An anticipated coaching purge in the Pacific 12 Conference began rolling Monday when UCLA and Arizona State dumped two men with local ties.
Two Pac-12 coaches with significant ties to the state, Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson, are out of jobs after their respective schools, UCLA and Arizona State, gave them the boot on Monday. A third, Washington State’s Paul Wulff, remains the Cougars’ coach — at least for now.
The Bruins (6-6, 5-4 Pac-12) ousted Neuheisel, who had been head coach since December, 2007, despite the fact that UCLA will play Oregon for the Pac-12 Championship Friday night in Eugene, and remains bowl eligible. Neuheisel, with a 21-28 record since taking over the program, never came close to achieving his often-stated goal of challenging USC for city dominance.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, who canned Neuheisel two days after UCLA’s 50-0 loss to the Trojans (worst UCLA loss ever in the cross-town series), will allow Neuheisel to coach against Oregon. If the Bruins receive a bowl berth, assistant Mike Johnson will become interim head coach.
Erickson is gone after Arizona State failed to live up to its own expectations for a fourth consecutive season. The Sun Devils became bowl eligible for the first time in four years after starting this season 6-2 (No. 22 Associated Press ranking), but dropped their final four contests, botching a shot at playing in the title game.
Erickson was 31-30 in five years at Arizona State.
Replacing Jim Lambright, Neuheisel coached at the University of Washington from 1999-02 and had a career record of 33-16 (.673). He coached the Huskies in four bowl games, winning the 2001 Rose (34-24 over Purdue) and losing the 1999 Holiday (24-20 to Kansas State), the 2001 Holiday (47-43 to Texas) and 2002 Sun (34-24 to Purdue).
In 2003, Neuheisel infamously was involved a betting pool on college basketball, an NCAA rules scandal that rocked the UW athletic department. He was and fired by then-Athletic Director Barbara Hedges for a series of lies, most notably one denying that he had interviewed to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers when, in fact, he had.
After Hedges fired Neuheisel, he sued the NCAA and the UW for unfairly terminating his employment contract. During a trial to resolve the matter, it was revealed that the NCAA failed to turn over crucial evidence to Neuheisel’s attorneys. The development bolstered Neuheisel’s claim that the NCAA acted improperly during its investigation that eventually led to his firing.
The NCAA and University of Washington settled before the case went to the jury. Neuheisel received $4.5 million and the forgiveness of a loan, reportedly of $1 million.
An Everett native, Erickson coached at Washington State from 1987-88 and the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98. His Seahawks teams went 31-33 and never made a playoff appearance. Mike Holmgren replaced Erickson, who had stints with Oregon State (1999-02), the San Francisco 49ers (2003-04) and University of Idaho (2006), before taking the Arizona State job.
Wulff, whose Cougars lost the Apple Cup 38-21 Saturday to finish 4-8, met with Athletic Director Bill Moos Sunday for 90 minutes, after which Moos issued a statement that his discussions with Wulff about Wulff’s future are “ongoing.” On Monday, Wulff attended a luncheon after which he spoke somewhat optimistically to reporters about his WSU future.
“People that know football know that I should keep my job,” he said.
Wulff is 9-40 in four seasons at Washington State. He has a year left on a five-year contract, now worth $660,000 annually, when he took over in 2008.
After the Apple Cup loss, Wulff said, “Our program has come a long way. I’m very proud of where we’re at. We’re right on the cusp of being really, really good. Not a lot of teams can start three different quarterbacks in a season and still be in a position to be bowl eligible going into the end of the season. Looking around, I’m very proud of what this team did under the circumstances with our quarterback situation, which is such a key role for a football team.”
The delay on Wulff’s future with WSU apparently stems from the fact that Moos wants to retain Wulff, while school president Elson Floyd has reportedly never felt that Wulff was the right fit.
Until Moos and Floyd are on the same page, Wulff is still employed.