Neuheisel's familiar sideline call: Quarterback shriek - LA Times

Neuheisel's familiar sideline call: Quarterback shriek - LA Times

Published Nov. 18, 2009 11:00 p.m. ET

By Chris Foster, Los Angeles Times


Rick Neuheisel knows it, he just struggles to control it.

"I'm hard on quarterbacks," he says.


That goes for when things are going good, such as last week, when Neuheisel was in Kevin Prince's face even as the Bruins were routing Washington State . . .

. . . and when things are going not-so-good, such as when backup Richard Brehaut was admonished after his one series against Washington ended in a fumble.

"It took me a little bit of time to understand why Coach Neuheisel does that," says Kevin Craft, who was often the object of red-faced, drill-sergeant-like rants when he was the starter last season. "He's passionate about this and wants to coach us, and he's doing it in a manner that it's on you."

The Bruins have a quarterbacks coach in Norm Chow, who mixes his own version of tough love with a professorial approach and nurturing words. On game days, though, Chow's umbilical cord is the telephone line to his seat in the coaches' box at the top of the stadium. Neuheisel's face is the first one a quarterback sees when he comes off the field.

Neuheisel's taskmaster style has been felt by quarterbacks at Washington and Colorado too. Some praise him; at least one prefers not to talk about him.

While Neuheisel says he defers to Chow in handling UCLA's quarterbacks, his I've-been-there, done-that experience and position as head coach is hard to suppress.

Neuheisel was a UCLA quarterback during a highly competitive era, when the team had five different starters in five seasons and still went to three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. His timeline -- from playing for Homer Smith, the Bruins' demanding offensive coordinator, to years teaching the position in college and the NFL -- shaped strong views that spill out in emotional moments.

"I'm inquisitive," Neuheisel says. "I need to be a sounding board, getting the information and giving it to Norm. A lot of my conversations start with, 'What just happened?' If I don't feel like they know, then I get agitated."

The chain of command can get complicated.

"Norm and I talked about this before he ever took the job, that it would be much easier for the quarterbacks if I were more of a silent entity than offering opinions that might be contrary," Neuheisel says.

But being a silent partner can be difficult, especially during games.

Chow works most closely with the quarterbacks, but when push comes to shove, he says, "Rick is the boss."

Neuheisel offers opinions in practice and makes it clear what he wants during games. Compliments almost always have a rider attached, usually about needing to be more consistent.

"I get a lot of my instincts from having played the position," Neuheisel says. "I have been the fifth-string guy all the way to the starter. I know exactly where each kid is emotionally."

UCLA's quarterback play this season has experienced peaks and valleys. The CliffsNotes version:

Prince played well before suffering a broken jaw in UCLA's second game, against Tennessee, sat out three weeks, struggled with consistency upon his return, and, just when he looked to be pulling things together, suffered a concussion in the second quarter on Nov. 7 against Washington.

Brehaut, a first-year freshman, has played sporadically -- and, lately, not particularly well. Against Oregon State and Washington, he played one series -- each ended with him being sacked and fumbling.

Craft, a senior, also has played in spurts, his highlight coming against Washington, when he guided a UCLA comeback despite having not taken a practice snap in two weeks.

Prince was back in the lineup last week against Washington State, passing for 314 yards and running for 76.

Yet there he was on the sidelines in the second quarter, getting a scolding from Neuheisel even though he had already passed for one touchdown and ran for another in building a 23-0 lead.

"You just have to play like you know how and accept the criticism when things go wrong," Prince says. "That's the way Coach Neuheisel coaches. He gets riled up and wants to win badly."

Neuheisel began formulating his philosophies as a walk-on at UCLA under Coach Terry Donahue and coordinator Smith in 1979. By his senior year, Neuheisel had a scholarship and was the Bruins' starter, leading them to the Rose Bowl, where he was MVP.

"Homer Smith demanded you soak up knowledge," says former Bruins quarterback Tom Ramsey, who entered UCLA with Neuheisel in 1979.

"You not only had to know what 11 guys were doing on the field, you had to know what all 22 guys were doing. If you didn't, you weren't going to be on the roster."

Says Neuheisel: "Homer didn't just teach UCLA football, he taught you the history of football. It was like astronomy or chemistry class, and you had to get an 'A.' I wasn't as athletic as the other guys, so it allowed me to compete."

As tough as Smith was, Neuheisel went from bench-warmer to starter under his guidance.

John Hessler, who played quarterback at Colorado when Neuheisel was offensive coordinator and then head coach, says the biggest thing he learned was "to accept responsibility for everything that happens on the field." He recalls experiencing the same kind of ups and downs with his coach as the UCLA quarterbacks have.

Hessler remembers that in 1995, after he threw for five touchdowns in his college debut, an upset over 10th-ranked Oklahoma, Neuheisel told him, "You deserve it, kid. You deserve all this."

But then, two years later against Michigan, a national television audience watched the coach rail at his quarterback before Hessler even got to the sideline.

"We had a love-hate relationship for a long time," Hessler says. "He chewed on me harder than any steak I have ever chewed on. It's because he expects a ton."

Another former Neuheisel quarterback doesn't seem as forgiving. Toronto Argonauts quarterback Cody Pickett, who played four seasons for Neuheisel at Washington, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying through a team official that he was uncomfortable talking about his former coach.

Neuheisel has always maintained that the television cameras never show his post-rant, follow-up conversations, "when I go back and say, 'I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe you had it in you.'

"I never leave anyone bleeding after one of my tirades," the coach says.

Craft, Neuheisel's target in several memorable outbursts during a difficult 2008 UCLA season, eventually came to understand.

"The main thing is to hear what he's saying," Craft says. "You can't just think, 'Oh, he's yelling at me.' You have to understand what he wants you to apply."