UCLA’s Jerry Neuheisel Steps Up Into Prime Time Coaching

UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel

The wavy blonde hair is unmistakable in his family gene pool. The voice even sounds so much like his father’s. And now Jerry Neuheisel’s coaching resume is picking up in a path previously taken by his famous father. Rick Neuheisel was the receiver’s coach at UCLA from 1990-1993. Now his son is moving up from grad assistant to receiver’s coach. There is something so familiar looking as UCLA’s Jerry Neuheisel steps up into prime time coaching.

UCLA’s Jerry Neuheisel Steps Up Into Prime Time Coaching

The younger Neuheisel has served his dues in the grad assistant ranks. He graduated from UCLA in only three years. Then it was a one year shot at pro ball overseas. After that, he returned to the states and got a call from Noel Mazzone asking him to join Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Texas A&M as a grad assistant. Mazzone had been the offensive coordinator at UCLA for all of Neuheisel’s playing days in Westwood.

After two years, Sumlin and Mazzone were out at A&M and eventually headed to the Arizona Wildcats. Neuheisel, however, was going elsewhere. He got the invitation to go back, to his alma mater, and the alma mater of his father, and join Chip Kelly’s staff.

After three years as a grad assistant working with the quarterbacks and receivers, Neuheisel was promoted in January to his first full time position coaching job. Ironically enough, UCLA receiver’s coach Jimmie Dougherty was leaving to go to Tucson to join the staff of former UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. The receiver’s coaching job at UCLA was open and for the second time in three decades, it was being filled by a Neuheisel.

Literally A Lifelong Bruin

He has the familiar confidence of his father. There is no air of conceit, but there is a recognizable conviction that he believes he can do the job. And of all places, the Neuheisel family school. Considering Jerry was born at UCLA Medical Center while his dad was on Terry Donahue’s staff, the loyalty is certain.

“I think I knew I was always going to find my way back here,” Neuheisel said Wednesday. “I believe in this place. This place is unbelievably special, and it is different than anywhere else in the country.”

Neuheisel specifically cited the academic mix with the athletics, proclaiming UCLA as a national barometer in both categories. “There is nothing like this place where you have a university that is daring enough to be great at everything they do. We’re not an academic school, with just academics. And we’re not just a sports school. We’re the number one public university in the country. We play in the Rose Bowl, which has been ranked the number one stadium in college football. We’ve got a basketball team that was just in the Final Four. This university has the guts to say we can be great at everything we do.”

You can feel the Bruin blue and gold seeping from his veins and sense he could have gone on longer extolling the virtues of his school if you let him. He could have soured on UCLA after his dad was fired at the end of the 2011 season. Ironically, it turns out he is the school’s greatest pitchman.

The Tour Of Japan

Neuheisel spent three years as a back-up quarterback from 2012-2015 at that aforementioned famed stadium. And it was his role as a perpetual back-up that caused him to leave UCLA as soon as he graduated, even though he had a year of eligibility left.

“I unfortunately did not get the starting job my senior year, and I was a little bit down on the game of football. Going to Japan and being around those guys, and realizing they work Monday-Friday. And on Saturday and Sunday, all they want to do is get out and play,” Neuheisel said, pointing out that his tight end at the time was 43 years old. He said it gave him a different perspective. “It wasn’t for money. It wasn’t for anything like that. But it was just for love of the game. It reinvigorated my love of the game and it’s probably why I wanted to come back and get into coaching.” He also came away with a football-working knowledge of the Japanese language and professes to still maintain some of his linguistic skills. “Choto,” says Neuheisel, translating to, “a little.”

Lessons Learned

He now brings the lessons learned from a life in the family business. From Mazzone, Neuheisel took in communication skills. “Coach Mazzone brings an unbelievable way to always know the right thing to say. When we’re down, all of a sudden, he knew how to lighten the mood and to lock us back in. He always the knew the way to get our team right back on track.” At this point it is inevitable for one’s memory to harken back to UCLA against Texas in Dallas in 2014. With the Bruins down and starting quarterback Brett Hundley injured, Neuheisel stepped in and delivered the game winning touchdown drive late in the game. It was his on-field highlight of his UCLA career.

UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel
Then-UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel against the Texas Longhorns in 2014. Photo courtesy Getty Images

From his predecessor at the receiver’s coaching spot at UCLA, Jimmie Dougherty, Neuheisel says again it was about the communication. “Jimmie has a really good way of communicating the fundamentals,” Neuheisel said.

His New Students

There is a familiarity with his new group of students already. As a grad assistant, Neuheisel was already working with both the quarterbacks and the receivers. He said his history as a quarterback helps him with the receivers in terms being in the right place at the right time for the quarterback. His new pupils are buying in. Kyle Philips told us earlier in the week, “Oh, man, I love Jerry! He comes every day with a lot of energy. Everyone loves working with him.” Philips also said Neuheisel has brought a detailed refinement to what the receivers are doing with their feet and their hips as they go through their pass patterns.

Chase Cota also said it is the details and knowledge that are a big part of what Neuheisel is bringing to the receiver’s room. “He’s watched us all for so many years, that he has a lot of good pointers and he understands exactly what the little flaws in our game could be.” Cota also said Neuheisel is, “a composed coach. He is not a huge screamer or anything. So that way when he does get on you, you know it means something.”

Neuheisel was given the chance to hear some of the adjectives said about him without knowing specifically who they were from. When it came to taking those in and then assessing his own coaching style, he said he sees it as a teaching role. “I want them to understand the ‘why.’ I want them to know why it works,” Neuheisel said. “Because when they know why it works, you allow their own individual creativity to come out. That’s what our goal of this offense is. We’re going to put you guys in the best position to succeed and give yourself that creativity that you bring to our team, that unique aspect that you bring and let that shine on Saturday’s.”

The Family Business

Rick Neuheisel is living proof that the coaching profession is a tough gig. He was hired and fired by Colorado, Washington, and his own UCLA. Has he tried to talk his son of the harsh business? “He’ll say yes, but he is a liar,” the younger Neuheisel says with genetically inherited wry grin. “I understand the weird parts of this job. When you get fired everybody knows about it. When you’re winning too much, you’re moving. And when you’re losing too much you’re moving. The one piece of advice he always gave me is you have to make sure you have an unbelievable partner.”

UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Jerry and his wife, Nicole, have been married just shy of one year. “I’m lucky enough to have found a wife who understands what the role is and what the job entails and she’s super supportive.” Neuheisel says that is one big thing his dad has helped learn. He reiterates that his father has not tried to talk him into another field. “Has he tried to convince me otherwise? No. Not one bit. Even though he will tell you otherwise.”

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