Rick Neuheisel, ousted as the head coach at UCLA after last season, is still one of the faces of the Pac-12.
Neuheisel has moved into a prominent role with the new Pac-12 Network, serving as a studio analyst and being one of the centerpieces of the on-air talent. Well-spoken, and out-spoken, he should thrive in the roll.
He’s been all over the league — he grew up in the Phoenix-area, going to ASU games; his sister was a cheerleader at Arizona when he was quarterbacking UCLA in the early 1980s; he has a USC law degree; and he was the head coach at Colorado, Washington and UCLA.
Neuheisel spent some time earlier this week talking to LindysSports.com:
Q: There are still some distribution details to work out, but does the Pac-12 Network level the playing field somewhat for the league from a national point of view?
Neuheisel: “I think that will be a byproduct of it, there is no question about it. I don’t know that was the design. I think the design was, ‘Look, this is where the world of televised sports and football is going, why don’t we do it ourselves, rather than do what the Big Ten did and get a network partner. I think the know-how, the savvy exists on the West Coast. There will be growing pains, but the byproduct will be that more people will see the action and we will be able to tell so many more stories. Just the other day, ESPN had a little piece previewing the Pac-12 this year. They talked about Oregon and they talked about USC. There were 10 teams that got no mention. That would never happen on ESPN if they were talking about the SEC. They can say, ‘Well (the SEC) deserves it.’ That’s because the SEC created it. By having our own network, we don’t have to stand around and not give the proper coverage to the other schools in this conference that deserve it.”
Q: What’s the fine line between being an advocate for the league and still being an honest analyst?
Neuheisel: “I think our role is certainly being an advocate for the league. Now, we’re going to tell the truth when we’re talking about the league, but in terms of comparing apples to apples with respect to the other conferences in the league, we’re going to trumpet our own cause. But we’re going to be critical when criticism is merited. Hell, I’m a football coach. My tail has been ripped so many times. People have asked if I would be willing to do that. I said, ‘I will be fair.'”
Q: A comment that has been attributed to you is that you said it’s harder to win the Pac-12 than the SEC. How so?
Neuheisel: “Only because there are nine conference games. By sheer math, you have to win an extra game. In the SEC, I know everybody is patting themselves on the shoulder about how good they are, but they play eight conference games. And if you look across the board, their non-conference schedule rarely includes more than one marquee name for the most part, and in many cases, not any. I’ve got my hat off to the SEC. I think it’s an unbelievably well-run conference. I think they are unbelievably smart. Look at Nov. 17. Look at the games they play on Nov. 17. Who pads their schedule with patsies on Nov. 17 other than a smart conference because they know Nov. 24 is the game the alums are pointing to and they want a healthy team? It’s very well-run league. They have great investment. They have marquee coaches, and they deserve the accolades that they get. But, by sheer math, winning the conference is harder in a nine-game conference season.”
Q: In terms of that Pac-12 race, who do you have, USC or Oregon?
Neuheisel: “If both teams stay relatively healthy and play as they’re capable of, they will play in the championship game. I’m on record as saying USC would win the first one and Oregon would win the championship game.”
Q: What’s the reasoning behind that?
Neuheisel: “I think that it’s very difficult to have a myriad of game plans against Oregon because of the pace at which they play. I think with the film of how (USC) played not only this year but last year — which means USC would have beaten them two times in a row — Oregon would have some answers.”
Q: There are a lot of new starting quarterbacks in the league, including one you brought to UCLA. What can we expect from Brett Hundley?
Neuheisel: “I think that Hundley is going to be a big-time player. We worked hard to get him. I thought he was going to really be a difference-maker for us, especially with the how we played in the Pistol, because it was going to utilize his legs and his athletic ability. The offense he is in now with Noel Mazzone at the helm (as coordinator), I have to wait and see if he’s got all the anticipation and the accuracy that is required in basically a throw-and-catch offense. We’ll see how much Noel utilizes Brett’s legs; I think to not utilize them is a waste.”
Q: There are four new head high-profile coaches in the league (UCLA’s Jim Mora, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, ASU’s Todd Graham and Washington State’s Mike Leach). Who walks into the best situation?
Neuheisel: “I think Mike Leach. He’s moving into a program that is starved to win and is giving him what he needs. I think his athletic director, Bill Moos, is a great football man. He’s moving into an offense that is used to being spread out. It’s ready-made for him. Now, I don’t know if they have the defensive personnel to get things accomplished as quickly as he would like, but I would not be shocked — in fact, I’m going to predict — that they get to a bowl game. I’ll tell you that they’re going to beat BYU (Thursday night).”