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Sunday, January 23, 2011
UCLA QB struggles? Now it's on Neuheisel

By Ted Miller

And so the uncomfortable Norm Chow-UCLA-Rick Neuheisel tango ends. Chow is off to Utah after reaching a "mutual agreement on the terms of their separation with the school," and the Bruins' offense moves on with Mike Johnson as offensive coordinator in what appears to be a make-or-break season for Neuheisel.

Neuheisel's staff vacancies aren't all filled, however, which is why he and former Miami coach Randy Shannon are going to chat about a vacancy at defensive coordinator.

Chow and his new team will play host to their new Pac-12 South rivals on Nov. 12 in a game primed for media folk -- who me? -- who like to stir things up.

Everyone put a good face on this weekend. Neuheisel and Chow expressed their admiration for each other as well as disappointment that their pairing failed to create even mediocre offenses.

"We're disappointed it didn't turn out the way we hoped it would, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort or a lack of teamwork," Chow told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles. "Rick and I are friends. I feel like we worked very, very well together and it's just unfortunate that the results didn't show that.

"I told Rick, when all this settles down, the four of us [Chow and his wife, Diane, and Neuheisel and his wife, Susan] should all go out to dinner. "

For Utah, it looks like a big win. It gets an offensive coaching legend who knows the Pac-12 and really knows the Bruins' personnel, which will help in the head-to-head meeting.

But Utes fans shouldn't do a celebratory back flip just yet. You may want to wait for results. Start with this from the Salt Lake Tribune:
Terms of [Chow's] contract and salary with the Utes are unknown, as is the fate of current Utah co-coordinators Dave Schramm and Aaron Roderick.

Chow will be the fourth coach to serve as Utah’s offensive coordinator under [head coach Kyle] Whittingham, who just completed his sixth year as the Utes’ head coach.

Two Utes assistants will either get dumped, demoted or leave on their own (both are highly thought of). Or, if Schramm and Roderick stay, how will the offensive staff mesh? The lack of offensive continuity also is notable.

Further, Chow, 64, has now completed his third uncomfortable exit, starting with USC in 2005 and the Tennessee Titans before he arrived at UCLA. His three years at UCLA were not successful. He is one of the all-time greats, without question, but he hasn't been his all-time great self for a while.

As for UCLA, this probably feels like old news because it was reported here weeks ago. Still, there is a notable takeaway. While the headlines were about Chow leaving and the "chemistry issues" that caused it, the more important change going forward is Neuheisel taking over as his own quarterbacks coach.

Think about that for a moment. The best way to illustrate Neuheisel's frustration with the offense (Chow) the past two seasons is by playing highlights of him constantly berating his quarterbacks after they trudged off the field. Neuheisel has said this offseason that he recognizes he needs to change that -- yelling at struggling QBs typically is a recipe for disaster -- but now he'll have to hold up a mirror when he wants to hand out blame.

Chow and Neuheisel clearly had different ideas about the position. Now there's one less person at whom to point the finger.

The chief reason UCLA is 15-22 in three seasons under Neuheisel is poor QB play (poor offensive line play is a close second, which is a horrible combination to have). Neuheisel will be coaching two guys -- Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut -- with starting experience (Prince might not be 100 percent this spring after knee surgery). A third option is true freshman Brett Hundley, an elite recruit who is already enrolled and who is the future of the program.

That means Neuheisel, as head coach and QBs coach, faces a huge question this spring and preseason that might ultimately decide his fate: Who's his QB? Does he go with experience, which should be more reliable if less talented, or does he go with youthful upside that might be infuriatingly inconsistent when his job status is almost entirely about the present?

Neuheisel likely needs seven or eight wins to coach into his fifth season. The single-biggest factor in whether the Bruins get there is likely QB play.

And that will be on Neuheisel.