There's no doubt that a good Athletic Director sets the tone for a university's sports programs, and how they are perceived in the broader community. By all accounts, Dan Guerrero is a good athletic director, concerned about both running a clean shop and also setting up UCLA's teams to be successful on the field.
When Neuheisel was hired, some looked at it as a declaration that winning was more important that a clean program, and some questioned the wisdom of the hire purely on the numbers: while Neuheisel's overall record was impressive, the year-on-year records showed steady worsening of results. UCLA alumni have countered with a variety of arguments (the charges were picayune, Neuheisel's win against UW for wrongful dismissal exonerates him, etc. ) which have various levels of merit. No surprise, people look at Neuheisel and see something based on themselves.
The general mood here on Conquest Chronicles was that the man can coach, but it's not clear that his recruiting (NCAA compliant or not) is as good as advertised. But we're also inclined to think that Neueheisel's a smart guy and has learned his lesson, that he brings real commitment to the job, and that he's serious about putting together a winning team for the bruins.
Go-along, get-along, away from problems
Nonetheless, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow or two at the series in the Seattle Times about the generally lax culture around the University of Washington and Neuheisel's Rose Bowl winning team. The problems of players being shielded from the law was in no way solely attributable to Neuheisel - the AD, Barbara Hedges, and local law enforcement were in many ways more influential in making this happen. However, when faced with a player, Jerramy Stevens, against whom rape accusations had been filed, Neuheisel was part of the problem. Despite evidence that made a charge credible, including patterns of violence and sexual misconduct, no charges were filed against Stevens and no action was taken at UW either.
Neuheisel was "relieved" to be able to avoid suspending Stevens, who was a key part of the Huskies' offense that season. One Rose Bowl with and two hit and run incidents later - including putting his truck through a nursing home wall - Stevens was finally subject to disciplinary action from the team: he was suspended for the first half of the season opener.
This quote from the article, in reference to a civil suit against the University of Washington, is telling:
In 2004, Roe deposed Rick Neuheisel and Barbara Hedges, the coach and athletic director when Stevens was arrested on suspicion of rape. When prosecutors decided not to charge Stevens, Neuheisel and Hedges agreed that Stevens should not be disciplined.
Neuheisel's test was this: If a player embarrassed himself, his family or the university, he should be punished. This episode embarrassed the UW, Neuheisel said, but "given the prosecution's decision not to go forward, it looked as if Jerramy was not the reason for the embarrassment."
Hedges said the UW could have disciplined Stevens no matter what prosecutors did, but she saw no grounds for that.
Do you understand, Roe asked Hedges, that a decision not to charge someone is not the same thing as declaring the person's innocence?
Hedges said she believed that if someone avoided charges, he had been cleared. "The person has been exonerated," she said.
She had no evidence to suggest Stevens' conduct was "inappropriate," Hedges said. Did you ever review the police reports? Roe asked. "I don't recall," Hedges said.
UW also distinguished itself with very aggressive tactics against the woman who brought the suit, including an effort to name and shame her while she was still a student.
The article goes on to discuss the extent to which Stevens' behavior has been enabled by professional teams as well - throughout his checkered career, all in the name of "giving a good kid a chance." Or 27 chances, as the case may be.
One of the things that struck me relating to the Neuheisel dismissal from UW and subsequent suit was that it looked like someone wanted him out and wanted an excuse - and they picked the wrong one. But if the stories in the Seattle Times are any indication, no wonder they wanted something less explosive. Trying to get someone removed for going along and getting along in that environment would require blowing the lid off problems that UW would probably prefer never came to light.
Back to Dan Guerrero
This is why Athletic Directors are so important. Barbara Hedges presided over a shambles of a program at UW, and Neuheisel was a part of that shambles. Guerrero runs a cleaner ship, and probably took on Neuheisel knowing that as AD, he would have to manage both public relations and compliance to make sure that all was well. If Neuheisel works at the level of the environment that he's in, then the bruins have nothing to worry about. If however Neuheisel was less a victim of circumstance in Seattle, and more simply showing how he works, then Dan Guerrero's got his work cut out for him.