Part of Pac-12 Week.
You can't get two college towns in America much different than Los Angeles and Pullman, Wash., or two coaching jobs in college football much different than UCLA and Washington State. On the surface, you can't get much different bosses than the outgoing, ever optimistic Rick Neuheisel, former steward of two high profile head coaching jobs before his 40th birthday, and Paul Wulff, a stoic type with a rough life story and a far more patient, obscure path to his first big-time gig.
Three years after they were hired to lift their alma maters out of mediocrity, though, Neuheisel and Wulff find their paths crossing this fall as two of the most embattled coaches in the country. The Bruins and Cougars have both gone downhill from "mediocre": UCLA collapsed to 4-8 last year for the second time in Neuheisel's brief tenure, and Washington State only narrowed the margins of defeat a little en route to its third consecutive season with double-digit losses — a level of futility it had only reached once before in 88 years before Wulff assumed the top job.
You don't have to be a human resources expert to see a pink slip coming in one of these men's immediate futures; in fact, they can see it coming quite clearly themselves. But who has the better chance of making it through his make-or-break campaign? For that, there's only one answer: Let's go to the tape…
There you have it, folks: The numbers never lie, and the numbers say … well, the numbers say it's a grim forecast for them both. Neuheisel may have the talent at his disposal to lead UCLA back to a bowl game, but that same talent costs him the cushion that comes with being relegated to near-hopelessness. If Wulff can coax anything good out of the Cougars whatsoever — three wins? four? — then, hey, that's positive momentum right there.
For Neuheisel, the standard for "positive" is actually a positive record, and maybe a hint or two of progress toward the end of the "Los Angeles Football Monopoly" his athletic department so helpfully suggested three years ago, before his first game as head coach. But that doesn't mean his team is any better position to meet it.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.