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Wednesday, January 19, 2011
UCLA soap opera inches forward?

By Ted Miller

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of UCLA's coaching staff indecision.

But it appears that things might be moving forward. Maybe.

The LA Times has reported that former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson "has reached an agreement in principle to become an assistant coach at UCLA."

Assistant? Johnson isn't a coach who plans to supervise running backs: He's coming to Westwood to run the offense.

The problem, as you well know: Norm Chow is presently running the Bruins' offense, which has been mostly awful since he arrived in 2008.

If you are getting a feeling of déjà vu, well, that makes sense -- you have read this before.

Despite what has happened at UCLA, Chow is one of the all-time great offensive coordinators. He also has an ego and isn't going to take a demotion. But there is a game of contract chicken going on here between Chow and coach Rick Neuheisel.

From the Times:
Chow has a two-year contract extension worth about $1 million. His situation has been tenuous since November, when Coach Rick Neuheisel declined to commit to bringing him back. Chow could be demoted or negotiate a buyout. Chow would receive the contract's full amount if he is fired, but receives nothing if he quits.

Utah apparently is eager to hire Chow to become its offensive coordinator, and the Utes are waiting patiently for Chow and UCLA to reach an exit agreement. (Note to myself: Circle UCLA's visit to Utah on Nov. 12).

So Neuheisel/UCLA is hoping that Chow bolts and therefore saves UCLA/Neuheisel money. Chow doesn't appear to be in a hurry to leave because he wants to get paid to leave. And everyone knows the idea of a disgruntled, demoted Chow on the Bruins' staff in 2011 makes no sense.

Ah, still we wait! Did we mention the Bruins are also looking for a defensive coordinator? Or that national signing day is Feb. 2, and this coaching intrigue isn't helping matters.  The delay provides fodder for local columnists to ask difficult questions during a time when Neuheisel is trying to sell his program.

So we have our soap opera analogy. While we are lacking official word, there's a lot going on behind the scenes while we await an endgame that seems fairly predictable.

If you are a UCLA fan, my guess is all of this makes you grumpy. Understandable.

But if you're looking for some silver lining to the present dark clouds, take note of this from T.J. Simers' column.
He's as gung ho as ever, accessible, courteous and always the charmer. He says when he's up against it, as some think he might be, he's usually at his best.

"I've been on the mat before," he said.

I've covered Neuheisel since 1999. For all of the negatives you hear about him from his critics -- much of it fair, but plenty of it from folks who don't know what they are talking about -- he is a scrapper. He always seems to prevail when you least expect it.

He's on the hot seat. His critics are chirping. Few expect much out of the Bruins in 2011.

With such low expectations, it's tempting to put a "buy rating" on Neuheisel and the Bruins.

Hmm ... This guy is already in school and there's a good core of returning players with plenty of young talent ready to step up.

Hmm.