little differently."