Neuheisel hired as UCLA's head coach

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel is headed home after being hired Saturday as UCLA's head football coach. After three seasons in Baltimore, Neuheisel, 46, is returning to his alma mater where he quarterbacked the Bruins to a 1984 Rose Bowl victory.

Neuheisel arrives at Westwood with a 66-30 all-time record during head coaching stints at the University of Colorado and the University of Washington.

His departure from the Ravens wasn't unexpected as Baltimore coach Brian Billick had been lobbying for Neuheisel to land the UCLA job. Neuheisel emerged as the frontrunner for the position when the school was unable to land Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, Boise State coach Chris Petersen, Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach Jim Mora Jr. or former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci.

"I am thrilled to be returning to my alma mater," Neuheisel said in a statement. "UCLA is a special place. We are going to build a program our supporters will be proud of, both on and off the field. I can't wait to get started."

Neuheisel comes with some baggage, though, along with a vow that he has learned from his past indiscretions.

He was fired by Washington in 2003 for participating in a betting pool on the NCAA basketball tournament. Ultimately, he settled a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university and the NCAA for $4.5 million two years later.

NCAA officials have said that Neuheisel is in good standing, according to their rules and regulations.

"I made some mistakes earlier in my career and I take responsibility for those mistakes," Neuheisel said. "I have learned from that experience and I would never do anything that would reflect negatively on UCLA."

The NCAA placed Colorado on two years probation for rule violations that occurred when Neuheisel was the Buffaloes' coach, but all were regarded as secondary infractions.

"Rick is an outstanding coach and recruiter," UCLA athletic director Dan Guererro said in a statement. "He is outgoing and personable and can motivate our players, fans and supporters. We believe he is well equipped to lead the program and attain the success all Bruin fans wish to achieve."

"I know there are some issues in Rick's past that concern our constituency. We have discussed those at length with Rick and have investigated those issues with the NCAA. It has been at least five years and, in some cases, more than 10 years since the incidents occurred. We believe Rick has learned from those incidents and that he is more mature and experienced in the areas of compliance."

At Washington, Neuheisel went 33-16 with four bowl appearances and one Rose Bowl title.

In his final game as a Bruin, he overcame food poisoning to lead UCLA to a 45-9 victory against Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl. He was named the game's MVP after throwing for 298 yards and four touchdowns. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

Neuheisel had stints in the NFL and the USFL. Neuheisel later coached NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman as an assistant coach at UCLA while earning his law degree from USC.

"I think Rick is a great hire for UCLA," former UCLA head coach Terry Donahue said in a statement. "He knows the UCLA situation as well as anybody. Rick is a proven head coach with a very successful record in the Pac-10 and he will be able to compete with any team in the conference.

"He will do a great job in attracting some of the best football players in the country to Westwood. It's great that they have kept it in the Bruin family."

After working at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School as a volunteer assistant, Billick hired Neuheisel as the Ravens' quarterbacks coach.

Neuheisel was promoted to offensive coordinator after last season, but Billick retained play-calling duties.

Now, Neuheisel gets to go back to the college ranks and the Ravens will search for a new offensive coordinator with Billick expected to return as coach, but relinquish those duties next season.

Prior to a 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week, Billick addressed Neuheisel's UCLA candidacy and past run-ins with the NCAA. "Frankly, most of that was just B.S.," Billick said during a conference call with Seattle reporters. "It was a damn basketball pool. Are you kidding me? So as I watched that from a distance, clearly there were other issues, other agendas being played out.

"Rick had come through that, and the NCAA, rightfully so, has made it very clear it is exonerating Rick. College football needs people like Rick: his enthusiasm, his affection for the kids."

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

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