LOS ANGELES — UCLA fired coach Rick Neuheisel on Monday after four disappointing seasons in charge of his alma mater.
Neuheisel will be allowed to coach the Bruins (6-6, 5-4 Pac-12) in Friday’s Pac-12 title game at Oregon, athletic director Dan Guerrero announced. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be the Bruins’ interim coach if they receive a bowl berth.
Neuheisel is 21-28 since taking the program in 2008, never building the momentum he needed to reach his goal of challenging Southern California for city supremacy. Guerrero fired Neuheisel just two days after UCLA’s 50-0 loss to No. 9 USC, the Bruins’ largest loss since 1930 in their crosstown rivalry game.
UCLA made it to just one bowl game in Neuheisel’s first three seasons, winning the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
The Bruins will represent the Pac-12 South in the inaugural league title game on Friday despite finishing two games behind postseason-banned USC in the division standings. UCLA is a 30-point underdog against the Ducks with a Rose Bowl berth on the line for the winner.
If UCLA loses to Oregon, the Pac-12 would have to petition the NCAA for bowl eligibility for a 6-7 team. The Bruins haven’t indicated whether they would pursue a waiver, although Johnson’s appointment as interim coach suggests they would.
Neuheisel’s firing before the title game is an ugly end to the 50-year-old coach’s self-described dream job. He was a quarterback at UCLA, leading the Bruins to an unlikely victory in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1984.
Neuheisel had more success during his first two head coaching stops at Colorado and Washington, leading the Buffaloes to 33 wins and three bowl victories in four seasons before taking the Huskies to four consecutive winning seasons and a Rose Bowl victory after the 2000 campaign.
Neuheisel eventually was fired by Washington after a series of problems in Seattle ranging from player discipline to a rift with school leadership to his infamous involvement in an NCAA basketball tournament pool. After two years out of coaching and a stint on the Baltimore Ravens’ staff, Neuheisel took over at UCLA.
But the Bruins went 4-8 in his first and third seasons, with a 7-6 finish in 2009. He had high expectations for his current team, but the Bruins have won consecutive games just once all season, usually alternating blowout losses and narrow victories.
UCLA still went 5-1 at the Rose Bowl, and surprising losses by Utah and Arizona State propelled the Bruins into the Pac-12 title game even before their blowout loss to USC.
Johnson joined Neuheisel’s staff this season, replacing veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow. The former NFL assistant coach was the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator for most of last season, and he has helped Neuheisel to lead a resurgence of UCLA’s offense this year.
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