As promised here is my interview with UCLA's RIck Neuheisel during last weeks Pac-10 Media Event in NYC.
A couple of notes on this. I approached Neuheisel with full disclosure as to who I was and who I write for. I gave him my name, the Blog name and that I was pro-USC. I told him up front that we have hammered him and poked fun at him for many things. He said he understood because of the nature of the rivalry. He didn't once bristle at my wanting to ask him a couple of questions, in fact I think he relished it. He knew I was partisan and wouldn't be like your typical member of the media who has to show some measure of objectivity. As expected I found him to be engaging and pretty open with his answers. It is easy to sucked in by his outgoing personality if you don't stay focused.
So here it is...
On this years recruiting class -
Me: Tell about this years recruiting class.
Rick Neuheisel: "We're very excited about our recruiting class, we felt like we were able to go out and get some quality young men that are going to help us at a variety of positions. We were able to get kids at positions of need that we had to get. Defensive Tackle was a priority, to get Cassius Marsh, Sealii Epenesa, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Derek Bryant at the defensive end position and Wesley Flowers from Fresno you know is was really important to get a quality defensive front. We felt like Dietrich Riley was a really important kid in this class because we needed a safety...We had another kid that we had committed to us that decided to change his mind so that was crucial...Dietrich has a lot of opportunity to fill a big need so we thought that was a great deal for us that he chose UCLA.
I guess the running back position we got some great quality kids there that have some versatility, so if they aren't a first string running back they can play some other positions. You at high school teams almost everybody outs their best player at either running back or quarterback. To get Malcolm (Jones), Anthony (Jefferson) and Jordan (James) in the class is a neat thing for us.
On the offensive line -
Me: The biggest problem I see on the offensive is obviously the O-line...
Rick Neuheisel: Right, we have been unlucky on the offensive line.
Me: This season, you had one O-lineman go on his mission and one that is academically ineligible but you did pick up a JUCO with three years of eligibility. How are you patching this together? Are you moving a TE? How are you seeing it play out?
Rick Neuheisel: Well, (laughs) we have tried all of the above (laughs some more). When we got there there were only nine guys in the program that were on the offensive line. Alexi Lanis then quickly left as a medical because he was tired of knees hurting and he was an accomplished player. We had some walk-on kids that hadn't played and god bless them but we certainly weren't at the level that we needed to be to compete successfully in the league.
We went out and recruited as well as we could, we got Xavier Su'a Filo who I think is going to be a fabulous player but you know he's on a mission...so Gods speed, we certainly wish him well and look forward to him coming back. Then we had Nik Abele, a young man from Irvine, that I think is going to be a phenom, unfortunately he had a neck injury that is probably going to keep him from playing any more...so the tackle position has been hit hard. Micah Kia comes back from a redshirt, we were fortunate that he had a redshirt year when he got an ACL last fall, so hopefully he can have a great year. He is certainly physical and talented enough to do it...it just remains to be seen if we can actually get it out of him...so we have been working hard to get a great class...now in this upcoming class it will be a big priority.
Me: I know you're a little behind (WRT this class), but I have read some of the recruiting sites and I say just wait, Rick will pick it up.
Rich Neuheisel: (laughs) Early commits are really things you gotta hang on to, like the stock exchange.
Me: That's right! (laughs)
On if he feels the pressure to win now -
Me: Do you fell the pressure to win now? You're in your third year...you have one of the toughest schedules this season. You guys have a tough year this year. At most other schools coaches, by their third year, start to see a turn...but these cards all came up snake eyes (I meant to say dice)...so do feel any pressure?
Rick Neuheisel: I don't look at it as pressure I look at it as an exciting time. We came in with a plan to increase our athleticism, to increase our talent, get a system that the kids buy into...all that has been successful. We went from year one to year two and we got better, now we need to take the next leap from year two to year three and get better and keep the momentum. Now, what that means in terms of how the other teams stack up against us we'll have to wait and see. We've done the R&D, the research and development has been done now it is time to go out and execute and I am excited about that portion.
We do have a great kicking game. We have a great punter and great kicker maybe, the best in all the land. We have a great special teams coach and we are a faster team...special teams will improved. We have to play well enough on offense and defense to keep every game close and hopefully we can win. My (unintelligible) at Washington were at #3 in the country...we were behind in almost every game but we found a way to play well and that is going to be a lot of what we do given our schedule. Given the strength of the conference and how even the conference is you have to get a little bit of magic to figure out how to win those games...we can be in those games, there is no doubt in my mind.
On the Pola/USC/Titans Lawsuit -
Me: Final question, about any thoughts on the lawsuit that the Tennessee Titans filed against USC? Having spent some years in the NFL with Baltimore...How do you look at this? What are your thoughts on this because it seems very off the wall...it doesn't matter what team you root for.
Rick Neuheisel: Yeah, I don't know enough about the specifics of what their cause is, with what the legal issue is, so it is impossible to comment on the merits of the case. This happens in our business. People...the timing is unfortunate, I don't think anyone wants to make this kind of move this late in the game...Lane had a position that he had to fill. Kennedy had been on my staff at Colorado...he is a quality guy and a quality coach and I think obvious why he is a good choice.
Me: I know it is a tough question to ask, but would you chase it the same way that Lane did, if it was your staff?
Rick Neuheisel: I don't think its fair to comment on it.
Me: I know that we are on opposite sides, I'd say good luck but I gotta root against you but good luck anyway...
Rick Neuheisel: I understand, I understand...I like that you wear it that well, you know if you're doing the Trojan deal you ought to be
Me: We are a partisan site, we hammer you, I am not going to lie but this rivalry is unique...Thanks Coach!
Rick Neuheisel: Thank you.
- - -
Like I said, I found him to be engaging, his personality can be disarming. He didn't duck any of my questions and I pressed him in a few areas, but seeing that this was my first time doing this I wasn't going to go overboard. I asked the last question on the lawsuit because of his NFL experience and because I knew he had Pola on his staff at CU so I was looking to see of there was any insight he could offer up. I think he did when he said "this happens in our business".
I was a little surprised at the Kicking game comment. He made the same comment in L.A. and to me it really says a lot. I think they under the gun this year...especially with that schedule, and it could get ugly but he thinks has the players this year to make a marked improvement.
I didn't ask about the pistol offense as thought that would really get too involved with the limited time I had. I didn't ask about Norm Chow because of the potential for discomfort on both sides...we all know what Norm is about so why go there. I didn't ask about the timeout/touchdown play, I mean there was no need to go there...I think everyone is a little embarrassed by that, it is best to leave it alone.
After making the rounds in the room to see if there was anyone else I could pick off for a few quick words before leaving, I was standing out in the registration area going over my notes, this was about ten minutes later, when Neuheisel walked out...he said "take care" and I responded....good luck! That is just habit for me...he stopped and said with a big s**t eating grin on his face and said..."now you don't really mean that do you!?!"
We both had a laugh at that!
I have to admit he got me there...the guy knows how to work a room.
And off he went...