Things have certainly changed for Rick Neuheisel.
Just a year ago, Neuheisel was the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, even though everyone knew Neuheisel belonged in college football.
Just four years ago, Neuheisel was coaching in high school, trying to put his career back together following a departure from the University of Washington after it was discovered the had been involved in a high-stakes NCAA basketball tournament betting pool.
Now, Neuheisel is back at his alma mater. He's the coach at UCLA, preparing for the Bruins season-opening game against Tennessee.
Q: What do you think of the UT-UCLA series?
A: It is a great series. I was on the Terry Donahue staff in the early '90s when we got walloped by Dale Carter and Carl Pickens and that group. So I know what it is like to spend a day in the checkerboard environment. It was a heck of a ball game. It has been a great series over the years, a lot of history to it. Hopefully this next edition will live up to the billing.
Q: You lost two quarterbacks (Pat Cowan and Ben Olson) to injuries in back-to-back plays in spring practice. How did your team respond to that?
A: Kind of a freaky deal, we were in shorts. Neither one of the kids got touched; there was zero contact with either injury. Ben Olson was coming out of the naked fake after handing off and put pressure on his foot in an awkward way and snapped a bone in the bottom of his foot which required surgery. Hopefully he will be able to start working out in the middle of July. Pat Cowan, the other senior quarterback, was shuffling up in the pocket and tore his ACL and unfortunately for Pat, he will miss the season. That is a blow to our team. I told everybody that every year in college football, somebody rises to the occasion and hopefully that person will be on our campus this year. Obviously we are undefeated right now so it is easier to get them to buy in. I do believe that we have enough guys that are in that all-in mode, that we are going to play some good football this year.
Q: How significant is a primetime, Labor Day game on ESPN for a program trying to rebound?
A: It is terrific. It wasn't as if we weren't going to play Tennessee anyways. They were coming the next week, so to me it was a no-brainer. To get Coach (Phillip) Fulmer and his great team to come out here and be on Monday Night Football, it means a lot to our program to have that showcase opportunity and hopefully we will play well enough to give them a good game and we will see how it all turns out.
Q: What do you think of your football team heading into fall camp?
A: I think we are a solid football team. I don't know right now how many players we have that you would call a difference maker. I think we have good, solid, great, hardworking kids. You can win with good, solid, hardworking kids as long as you play really proficiently. The key for us will be to really work hard at playing smart football and play a field position game until we develop that magic or that difference maker, that guy that bursts onto the scene and gives the other team a match-up problem. I have been on teams, both as a player and as a coach, that weren't overly talented but caught a spark and a little magic and found ways to win. I think we can do that here as well.
Q: How do you prepare for Dave Clawson in his first year as UT's offensive coordinator?
A: Coach Clawson is a well-regarded guy. We will try to study what he did at Richmond. He is bringing in a new offense but he is coming into it with a head coach with a lot of experience and knows how to win in a lot of different ways. I think we are going to see a team that is going to be well coached, one that is going to be capable of many different things but probably a little bit close to the vest given that it is the first time out for a new quarterback (Jonathan Crompton). So I think it is going to be a field position ballgame.
Q: What is your stance on a college football playoff?
A: It is exciting to think of those types of games. The only thing I have been disappointed with in the BCS is the consolation atmosphere that goes sometimes to a Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl. Those games have such great magnitude and they are such treats for colleges to bring those programs to. For a national audience not to feel like that is a big game is a disappointment. As a head football coach it is nice to win your last game. I have zero complaints and it is going to come down to when they need money and then the movement will come.