UCLA party in the O.C.

From The Sports Desk

May 26, 2011|By Steve Virgen,

It's not too often you hear an NCAA Division I football coach doo-doo-doo the intro to "Jesse's Girl" during a phone interview.

Maybe I caught UCLA's Rick Neuheisel on a good day, but he was all giddy talking about Orange County and the upcoming O.C. Dinner Celebration for UCLA Athletics. For the second straight year, Neuheisel is coming to Newport Beach for the special event at Barry Saywitz's luxurious home, this time on June 4.

Last year, Neuheisel played the guitar with the OC-based Flashback Heart Attack, a band that covers 80s hits. Neuheisel was the star, strumming during the Rick Springfield song. He had just told the people in attendance how excited he was for the season.


Neuheisel provided a light moment, going retro with the 80s cover band. But the past isn't usually funny for Neuheisel and the Bruins. Well, not if you're a UCLA fan. In 2010, the Bruins went 4-8 for the second time in three years. Now Neuheisel is well aware of the importance of the 2011 season. Winning will not only keep him at UCLA, but would also attract more players to his program.

"Orange County is a very important piece to the puzzle when it comes to recruiting," Neuheisel said. "There are a number of great schools and great coaches in that area. You have to be on the top of your game. Every step you take is huge … I think, if we can get guys on our campus and see what we are building then they are going to want to be a part of it. We just have to be successful on the field. And we have to be what we say we are going to be, which is a championship contender."

Neuheisel isn't the only headliner for the special dinner. UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland is also coming. The two high-profile coaches will be joined by some big names from UCLA: Jamaal Wilkes, Rafer Johnson, Tyus Edney and Cade McNown among others. The night is to benefit the Wooden Athletic Fund, which generates financial support to assist all sports at UCLA. Information on the event can be found at or by calling (310) 206-3302. John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, died June 4 last year.

I told Neuheisel that I didn't mean to offend him, but this year's event seems bigger and better because Howland is coming.

"I don't mind the fact that we happen to have a great basketball program," Neuheisel responded. "What I'm hoping is that we can have the football program get back to the way it was like that, high in the ranks."

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