Neuheisel in pursuit of UCLA job

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel is a strong contender for the UCLA head coaching vacancy as the only candidate to interview twice for the job. The former University of Washington and University of Colorado coach acknowledged that he regards returning to Westwood to be his dream job

. Neuheisel emerged as a Rose Bowl hero for the Bruins after walking on to the program with a later stint as a quarterbacks coach mentoring future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.

"I have been contacted and, as an alum, I want what's best for them and, if I can help, I would certainly be excited," said Neuheisel, who led UCLA to a 45-9 Rose Bowl victory over Illinois in 1984. "I am remaining mum other than to say as an alum, I wish them the very best. All of us want to see that football program on top."

Neuheisel, 46, flew to Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with UCLA chancellor Gene Block after a prior interview Friday with athletic director Dan Guererro in Philadelphia.

Now, Neuheisel is preparing for his second trip to the West Coast this week as the Ravens (4-10) will take on the Seattle Seahawks (9-5) on Sunday.

It will mark a bittersweet return to the Pacific Northwest as Neuheisel was fired by Washington in 2003 following an NCAA basketball office pool imbroglio and a controversy surrounding an interview with the San Francisco 49ers. Later, he won a $4.5 million settlement from the university after filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination.

"My memories are fond," said Neuheisel, who has a law degree from UCLA. "The ending was no fun, but we won a lot of games while I was there and we made a lot of friends. They were some very rewarding times. I have no ill will toward the city, nor the people, nor the school."

Neuheisel, who interviewed for the Georgia Tech position that went to former Navy coach Paul Johnson, has been endorsed several times by Ravens coach Brian Billick. He also received the support of Ravens All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, a former UCLA standout.

"It would be huge," Ogden said of Neuheisel potentially landing the UCLA job. "I love Rick. He was there when I was in school and did a great job at Colorado and Washington and he would do a great job for the Bruins if he got the job."

UNBOTHERED: Running back Willis McGahee has gained 1,197 yards to rank third in the AFC in rushing behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' Willie Parker (1,317 yards) and the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson (1,311 yards).

Fifty yards shy of a career-high established in 2005, McGahee still didn't make the Pro Bowl squad. He got the consolation prize of being named a second alternate.

"I've been in this situation before, as far as when I was in Buffalo and Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl,'' McGahee said. "I was an alternate. I was upset then, but I learned you can't get upset over little things like that because you can't control that."

Regardless of the snub, McGahee said he considers this to be his best season ever.

He ranks fourth overall in the NFL in rushing and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry with seven touchdowns.

"No doubt about it," he said. "It's been a fun year for me, but it has also been a bad year."

Inside linebacker Bart Scott was even more unsentimental about not making the Pro Bowl.

"I don't give a crap," he said.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason said he had no problem with not making the Pro Bowl considering his competition was Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Braylon Edwards.

"If you look at the body of work that those three or four have done, you can't blame the fans or the coaches or players for picking those guys because they deserve it," Mason said.

INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Todd Heap was encouraged about making it through an entire practice for the first time in weeks as he has been plagued by a strained hamstring ever since a Sept. 30 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Heap has increased hope of possibly playing Sunday even though he was limited in practice Wednesday.

"It's been frustrating," said Heap, who has only caught 23 passes this season. "I'd like to have the chance to play in the last two games. Hamstring injuries are different. You can't push them too far because it can set you back."

Quarterback Kyle Boller (concussion) didn't practice along with linebackers Ray Lewis (hand, back), Terrell Suggs (thigh) and Gary Stills (thigh), tight end Daniel Wilcox (thigh) and cornerback Samari Rolle (shoulder). Rolle had his arm in a sling as recently as last weekend.

Lewis is dealing with a dislocated finger that drew blood during Sunday's 22-16 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins, but has said he expects to play this week.

Center Mike Flynn (foot) was limited. Safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) and offensive tackle Adam Terry (ankle) participated fully in practice.

QUICK HITS: All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden remained noncommittal on whether he'll retire after this season. "There a lot of different things, my health, where I think we're going, family," Ogden said. "That's why it takes the full time. That's why I can't just say right now. It's probably going to be primarily how I'm feeling health-wise, but I just don't know." ... Scott had an unusual Christmas wish surrounding the NFL postseason the Ravens won't be a part of this year. "I want the Super Bowl to be cancelled and for the satellite to go off so nobody sees the playoffs," he said. ... Undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Cullen Finnerty was taking classes at Grand Valley State (Mich.) a few weeks ago. Now, he's on the Ravens' practice squad and took snaps as the backup to Troy Smith for the first time due to Boller's injury. "Yeah, it's pretty strange," Finnerty said. "Who would have thought I would be here? I'll be hitting the books pretty hard this week and just staying prepared and ready."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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