Perhaps for 20 years.
Neuheisel hiring DeWayne Walker as his defensive coordinator was a considerable coup. It must have been pretty difficult to placate Walker, who was a candidate for the head coaching job himself. He had Washington schmoozing him. We've heard that, ultimately, Walker wanted to stay at UCLA and the Washington flirtation was a move to sweeten his deal with UCLA – and that's completely understandable. But despite the fact that Walker's hiring might have been inevitable, it took a special, deft talent to retain him on the UCLA staff.
Then Neuheisel hires Chow. On its own merits, it's a considerable accomplishment. Chow's reputation as one of the offensive geniuses in football is well-deserved. It would have been considered an exceptional accomplishment by Neuheisel if he had just hired Chow. But hiring both Chow and Walker completes the UCLA Dream Team of coordinators and staff.
Pinch yourselves, UCLA fans. You haven't had this kind of coaching talent and potential in your program in recent memory. Perhaps ever.
You've been bemoaning a long time for the UCLA program to step up and try to compete with the elite of college football.
Well, UCLA just made itself a big-league player.
Now, don't go thinking UCLA will have an immediate turn-around. Temper your expectations, at least initially. And perhaps, the potential of this Dream Team staff never might never be fully realized. Things have to gel, personalities have to mesh, the stars have to align. But just the mere fact that Neueheisel has put together a staff that consists of Chow and Walker, at this point, gives UCLA its best odds for success in a very long time, enough to recognize that it's a new era in UCLA football, one where the guy in charge, Neuheisel, knows what it takes to at least attempt to compete at the highest level of college football.
And can we all appreciate the job that Athletic Director Dan Guerrero did in hiring Neuheisel? When Neuheisel's name was mentioned early on in the coaching search, it was greeted with a mixed reaction. Even Bruin Report Online was skeptical.
But we had, for some time, also maintained separately that what UCLA needed as its head coach was a cult of personality, someone who was so dynamic that he'd be able to more easily overcome the obstacles he'd have to fight at UCLA to be successful – the academic side of the university, sometimes poor funding, etc.
While we were, ourselves, leery of Neuheisel because of his past, we failed to put it together that Neuheisel was the embodiment of the guy we envisioned UCLA needed to lead its football program. Guerrero obviously recognized it when he interviewed Neuheisel for the job. Neuheisel won over Guerrero, and when we were hearing the leaks out of UCLA that that was so, we rolled our eyes, as did most UCLA fans. But Neuheisel's performance on the job, not only in hiring Chow and Walker, but so far in his ability to lift UCLA onto a national stage in terms of publicity and exposure, to recruit, to win over skeptics, to do the right things at the right time, have been miraculous. We now see what Guerrero saw in him.
Here's just a little indication of how Neuheisel is so different in recognizing what you need to do to be the UCLA head football coach: In five years with Dorrell, the writers that cover UCLA complained that Dorrell never game them enough face time, that he was always so defensive about talking to them. Now, they maintain Neuheisel has has talked to them privately more in the few weeks he's been on the job than Dorrell did in his entire five years.
Truly the only drawback in how much Neuheisel has accomplished in just a few short weeks on the job is that it has a tendency to raise expectations. You tend to start thinking: What has Neuheisel now down for me lately?
Right now, after hiring Chow, the expectations for Neuheisel to bring in a big recruiting class on Signing Day, February 6th, are particularly heightened. Neuheisel very well could pull off more coups in recruiting in the next 2 ½ weeks, especially now armed with Norm Chow as a recruiting selling tool.
But getting back to Chow, though, for a moment...
UCLA fans have been gasping for a dynamic offense for years, and Neuheisel just hired the guy who has been the architect of some of the most exciting and productive offenses in college football. Chow has done it without gimmicks, without a huge reliance on the spread, doing it in a pro-style scheme that emphasizes both the run and the pass.
And here's something that is like sweet music to the ears of UCLA fans: Chow does it with diversification and creative play-calling. I remember when Chow was the offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll at USC, watching his Trojan offense, he utilized everything – misdirection in the running game (again, Bruin fans, can you handle that?); various sets in the passing game; running out of passing formations and passing out of running formations; fullbacks and tight ends (what a novelty); and he was so adept at calling the right, imaginative play in terms of down and distance.
I remember watching one USC game on TV when Chow was the OC. In USC's first two possessions down the field, they scored two touchdowns. Matt Leinart was picking apart the opposing defense, and the offense was beautifully mixed between run and pass. I remember thinking how well the offense was conceived, how each play was a dynamic call in terms of down and distance, how it was a surprise every time, and how it was this well-crafted piece of art almost. The game's announcer said, "Leinart is 9 for 9 in two series, with all nine of his completed passes going to a different receiver." In Chow's offense, nine different guys had caught a pass before anyone else caught their second pass. That comment stuck in my mind over the years as such a vivid example of offensive college football at its best.
UCLA, at the time, was bogged down in Karl Dorrell's offense. At the time, envisioning that UCLA could ever have an offense like Norm Chow's was a tragic pipe dream.
What do you call it when a pipe dream comes true?
I received an e-mail from a person very close to the USC football program Sunday night. He is a true Trojan, but also quite balanced and objective. He had maintained from the first mention of Chow's name for the UCLA head coaching job that he was the one that put a little fear in him. In his e-mail Sunday he said: "All those other names – Chris Petersen, Mike Leach, even Steve Mariucci – USC scoffed at those. But Norm Chow, he was the major component in the establishment of USC's new golden era of football. Most USC insiders believe the program hasn't been the same since he left, and that Carroll blew it when he basically ran him out. The players were staunchly on Chow's side. He was the Yoda of USC football. We knew how good he was. So, the thought of UCLA getting him was truly the only thing that made USC nervous. When UCLA then hired Neuheisel, the USC community then went back to not worrying too much about UCLA. But what Neuheisel has done since he's been hired, and now hiring Chow, and Walker, I have to admit, USC fans are saying things like, ‘Crap, UCLA might have finally woke up.'"
Neuheisel getting Chow as his OC, again, must have taken some considerable magic. Chow, like Walker, was a candidate for the head coaching job himself. There had to be some natural resentment when the guy who beat you out for the job comes knocking on your door and wants to hire you to work under him.
We said that sometimes the stars have to align, and they seem to be lining up for Neuheisel. Hiring Chow away from the Tennessee Titans looked like a considerable longshot – but then fate stepped in and Chow gets fired from the Titans. More stars align with his contract, one that in a buyout will pay him $2 million over the next two years, which is, well, music to the ears of UCLA, which was struggling to come up with enough money to compensate Chow. Now, UCLA is back-loading his contract with the money they would have spent on him if they had to pay for his first two years. If there was ever a situation perfect for UCLA to hire Chow in terms of compensation, this would be it.
You start to wonder if Neuheisel is incredibly lucky, or if there is something to the assertion that you create your own luck.
Or if those stars are just shining down on him.
It would be about time for UCLA fans to bask in a bit of star light. The UCLA football program, while it's had its pockets of successes over the decades, has a history of some considerable tragedy. And as we've maintained for a while, with how much UCLA has going for it, it's the proverbial Sleeping Giant, just waiting for the right time and place – and perhaps coach – to awaken it.
Being UCLA football fans, and having to deal with so much disappointment for so long, there is an unusual amount of appreciation for what Neuheisel has already done. It's like when UCLA hired Ben Howland to be its basketball coach; expectations had been so lowered at that point that everyone was just happy at the prospect of success.
But, inevitably, UCLA fans will move on to their next, high expectation pretty quickly. They will have a glow for a while over the hiring of Chow, but, as most insatiable fans do, they'll move on to the next what-can-you-do-for-me-lately development by Neuheisel.
That would probably be Signing Day.
Perhaps the most exciting immediate thought is the idea of Rick Neuheisel going into the home of an offensive recruit in the next couple weeks – with Norm Chow at his side. Is there a recruit in the country who wouldn't listen to their pitch? Chow was the man most instrumental behind three Heisman Trophy winners. Can you imagine Neuheisel trying to sell a recruit armed with that?
Hiring Chow immediately has an impact on UCLA's chances of getting elite junior quarterback Matt Barkley from Santa Ana Mater Dei. Barkley is known to have been a heavy USC lean. But his personal quarterbacks coach is Steve Clarkson, a well-known west coast quarterback guru, and Clarkson is very close with Chow. Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart were both Clarkson pupils. Also, this last weekend, UCLA had Robbie Boyer, a receiver prospect from Mater Dei, in on an official visit. Boyer is Barkley's cousin. Barkley came to UCLA's campus Saturday, in fact, during Boyer's visit.
It will be very interesting, now, to see if UCLA gets involved with new prospects. You'd think that Neuheisel, who takes full advantage of any opportunity, would look at the hiring of Chow as the opportunity to get involved with some big-named offensive recruits. So, the next 2 ½ weeks before Signing Day should be a very interesting one in terms of the 2008 recruiting class.
Again, step back, UCLA fans, and appreciate. It very well could be the dawning of a new era in UCLA football. As someone said on the BRO message boards, the Sleeping Giant very well could be sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
At the very least, you now have a head coach that realizes what it takes to be an elite program in college football, and is attempting to make it happen.