UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel thinks he deserves to stay

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel believes he deserves to keep his job.

He also realizes many fans won’t agree unless the Bruins manage an

enormous upset victory in the Pac-12 title game.

One day after No. 9 Southern California’s 50-0 destruction of

its crosstown rival, the Bruins (6-6, 5-4 Pac-12) began

preparations for a visit to Oregon amid fresh uncertainty about

Neuheisel’s future. The Bruins backed into the league’s inaugural

title game despite finishing two games behind postseason-banned USC

in the Pac-12 South standings, and the UCLA campus is rife with

rumors Neuheisel will be fired after Friday’s game at Autzen

Stadium.

Neuheisel respectfully disagreed with the calls for his head

Sunday, particularly with his team heading into the postseason.

”I was told we needed to move the needle, and if the needle

moved, that we’d be fine,” said Neuheisel, 21-29 in his fourth

year in charge of his alma mater. ”I’d get to continue along my

five years of my five-year contract. We have won five conference

games, as opposed to three last year. We have won the right to

represent the South in the conference championship. We have

certainly had some unfortunate evenings where things haven’t gone

our way, but I think the program is headed in the right

direction.”

Athletic Director Dan Guerrero also is under fire for the

football team’s inconsistency along with the storied men’s

basketball team’s horrific start to the season amid expensive

renovations on both the Rose Bowl and Pauley Pavilion. Guerrero

said he’ll evaluate the football program after Friday’s title game,

but even Neuheisel’s players have heard the rumors he won’t be

around to coach in a bowl game even if the Pac-12 successfully

petitions the NCAA for a Bruins berth despite the losing record

they would have after a loss to Oregon.

”Coach Neuheisel won’t want any of us to think about that,”

quarterback Kevin Prince said. ”He won’t want that in our minds at

all. This is about the team, moving forward and trying to achieve

the goal we set out to achieve. Obviously we want him to stay. We

love having Coach Neuheisel as our coach, but we’re focused on the

game on Friday.”

Neuheisel gave the day off to his Bruins on Sunday, allowing

them to heal up from a late-night thrashing. UCLA will play for a

conference title six days after the biggest conference loss in

school history, heading into the league’s most intimidating stadium

– a place where the Bruins lost by 47 points last year.

”It’s a little weird,” said Prince, who passed for 261 yards

at the Coliseum but couldn’t get the Bruins in the end zone on

three possessions inside the USC 10. ”Obviously, things didn’t go

the way we wanted. We would have preferred to make the championship

game by winning it outright, but the situation has presented itself

where we can do what we set out to do, which is win a Pac-12

championship.”

After winning three of their previous four games, the Bruins’

embarrassment at the Coliseum revealed they still have plenty of

work to do if they hope to compete with the high-flying Ducks.

Although UCLA moved the ball, it managed just 124 yards rushing and

allowed Prince to be sacked four times – and that’s to say nothing

of a defense that yielded 572 yards while barely putting pressure

on Matt Barkley.

Yet with everything that went wrong, the Bruins will head back

to practice Monday night realizing they’re just one improbable win

away from a Rose Bowl berth – their first appearance since Jan. 1,

1999.

”If we win, people can’t say too much,” Prince said. ”They

can still say we backed into it, but it wouldn’t take away a

legitimate win that beating Oregon would be.”