Neuheisel holds emotional final practice
An emotionally taxing week ended in tears for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel as the realization that he'd just coached his last Bruins practice caused him to well up during his post-practice interview with reporters.
UCLA players lifted Neuheisel to their shoulders and carried him off the field singing the UCLA fight song. He shook hands with and hugged several players before meeting with reporters and trying to keep things normal by giving a practice update.
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Less than a minute in, asked to describe the tribute by his team, he lost it.
"It's meaningful when you work to create relationships and you want desperately for them to achieve what they are capable of achieving," he said, fighting back tears. "And despite the fact that we didn't win enough games, I think they are achieving as people. And I'm extremely proud to be a part of this team and looking forward to hopefully a grand finish."
UCLA will play Oregon Friday in the Pac-12 championship game and Neuheisel, fired on Monday, is sticking around to coach one last game. The team leaves for Oregon Thursday morning and will have a walkthrough but Wednesday was their final full practice.
It was interrupted by winds so strong that the video crews on platforms had to come down, gusts Neuheisel called "the winds of change." He was looking for another weather phenomenon, however, to help end his UCLA coaching career with a victory.
"I'm excited as can be about traveling with this team one more time and I'm looking forward to a great effort on Friday night," he said. "I don't have any idea how this thing will go except we're playing a damn good football team in a tough environment ... hopefully we can catch lightning in a bottle."
Asked what it would mean if the Bruins could send him out with a victory, Neuheisel simply grinned.
"It would be one of those things you talk about for a long time," he said. "But rather than thinking about winning, I want to think about playing our [butts] off. I want to think about being furious with respect to the intensity that we play with and that will give us a chance and we'll see what transpires."
"We are going to play like there is no tomorrow," he added. "Because there isn't."
After answering another question, Neuheisel does what he always does, asking the assembled media if there was anything else he could answer. He then shared a private moment with the reporters, turned and exited the gates of Spaulding Field one last time.
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.