Commentary

Rick Neuheisel's time may have come

The UCLA coach saw his team collapse at the worst possible time for his career

Updated: October 21, 2011, 3:18 AM ET
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

TUCSON, Ariz.-- So many things became exposed in the Arizona desert Thursday night, and a streaker dressed as a referee was only one of them.

UCLA's grand illusion of a Pac-12 title turned out to be merely a mirage created by favorable scheduling.

And the idea that Rick Neuheisel can survive as UCLA's coach faded into the desert night as Arizona embarrassed the Bruins, 48-12, in front of a national television audience able to see all the warts and moles covering UCLA's football program.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAs his players emptied onto the field to join a halftime brawl, Rick Neuheisel's job became significantly less secure.

The tattered UCLA defense isn't getting better, giving up a season-high 573 total yards to a team that entered the game on a five-game losing streak and just fired its coach.

The Bruins' sporadic offense can't find any consistency, rushing for only 37 yards against a team that came into the game ranked No. 100 in the nation in rushing defense.

And the beleaguered coaching staff may have finally lost control of the team, which engaged in a bench-clearing brawl as stadium security tried to wrangle the streaker.

For a team to come into a game with first place in the Pac-12 South hanging in the balance and lay such an egg while showing such a lack of discipline is a clear indication that something is amiss with UCLA football and that perhaps Neuheisel isn't the right man to lead the program.

"It's certainly not my decision. If someone is asking me, then absolutely I am," Neuheisel said. "But, the facts are that that evaluation will be made by my boss and I'll wait and have that time with him at the appropriate time."

Neuheisel's boss, Dan Guerrero, said he isn't thinking about cutting ties with his football coach midseason, even after the embarrassment on Thursday night.

"Rick is my coach," Guerrero said. "I don't know who is talking about him being relieved early, but it's certainly not me. He's a great Bruin. I want to see him succeed.

"We'll evaluate at the end of the year, like we always evaluate, and make determinations what we're going to do at that point. But right now, all this talk about him staying or him going, that does nothing for our team that is trying to regroup and go out there every week and play hard and try to win football games."

Plenty of Neuheisel critics will say it might be too late. Some will say it should have been done at halftime Thursday after UCLA went into the locker room humiliated by a 42-7 deficit and stained by the brawl.

Nobody who knows would say what started the melee, but the timing of it all couldn't have been more bizarre. A fan dressed in a makeshift referee uniform ran on to the field waving his arms over his head as if he was blowing the play dead.

He then started running around pulling off his clothes. By the time security had tackled him and handcuffed him, the pushing and shoving was underway near midfield. It spread as players raced in off the benches and mini skirmishes broke out all over, but only two players -- Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson and UCLA receiver Taylor Embree -- were ejected.

Though it may very well have been started by Arizona -- conference officials will review the tape and make further suspensions, if warranted -- it was a major black eye on the UCLA program, which really can't afford any more of those at this juncture.

"That's not something that should have happened and it's not what this UCLA program is about," tight end Joe Fauria said. "It should never happen again."

That UCLA showed a lack of restraint also shows a lack of control among the leadership of the program, but Fauria said the blame should be spread around.

"We all have to be leaders," he said. "There's only so much you can do to hold a whole bunch of guys back. We tried but there were guys that made the wrong choice and tried to fight back, which is not what we need right now. We need to rally together instead of lashing out at another team, which is just silly."

Neuheisel acknowledged that the performance Thursday night was a "step in the wrong direction" and said he was "lost for words with respect to the fact this thing got out of hand so quickly."

He could say the same thing about the football program under his watch. He is 18-26 in his tenure with the Bruins and, really, the team has given very little indication that it is taking many steps in the right direction.

Still, Neuheisel said, he won't give up.

"I still hold out my hope that we can and will turn the corner," he said. "We are going to continue to pound away to try to build this program into the team that everybody can be proud of.

"It is a journey and sometimes on the journey you take a misstep. Tonight was a misstep. I hope that next week will be a much more positive step. I look forward to it and I'm enjoying the journey even with the difficulty of nights like tonight."

Unfortunately for Neuheisel, there have been too many nights like Thursday night. And that means the journey could soon be coming to an end.

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLA. Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES