29 December 2007

UCLA's Big Gamble

UCLA has just hired national disgrace Rick Neuheisel as its football coach. Neuheisel played quarterback at UCLA in the early '80s (only starting the second half of his senior year), and given that he's proven himself a good coach, so it's natural the Bruins would be interested in him.

But it's a big gamble, because Neuheisel has a history of breaking the rules. Colorado was put on probation for over 50 recruiting violations, dozens of them occurring during Neuheisel's tenure. Upon being hired by Washington, he immediately violated recruiting rules by making illegal phone calls. His supporters will point out that he was cleared of the gambling charges that led Washington to fire him, and that he won his lawsuit against UW (and the NCAA) for wrongful termination. That was more about technical mistakes made by UW and the NCAA--it was not a vindication Neuheisel's gambling, which was against NCAA rules (although it would be unfair not to point out that he gambled on the NCAA tournament, not football), and which he lied to the NCAA about twice. And the probation that the Huskies were already on (for basketball recruiting violations) were extended for two more years.

Add in the $4 million plus UW had to pay him, and the fact that the scandal cost both the Athletic Director and the University President their jobs, and the conclusion can only be that Neuheisel is a toxin for the schools he works at. He's been a head coach twice, and he's left both programs on probation. The truly hilarious part of this is that Neuheisel likes to boast of having a law degree--although he's never practiced law--yet he repeatedly claims that he wasn't aware of the rules. If you learn anything in law school, it's how to figure out what the rules are.

UCLA must be betting that Neuheisel has learned his lesson, but guys like him don't learn. And UCLA is in a position to know. After all, they've had experience with Jim Harrick. He won the NCAA tournament, but falsified receipts and lied to the University about it. He later coached at Rhode Island and Georgia, and was accused of multiple violations at both schools, with Georgia having to forfeit 30 wins from '01-02 and 02'03 seasons.

If UCLA is smart, they'll have some contract language that requires Neuheisel to indemnify them if they get put on probation for any violations he commits. But if they were smart, they probably would have steered clear of him.

Personally I hope UCLA ends up on probation. One, I think they deserve it for rewarding a guy who's the poster-boy for what's wrong in college sports. Two, I'm an Oregon alum and in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, in which Colorado smashed the Ducks, he faked a punt late in the game when Colorado already had a 32-6 lead. The Ducks got their revenge in the '98 Aloha Bowl, but you never really forget a low-class cheap shit play like that. It's just emblematic of the man. And apparently, emblematic of UCLA's lust to add to their 100 national championships at any cost.

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