Nov. 15, 2008
SEATTLE (AP) -Rick Neuheisel grabbed his wife from the stands, his kids flanked to the side, and walked out of Husky Stadium late on Saturday night with a victory and some closure.
Five years after his messy firing from Washington, with a mixture of cheers and boos, funny signs and cheap shots from a half-filled stadium, Neuheisel came full circle watching his UCLA team easily outclass Washington 27-7.
Neuheisel pumped his fists with emphasis at every big play, flailed his arms in disgust at each of quarterback Kevin Craft's three interceptions and showed off his energetic personality once again on the sidelines he once walked.
"I think he was just a little bit more emotional, a little more intense about what we had to get done on the football field," UCLA running back Khalil Bell said.
"He's a very emotional person in general. Knowing this was Washington, at Washington, a homecoming of sort for him, we knew it was going to be a battle and we knew we had to come in and get this win for him."
The Bruins (4-6, 3-4 Pac-10) scored on the first drive of the game and never trailed as Washington fans who showed up on a cool November night to voice their anger and animosity about Neuheisel's messy divorce from the school in 2003 were left to boo their own lame-duck coach Tyrone Willingham in his final home game at Washington.
"I hope that we can talk about the Bruins and the Huskies from now on instead of the messy ending," Neuheisel said. "It will never go completely away because it was a controversial time. It will be exciting for me when it's the stories about the players getting ready to play than what happened back in 2003."
Neuheisel did his best all week to soothe the return. The first-year UCLA coach even apologized to angry Washington fans who blame him for the school's 18-50 mark since his firing in 2003.
But with the two schools occupying the bottom of the Pac-10 standings, the focus was bound to be on the sidelines.
Many fans made certain Neuheisel knew of their displeasure. A large contingent showed up with signs, ranging from "Neu-weasel!" to one asking for betting advice -- "Hey Slick, should I take UW and the points?" -- in reference to Neuheisel's involvement in an NCAA tournament pool that was part of his dismissal at Washington.
But some chose to remember Neuheisel's accomplishments in Seattle with signs acknowledging the 2001 Rose Bowl title, a 33-16 overall record and bowl games in all four seasons.
"I had great years here at the University of Washington. ... My memories are mostly favorable," Neuheisel said. "I understand the messy ending, I acknowledge my part in it and I'm happy that hopefully we can put this behind us."
Bell led UCLA with 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the Bruins handed Washington (0-10, 0-7) its 12th consecutive loss and kept the Huskies the only winless team in the country. Washington is 0-10 for the first time ever and its best hope for avoiding the first winless season in school history is next week's Apple Cup against equally woeful Washington State.
"I would say it adds to the urgency," Willingham said of avoiding 0-12. "I think our guys feel it. I feel it."
Neuheisel first stepped on the field about two hours before kickoff, his first time in the stadium since June 2003, and lingered near midfield taking in his old surroundings. The one time Neuheisel's name was mentioned through the stadium's speakers, he was mildly booed.
His security detail was more cursory than a show of force with one lone state trooper jogging across the field with Neuheisel when the Bruins emerged from the locker room before kickoff.
After the victory, Neuheisel got his wife, Susan, from the stands and walked off the field satisfied with the return. One of their older sons yelled "scoreboard" to a group of fans around the tunnel on his way out of the stadium.
"In some ways, maybe, hopefully, a little closure," Neuheisel said.
Meanwhile, Willingham walked the Washington sideline for the last time in Husky Stadium, his future already determined to be unemployment following the Huskies season finale Dec. 6 at California.
A familiar name to Neuheisel tried to give Washington momentum early. Trenton Tuiasosopo, cousin of Marques who led Washington to the 2001 Rose Bowl, intercepted Craft to set up Washington's first touchdown and deflected another pass that became Craft's second interception of the first half.
Craft threw his third interception early in the second half, but rebounded by engineering a 15-play, 92-yard drive, hitting on all three of his throws. Bell then flew over the pile from the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Bruins up 24-7. Neuheisel gave an emphatic fist pump on the sideline and had a high-five waiting for Craft as he came off the field, while the remnants of a half-filled Husky Stadium -- the announced crowd of 59,738 was tickets sold -- started heading for the exits.
"In some ways it was important to try and play well and get a win but it was more for our team. I tried to make sure our guys understood [that]," Neuheisel said.
Washington's only score -- a 7-yard TD run by Brandon Johnson -- came on a drive in the first quarter that started at the UCLA 11. The Huskies finished with only 135 total yards.
"I never in a million years would have thought we would turn out 0-10," Johnson said.