UCLA's Rick Neuheisel stays positive in first comments after firing
At one point during a conference call promoting Friday's Pac-12 Conference football championship game, he even went so far as to say he was not disappointed about being let go.
"No, we all know what we're getting into when we get into this," he said, referring to the coaching profession. "I'm excited for the challenge Friday. If it is going to be my last time at UCLA, I want to make it special."
Neuheisel spoke about an hour after UCLA announced it was firing him. Win or lose Friday against No. 8 Oregon, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will take over as interim head coach.
"I will talk to the players this afternoon and make sure they know this is not about me, it's about us," Neuheisel said of Friday's game, which will be played at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
UCLA is an underdog of more than 30 points.
Asked what went wrong during the four seasons in which he had a 21-28 record, Neuheisel said, "There is plenty of time to think that over. I am thankful for the opportunity. This has always been a place where I wanted to be at and have a chance to bring it back to being a place where everyone could be proud. We have fallen short of that, but there are lots of things I'm proud of from my time here."
Neuheisel declined to say what reason he was given by Athletic Director Dan Guerrero for his dismissal. "I don't need a reason," he said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity Dan gave me. Certainly when you're the UCLA coach you have to play better against USC. When you lose in that fashion, it's a tough pill to swallow."
Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said he was "sad, sad," to hear Neuheisel had been let go.
Neuheisel said he hadn't considered any future plans.
"This has hit me between the eyes," he said. "I hadn't thought about that. I'm on track to do the best I can for this particular team. That'll be the case at least through Friday. I love coaching. I'll take some time to figure it out."
UCLA linebacker Sean Westgate expressed surprise about the move and said Guerrero had met with the team Monday morning "to give us a precursor on how everything was going to go."
Of Neuheisel, Westgate said, "He recruited me personally. I really liked him. This has me upset. But I know this is a business."
Westgate said the Bruins would try to focus on looking forward and not looking back at mistakes -- most notably a 50-0 loss to USC in Saturday's rivalry renewal.
"You can't dwell on the past," he said. "This is a sport where you have to have a short memory. If you're thinking about the previous play, you're [in trouble] on the next one. That's how we have to look at this now. We can't look at the past."
As for the team's motivation in Friday's game, the Bruins still have a chance at playing in the Rose Bowl, as well as sending their old coach out in style.
"Everything you could add to this has been added," Westgate said. "We're certainly going to be playing for him."
-- Chris Foster and Mike Hiserman
Photo: Rick Neuheisel. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.