California dreaming

If Neuheisel returns to UCLA, he'll give it that old college try with some mature refinements

Ravens Weekend

December 21, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Rick Neuheisel has been conflicted nearly from the time he arrived in Baltimore. Three years ago, he was trying to revive his career as the quarterbacks coach with the Ravens while hoping to keep his name floating in the college football consciousness in case a high-profile job materialized.

Less than two months from his 47th birthday, and five seasons removed from his last head coaching job, Neuheisel's exile from the college game could be close to ending. Neuheisel has been mentioned prominently as a candidate at UCLA, his alma mater.

Since getting fired from the University of Washington in the summer of 2003, then receiving a $4.5 million settlement after a jury felt he had been fired unjustly, Neuheisel has waited for another chance while learning the pro game with the Ravens.

"I can't speak for other college coaches, but in my case, it wasn't that I was anxiously awaiting the next college opening, I just feel that there's unfinished business for me at the collegiate level," Neuheisel said Saturday, three days before he interviewed with UCLA chancellor Gene Block. "But I didn't want to stand on the sidelines forever and hope for something that may or may not come."

While he acknowledges that he felt vindicated by the settlement, Neuheisel knows that he will handle things differently if provided another opportunity. Much like the players he now coaches, Neuheisel acknowledges that his youth (he was 34 when hired at Colorado in 1994) played a factor in his downfall.

After Neuheisel left Colorado for Washington in 1999, the Buffaloes were placed on two years' probation by the NCAA for a list of secondary violations.

"Certainly I've made mistakes, and I'd be happy to discuss why I made mistakes, what I've learned from those mistakes and hopefully have a chance that I won't make them again," said Neuheisel, whose willingness to admit his transgressions has reportedly helped his candidacy at UCLA.

"I can't chase all that stuff and say, `That wasn't me.' I don't have the time nor the inclination. I know two things at least about the person who would consider me. No. 1, they're going to have to look deeper than just what they read and seek information that might not be readily available, and they're going to have to believe in second chances."

West Coast return

There is some irony in Sunday's road game against the Seattle Seahawks, as Neuheisel's stint with the Ravens could be winding down in the same city where his career began to unravel when he was fired at Washington for participating in a high-stakes neighborhood NCAA basketball tournament pool.

Along with being humbled by the experience of going from being a hotshot young college coach to an anonymous NFL assistant, Neuheisel has grown from a Wunderkind into a middle-age sage, filled with the type of perspective he seemed to lack in his years at Washington and Colorado.

Sitting in the lobby of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resort where the Ravens stayed the night before their 22-16 overtime loss Sunday to the Miami Dolphins, Neuheisel still seemed torn by the loyalty he felt for his beleaguered boss and the passion he still possesses for a different game - the one that is mostly played on Saturdays, not Sundays.

In each situation where his name had come up recently - first at Southern Methodist, then Georgia Tech and Duke, and most prominently at UCLA - Neuheisel was considered for what he has done in the past, not for the role he has played with a 4-10 Ravens team that has struggled to score points this season.

"It's been a difficult year, but if you're really paying attention, you learn more in difficult years than you do when things are going well," Neuheisel said.

It has also been a strange year because Neuheisel can't really take much of the blame for the offensive struggles, as he hasn't called a single play. Neuheisel said he wasn't surprised when Billick told him that his promotion this season to offensive coordinator wouldn't include calling plays.

"One of the things I've always loved about Brian is his frankness," Neuheisel said. "He said, `Frankly, I'm just having too much fun.' In that regard, having sat in his chair [as a head coach], I certainly understood it, and I'm thankful for his ability to give me the straight scoop."

Though Neuheisel had offensive coordinators at Colorado and Washington - Karl Dorrell, who was fired Dec. 3 at UCLA, was Neuheisel's coordinator with the Buffaloes - Neuheisel said: "I could interject at any time; it was like running dialogue. They had to get used to that."

It is different with the Ravens because Billick is the offensive coordinator and head coach.

"There are a lot of coordinators that want to have focus, they want to stay on the field; Brian is more like that," Neuheisel said.

Being heard

As for the offensive game plans, Neuheisel said Billick has been willing to listen to his coaches.

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