Rick Neuheisel has begun Year 4 at UCLA. His program is still looking to take its first big step, but now is seemingly mired in its own mess.
This mess is Neuheisel’s own making as well, and frankly I’m surprised it’s taking him so long to clean it up.
UCLA had a better shot of beating USC than Punahou alumnus and former Waialua coach Norm Chow remaining as the Bruins’ offensive coordinator, but here everyone sits waiting for Neuheisel to make it official.
"I’m confused," I said when I sat down with Neuheisel.
"I don’t blame you," he said with a big smile.
I’ve gotten so accustomed to talking to Neuheisel after losses, it was kind of nice to find him so upbeat.
But this Chow thing is very odd. "Is Chow going to be here or not going to be here?" I said.
"Norm is still on our staff," Neuheisel said. "I’m still deliberating as to how we are going to reorganize ourselves offensively so as to create a more potent offense."
As long as it takes Neuheisel to deliberate, it’s a good thing he’s not calling the plays or the Bruins would be constantly called for delaying the game.
"You know what you’re going to do. Are you deliberating because you don’t know how you’re going to get the money to pay him off?" I said.
Neuheisel replied, "I’m deliberating because I haven’t put the right pieces together."
"Do you want Norm Chow here?"
"I do want Norm Chow here," Neuheisel said. "But I’m just not sure under what capacity. And I understand that Norm, given his great credentials, it may or may not be to his liking if it’s not in the current capacity."
Chow’s current capacity is working as offensive coordinator.
"Is there any chance at all that Norm returns in his present position?" I said.
"It’s unlikely," Neuheisel said.
"Why make such a change?"
"I think we just have to look at productivity," he said. "At some point the message isn’t getting through … we are in need of a change in direction."
A year ago, it appeared the Trojans had an interest in hiring Chow upon Lane Kiffin’s arrival. To keep him, Neuheisel extended Chow’s contract through 2012.
Both sides didn’t sign the deal until the end of the season. That made things a little uncomfortable, UCLA giving a raise to someone it really didn’t want anymore.
Neuheisel said he has talked to Chow about taking a different position. A demotion, if you will, although Neuheisel doesn’t call it that.
"There’s absolutely no attempt to force him out. None," said Neuheisel, although that’s usually what a company does when it wants to force someone out.
"There’s talk about Norm maybe going to Utah," I said. "Are you just waiting to work out a financial arrangement?"
"Not to my knowledge," Neuheisel said. "He hasn’t said anything about another job. If that’s for him and the opportunity exists, we would certainly wish him well."
Maybe even provide the limo to the airport.
I ran into Chow on Saturday at the Century Plaza after Frank McCourt had publicly cussed me out. Chow was helping a recruit check into the hotel.
I asked him which school he was recruiting for these days.
It got a chuckle, but then I got the patented Chow hang-down look. Same thing happened at the end of his time at USC. Is Chow the problem, or the guys who hire him?
When I asked Chow about his situation at UCLA, he raised his head long enough to say he has no idea where he stands.
"I would quarrel with that," Neuheisel said. "I think there’s some uncertainty what his role will be, but he knows he’s a valued member of this staff."
The Los Angeles Times’ Chris Foster reported shortly after I left Neuheisel that former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson has agreed to join UCLA.
UCLA can’t seemingly win right now, and its coach is trying to figure out who his offensive and defensive coordinators will be.
"I appreciate the frustration of those who want answers now," Neuheisel said, "but where would I be if I don’t get it done the right way?"
Neuheisel is 15-22 at UCLA, 8-19 in conference play, so does he feel he must win this year to remain on the job?
"I feel like I have to win just for me; I’ve got to figure out how to do it," he said. "It’s up to somebody else to decide if I stay."
T.J. Simers writes for the Los Angeles Times.