March 24, 2011

Neuheisel takes big swing to turn around UCLA

Here is this week's "Three And Out," a weekly feature that will provide a quick but opinionated take from Tom Dienhart on three hot topics.

1. March Madness, indeed. I enjoy the NCAA tournament as much as the next guy. The drama, the Gus Johnson screams, the tears, the oh-my-gosh greatness of Butler over Pitt. But I still don't think a tourney is the best way to crown a true national champion. No one can look me in the eye and say that VCU, Richmond, Butler or Marquette truly are among the 16 best teams in the nation. (VCU was seeded fourth, Richmond third, Butler second and Marquette 11th in their respective league tourneys after their work during the regular season.) It simply isn't true. Instead of telling us the best team in the nation, the Big Dance just tells us the hottest team in the nation. Is it more impressive to dominate for three months or three weekends? The answer is simple. While college football's BCS certainly isn't perfect, it at least rewards teams for excellence over an extended period of time.

2. Watchful eyes in Westwood. No coach or school has a more critical spring practice than Rick Neuheisel and UCLA. In three seasons at his alma mater, Neuheisel has failed to turn the corner. He has posted just one winning season - a 7-6 mark in 2009 after a victory over Temple in the middling EagleBank Bowl. Neuheisel's overall record is 15-22, with an 8-19 mark in Pac-10 play. At the root of Neuheisel's ills has been a horrible offense. UCLA's attack was eighth in the Pac-10 in 2008 (283.3 ypg), eighth again in 2009 (337.4 ypg), then bottomed out last season, ranking last in the Pac-10 and 100th in the nation (316.7 ypg). The passing offense was especially putrid, ranking last in the conference and 116th in the country (141.1 ypg). Neuheisel shook up his staff in hopes of better results. San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson was hired to serve as coordinator. Jim Mastro was hired away from Nevada to coach tight ends and to aid in the continued development of the running game, which incorporates elements of the Wolf Pack's "Pistol" scheme. Neuheisel also hired a new defensive coordinator, getting Joe Tresey to leave USF. Will all the changes matter? They'd better in what looks like a weak Pac-12 South, or UCLA likely will be looking for a new coach.

3. Uhh, don't think so. There was a report recently in the Miami Herald that said friends of former Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon say "he would love the Arizona head job if it comes open." Don't believe it. First of all, Wildcats coach Mike Stoops isn't on a hot seat in Tucson. Second, Stoops and Shannon are good friends, and It's difficult to imagine Shannon stepping over Stoops' body to take the Arizona job. In addition, the duo shares the same agent - Neil Cornrich - likely lessening even more the likelihood of a Stoops-for-Shannon swap. Shannon looked at several head-coaching and coordinator jobs this offseason. He still could land somewhere in 2011, but it's looking more likely that he'll sit out this season and look toward '12.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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