Rick Neuheisel defends job status
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said Sunday that winning five conference games and advancing to the Pac-12 championship game should be enough for him to keep his job, no matter if the Bruins backed in to the conference title game.
"I was told that we need to move the needle and if the needle moved that we would be fine and I'd get to continue along my five years of my five-year contract," Neuheisel said. "We have won five conference games as opposed to three last year. We have won the right to represent the South in the conference championship. We've certainly had some unfortunate evenings where things haven't gone our way, but I think the program is headed in the right direction."
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UCLA is coming off of an embarrassing 50-0 loss to USC on Saturday night and will play in the Pac-12 title game only because USC, which finished first in the South division, is ineligible for postseason play. After the game, athletic director Dan Guerrero said Neuheisel would coach the title game but that a decision on his future would be made after the game.
"I indicated we'd evaluate this program at the end of this season," Guerrero said. "We have one game left and we'll do that."
That means that the specter of Neuheisel possibly coaching his final game for UCLA will hover over this week's preparation for the Pac-12 title game, but the Bruins plan on going about business as usual.
"That is what it is," Neuheisel said of his job situation. "The bottom line is we're going to do the best we can, players and coaches alike. We'll figure all that out when the powers that be figure all that out. It can't be a distraction right now."
Quarterback Kevin Prince said the players can not afford to let Neuheisel's situation overshadow what the team is trying to accomplish on the field.
"We don't have a choice but to ignore it because things like that can kind of tear us apart and that's the last thing we need right now is to be torn apart as a team so we've just got to continue to stick together and keep that noise out if we can," Prince said. "We're not going to worry about what Coach Neuheisel's situation is. Obviously we want him to stay. We love having Coach Neuheisel as our coach but right now we're just concerned about the game on Friday."
The Bruins should be concerned. The last time UCLA played at Oregon, the Ducks dismantled the Bruins, 60-13. And then there is the perception that UCLA doesn't belong in the Pac-12 title game because they backed in, which is another thing with which Neuheisel said he's not going to concern himself this week.
"I don't care what people think," Neuheisel said. "As far as I know they're sending a plane to pick us up and we're going to get on it."
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.