Nov. 11, 1999
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Rick Neuheisel returns to the site of his greatest triumph as a player this weekend, hopeful to make another visit on New Year's Day.
Neuheisel, the 38-year-old first-year coach of the Washington Huskies, passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns to lead UCLA to a 45-9 victory over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl game.
Now, his 23rd-ranked Huskies are on the verge of playing in their first Rose Bowl game in seven years, needing victories over Pacific-10 Conference cellar-dwellers UCLA and Washington State to clinch the berth.
The Huskies (6-3, 5-1 Pac-10) and Bruins (3-6, 1-5) meet Saturday at the Rose Bowl, and Washington entertains WSU (2-7, 1-5) in Seattle a week later.
"It'll be special, although it'll be a little different, not being on the UCLA sideline," Neuheisel said of his return to Pasadena. "The opportunities UCLA afforded me are too numerous to count. I'm very, very fond of all my experiences there."
That hasn't always been the case. Neuheisel became a UCLA assistant coach in 1988, and seemed in line to become offensive coordinator when the position opened following the 1993 season.
However, then-coach Terry Donahue tabbed Bob Toledo, who had just been fired from Texas A&M, for the job, and Neuheisel left shortly thereafter for Colorado.
After one year as an assistant on Bill McCartney's staff, Neuheisel was named head coach on Nov. 29, 1994 after McCartney decided to step down. When he got the job, the 33-year-old Neuheisel became the youngest head coach in the Division I-A ranks, and he's now the third-youngest.
A little over a year later, Donahue decided to retire, and Neuheisel had an opportunity to return to his alma mater. He decided against it.
"If somebody had told me I'd get offered the UCLA head coaching job and turn it down, I'd have said they were absolutely nuts," he said earlier this week. "But the timing of what took place made it very difficult to consider because of the great leap of faith Colorado had taken in giving me an opportunity."
UCLA wound up hiring Toledo to succeed Donahue.
The timing was different 10 months ago. After four years at Colorado, where his teams went 33-14, Neuheisel took the Washington job, succeeding Jim Lambright.
"They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," explained Neuheisel, saying it wasn't just the money. "Things are going very well for me. UCLA did a good job hiring Bob Toledo."
Neuheisel still has vivid memories of his performance in the Rose Bowl game nearly 16 years ago.
"It was one of those days I wish I could capture on video, relive it every day," he said. "It was one of the great days of my life."
He would love to have another one on Saturday, and repeat that against the Big Ten champion seven weeks later.