The Neuheisel Teleconference

UCLA's new head football coach, Rick Neuheisel, and UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero answered questions from the media Saturday in a teleconference. Neuheisel addressed the concerns with his past NCAA transgressions and talked about retaining DeWayne Walker...

There were reports that UCLA wouldn't be interested in you. How did that initial meeting happen between you and Dan Guerrero and what came of that conversation?

 

"I got a phone call early in the process from one of Dan's assistants, to tell me how exactly the search would be run, that it would be entirely confidential. If they were going to include me as a candidate that I would get a phone call and I was just asked to make sure that stayed confidential to ensure the integrity of the search. I got a phone call and I was able to meet with Dan on two different occasions. I was very excited to have that opportunity."

 

Did UCLA have initial concerns right out of the box about what exactly happened at Colorado and Washington?

 

"That was certainly part of the initial interview. I wanted to set the record straight and make sure they understood exactly what had taken place and where I had made mistakes, where I had made errors in judgement and what I had learned from that. I was very comfortable in making sure that they understood that I took full responsibility. While I'm not proud of it, I certainly learned from it and I was anxious to prove it would never happen again."

 

What can you say to people to assure them there won't be any more violations?

 

"I'm not sure you can say anything. There's the old adage that talk is cheap. You have to walk the walk. I made it clear in terms of my conversation with the people at UCLA and with Dan that I am committed to get this 100% the right way. I realize my mistakes. I'm anxious to move on. You have my absolute, unequivocal promise that it will never take place again."

 

Dan Guerrero then interjects:

 

"If I could interject really quick. As we begin the process, Rick's pass trangressions were very much an issue for me. I think it's important, and most of you are aware, that the cornerstone of our program is and always has been and will continue to be based on integrity. The hiring of Rick does not change that core value at all. In fact, after what Rick has experienced, especially when we were able to glean spots relative to our conversations, I firmly believe he embraces this and looks forward to being in an environment that is built on that premise.  All of our coaches understand this, all of them get it, and we're glad that Rick has an opportunity to come back and be apart of that culture."

 

Rick, what have the last couple of weeks been like for you?

 

"I've been waiting for a long time. So to get involved in a search, especially one with your alma mater, if you knew me, you'd knew it was a place I always wanted to be. When you get involved in that kind of a thing and you realize that you have a chance, and you're in the hunt, so to speak, there are anxious moments. I always believed that UCLA would do what was best for UCLA. While I believed that I could offer that, if there was someone out there that they thought better suited to take the reins, then I'd have to support that. That's just how I felt, so it made it easier to get some sleep, but certainly there were some anxious moments, because this is what I've wanted for a long time."

 

Dan, did you seek any assurances from the NCAA that this hire would be okay?

 

Dan: "Part of our due diligence, and part of the reason this process took as long as it did is because we did speak to a number of people, including the NCAA and the Pac-10, and individuals affiliated with the universities that Rick has been associated with in the past. I needed to get assurances in my mind as a comfort, knowing moving forward all of those transgressions were behind Rick. I was able to get those assurances to the degree that I felt necessary to be able to make the decision that I did."

 

What was Rick able to say about it?

Dan: "I looked Rick in the eye, and Rick looked me in the eye, and he conveyed very clearly what his thoughts were relative to what happened five, ten years ago. I think he's much wiser and much more mature. What he's telling you today in this press conference is exactly what he said to us. I don't think it's going to be an issue at all at UCLA."

 

What are the terms of the contract?

 

Dan: "We still have a long-form contract to work out, but the main terms are a five-year deal at $1.25 million guaranteed, with an opportunity for him to earn an additional $500,000 in incentives for academic achievement, team achievements, coaching achievements and other ancillary items that are customary in coach's deals, like an opportunity for camps and courtesy vehicles. It's not all worked out but basically those are the fundamental, core elements of the contract."

 

Rick, have you talked to DeWayne Walker yet and what are you looking at in terms of you calling your own plays?

 

"I have told Dan that DeWayne Walker is my number one recruit. I'm very very impressed with the defense he played over the last couple of years. To take the team in the role that he did to the bowl game in Las Vegas was impressive. All the people that I've talked to who know DeWayne well have raved about him, his character, and certainly his ability to get his teams to play great defense. Those are all things we'd love to have at UCLA and we're hopeful that he will listen to the proposal we'll put forth in terms of why it would great for him to stay and finish here what he started, building a great defensive team and putting it around a team that can compete for conference championships. I know that he's sought-after, with the way he's performed and the kind of person he is. It's important that we do everything we can to make him feel welcome and let him know that we'd love for him to stay at UCLA. I have called him a couple of times and not gotten through, but I'm anxious to make contact with him as soon as possible."

 

What about offensively?

 

"There are some decisions to be made, and there are some coaches that are still there. I look forward to have a chance to speak to all of them. We'll come to a conclusion as to how we'll proceed offensively as quickly as it is prudent. Sometimes people work too quickly in these things and makes decisions that turn out not to be the right one. While we want to be in a mode where we're working quickly, we also want to work smart. So it's important that I take the time to meet all the guys and get all the information to help us proceed."

 

Can you contact the recruiting class currently committed to UCLA?

 

"I guarantee I'm going to check to make sure before I do.

 

"As soon as it's possible. Recruits are like all of us. When there's change, they want to know how it will affect them. We'll look at the right timing to make those calls. I understand that UCLA has an unbelieveable recruiting class in the fold. Certainly there is some hesitancy that goes with change, but I'm very comfortable that when you choose UCLA you choose it because it's a great school, because it's a great place to go, and to become the kind of person you want to become, to not only compete in the athletic arena but compete in one of the great universities in all of the land. I'm hopeful they'll remember exactly why they chose UCLA. As we make these personnel decisions, and get the right people in the fold I think they'll realize they were in the right place all along."

 

Dan: "Rick will be required to take the NCAA coach's test before he's allowed to have contact with recruits. And then we'll throw the book at him, if you will."

 

Did you think after Washington that you'd ever have an opportunity like this again?

 

"I certainly held out hope. It was one of my goals in that whole process that I not burn bridges, so that I'd have a chance to return to the team that I love and impact it in a positive way."

 

What are your thoughts about going head to head against Pete Carroll?

 

"I have a great deal of respect for Coach Carroll. He's done an unbelievable job in the time he's been there. I admire what he built. It comes down to UCLA now to become the type of rival that when UCLA and USC square off it's the game of the year. We need to get into that arena. It's easy to talk about it. But I think we'll have a plan for it. [rest indistinguishable]"

How have you changed as a coach in the last five years?

 

"The good news about the last five years is that I didn't waste time. I coached two years in high school, at an inner city school in Seattle, Rainier Beach. It was kind of a grassroots reminder of what football was all about. That was a great experience. Then the last three years I had a chance to learn the NFL, to be around the very best in the game. It was basically a grad school of football, with Xs and Os, and everything goes up a notch. That was also a great experience for me. While both of those things I missed Saturdays. I'm elated, not only to return to Saturdays, but to do it with my alma mater."

 

With what happened at Colorado and Washington, how will you handle the recruiting pressure now that you're recruiting against USC?

 

"At Colorado and Washington, I was trying to out-hustle the other head coaches. I thought I'd have an edge wanting to be on the road more than other head coaches wanted to be out there. And I just made some silly mistakes. I take full responsibility for them. In going through the last eight years, and the five I've been out of college football, you grow a little wiser. I still feel that I can be a very effective recruiter, doing it the right way, delivering a very effective message that speaks to the experience a student-athlete will have at UCLA because I experienced it. You can have everything you've ever wanted. I had the experience of graduating with a political science degree. You can go on and get into grad school. I got a post-graduate scholarship while at UCLA. And you can play for the big prize. We're going to recruit the kind of guys that are going to be able to compete at the top level. I was fortunate under Terry Donahue to have played in two Rose Bowls in five years there. I know it can happen. As I told Dan, there's no one out there that can give a better campus tour than I, because I've been there. When you give a campus tour, you just don't point at buildings. You talk about legendary figures who have had their time at UCLA and then gone on to make huge indelible marks in history. You have Ralph Bunche and Bunch Hall, the first African-American Nobel Peace Prize winner. You have Jackie Robinson Stadium. Arthur Ashe. On and one, down the line, of the people who went to UCLA and got to take the same classes that I did, and then went on to not only become great, but make great contributions. That's the kid we're looking for. Somebody who not only wants to square off against the Trojans but get a really meaningful experience, one that's going to serve them well throughout their years."

 

Dan, when did you decide to hire Rick and was there anyone else you considered as seriously to hire?

 

Dan: "Well, we cast the net broadly. The search process was exhaustive because we looked at every possible avenue, from head coaches at existing institutions to coordinators. We evaluated pretty much everyone out there and, like I indicated, for those interested, for individuals we had targeted, just in a general sense, that we would move deliberately and see where we would land. Rick was always in that initial pool. There was never any question in my mind about his ability to coach the game of football and what he would mean to this institution being that he is a Bruin and brings great energy and enthusiasm and a swagger that we needed. We made the decision after going through several interviews and I called Rick this morning and we spoke again about certain aspects of this job and it was at that time that I made the offer to him."

 

Dan, are there any zero-tolerance policies in his contract?

 

Dan: "I think in every program in America, and I'm not just talking about football, I'm talking about every sport, you're going to have transgressions. Secondary violations are things that occur. They occur because other institutions will discover them in the course of their recruiting, whatever the case may be. Sometimes your own coaches realize they did something they shouldn't have gone. Sometimes there are mis-interpretations of rules and regulations.  But in every coach's contract there is language that talks about compliance measures and being responsible in that regard, so this situation is no different."

 

Rick, are you hurt when people refer to you as ‘Slick Rick"? And going through all the pain of what you went through at CU and Washington, how different are you now and how different will your approach be?

 

"You know, ‘Slick Rick' is not who I am. It just happens to rhyme with my first name. Sometimes you don't have a real say in how you're termed. I have big enough shoulders to handle name-calling. Some of it I deserve, because of the way I went about my business in my career and again I take ownership of that. I take responsibility. And I can say that I'm committed to making sure that stuff never happens and I believe we can do things in exactly the right way and a first-class way. I'm obligated and committed to making sure of this at UCLA. Integrity is everything. As a leader and as a father, it's important that I set the right example. You can start with me in terms of making sure I'm committed to that."

 

Have you decided what kind of offense you'll run and will you call your own plays?

 

"I haven't made those decisions yet. I certainly know one thing about the offense we'll run. We'll have to have the ability to run the football. In the Pac-10, having experiencing coaching at Washington, you can't line up in the Pac-10 without being able to control the ball on the ground and be successful. Late in my career at Washington, in that fourth season, we got a little away from that and paid a price. We salvaged the season in 2002 by winning our last three, but we got a little bit away from the bread and butter to being able to control the ball on the ground. That doesn't mean that has to be the lion share's of your yards, but you have to be efficient enough to be able to gain yards on the ground. It certainly is part of the formula for competing for the big prize in the Pac-10. It's rare to see a team not have a good running game playing on New Year's Day at season's end. That being said, we'll recruit the best playmakers we can find out there, because UCLA has a long history of great quarterbacks and great wide receivers. It will be an exciting offense, one that we'll be proud of. And it doesn't matter who calls our plays."

 

Dan, how many people did you contact and how many face-to-face interviews did you do during the first round?

 

Dan: "I don't think it's appropriate for me to get into specifics of numbers and those kinds of things. As you well know, we went through the search process and at the outset I said we'd remain true to the integrity of the process and not compromise the confidentiality of the search and of the candidates. To the extent we did, I think all of you did a very good job of flushing those things out. I give you credit for that. There were some other situations where some names popped up that we saw that were never in the derby. That's just the way it goes. In the end, once again, who we ultimately talked to were individuals we thought were deserving for various reasons, who were special individuals in certain situations. There you have it. That's pretty much where we'll go with that question."

 

Dan, in the last week it seemed like it was pretty much narrowed down. Were there other contacts you were making in the last week?

 

Dan: "You might have thought it was pretty much narrowed down. We were busy working."

 

So you were contacting other people at that time?

 

Dan: "We were still in conversations with people."

 

Dan, in your interview process with DeWayne Walker, did you get any kind of indication that if he weren't chosen to be head coach he'd want to stay at UCLA?

Dan: "It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on any of the discussions that took place in interviews."

 

Dan, give your feelings about off-the-field transgressions, how much did you consider this hire a risky one? Did you have to go through that process about what people would say if you did take a chance on Rick?

 

Dan: "It's always about UCLA and what is going to be the best situation to move our program forward. I know there are concerns about where I'm going to make the right decision, is Dan going to take a risk, or those kind of things. If you look back at my career I've made decisions that sometimes were predictable and sometimes were unpredictable. But I've made a decision every time because I thought it was the right person for that job, and that's exactly the case here. The impact on Dan Guerrero is really a non-factor relative to this decision."

 

Dan, can you talk to the report that Rick apparently promised four donors who would offer $1 million each for the renovation of Pauley Pavilion?

 

Dan: "Wow. That's not true at all. As you go through this process, you receive a lot of feedback from a number of people, all lobbying for any individual, or saying you shouldn't hire this other individual. But never in this process was there ever a discussion about who's donating, who's threatening to pull donations...it was never an issue in the search. We have some very high-powered individuals who are affiliated with our program, and I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that they are of the utmost integrity."

 

Rick, will you be with the Ravens Sunday and when will you start your job at UCLA? And what process will you go through in evaluating the players currently in the UCLA program?

 

"I am going to coach Sunday and finish the season with the Ravens. [some response here is indistinguishable].  I'll get to UCLA as soon as I can and begin the work that hopefully will put us back in the national scene. With respect to the kids in the program currently, I've watched them and rooted for them. I want to learn everything there is to know about them, and make the appropriate evaluation. I know the one thing we have in common is that we're all Bruins. We all came there for the same reason, to try to be the best we possibly can be. If we lock arms and used that as our mantra we'll get to the finish line a lot faster."

 

Terry Donahue said he thinks the UCLA coach needs to be a survivor, someone who will scratch and claw. Do you consider yourself that kind of guy?

"Yeah, I think I fall into that category. I don't know if that's not true of every coach. There are going to be times that are the absolute pinnacle and there will be times when it's really hard. When you're in a leadership role you have to be able to weather that storm and show there is going to be a brighter day and we're going to come out on the other side. Terry was terrific at that. I got a chance to not only play for him but coach for him. He used to use that old boxing background that he had to show us that you could stand toe-to-toe and still come out and feel good about yourself. I learned a great deal of lessons from him. Survival is part of the deal, absolutely. But I also want to do more than just survive. We want to flourish."

 

Dan, what's your role in keeping DeWayne Walker around?

 

Dan: "We've conveyed clearly our admiration for DeWayne and what he's done during his time here. It's not appropriate for me to go to Rick and say you have to unequivocally have to hire DeWayne Walker. That's going to be Rick's call. Everyone clearly realizes the value he brought to this program. DeWayne could continue to grow as a coach here at UCLA under Rick's tutelage. His kids play fast and they play hard and we'd love to see him involved in the program, if that works out. That being said, it's between Rick and Dewayne, to see if there's a synergy there, and we'll go from there."

 

 

 


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