Bellotti says no to UCLA on eve of Las Vegas Bowl


Also on UCLA's to-do list this week: a football game.

There has been plenty of buzz about the Bruins on and off the Strip the last four days, though it has little to do with Saturday night's Las Vegas Bowl game against Brigham Young, a rematch of an early September game won by UCLA, 27-17.

UCLA, people might have heard, is looking for a new coach. This has sent Athletic Director Dan Guerrero on a quest for Mr. Right, which is lurching through its third week. It led Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti to shun another Southern California university. And it may even resurrect the coaching career of Rick Neuheisel.

All of which has eclipsed a 6-6 UCLA football team that is playing in a bowl game far from the BCS promised land. Yet the ongoing search for a coach will linger even after kickoff.

This could be seen as an audition for DeWayne Walker, UCLA's interim coach. The defensive coordinator is one of five candidates who received initial interviews for the job, a list that excludes Bellotti, who sources said needed only to say "yes" to have the job, but instead gave UCLA the same answer he gave USC in 2001.

That has left Neuheisel, a favorite of many alumni and former Bruins players, as the likely front-runner, a source familiar with the job search said.

The Bruins' players say they blocked out the daily coach search chatter. "All we're thinking about is winning a football game," safety Dennis Keyes said. "We're not worried about what the administration is trying to take care of. We don't have a say-so in that matter."

Still, it doesn't take much imagination to see this game against the 19th-ranked Cougars (10-2) as a chance for Walker to enhance his chances.

Walker is getting his first chance as a head coach, albeit an interim one. UCLA officials asked him to hold the program together after Karl Dorrell was fired Dec. 3, but they have not asked him back for a second interview, as was the case with Neuheisel and Temple's Al Golden.

But Keyes said, "Coach told us not to win this game for him. He said to win it for us."

The far-and-wide coaching search has even reached into the BYU camp. Coach Bruce Mendenhall was perplexed recently to have to answer whether he was approached by UCLA after becoming one of the nearly two dozen coaches who were reported to be interested in UCLA or have interest from UCLA.

Walker, meanwhile, has dealt with nearly daily questions about how he is handling coaching the team while being lumped in with the job candidates.

"There really is not a lot to talk about because I haven't had a second interview and they're not calling me right now," Walker said. "For me to get really caught up in it is really a waste of time. But it has made it easier for me to focus on this game."

The Bellotti wildfire was the latest incident to test that approach. In a statement Friday Bellotti said, "I was approached by them on several occasions and finally agreed to allow them to come to Eugene and speak with me." Then he said no.

"I have been, and continue to be, 100 percent committed to the University of Oregon and our pursuit of a national championship," he said in a statement.

That kept Walker a contender, though he has a Pluto-like orbit around the center of the search. Whether a victory tonight will improve his standing is unknown. Walker merely said he looked on the game as a "challenge."

"I don't think this is going to kill my career if we lose," said Walker, who has been the Bruins' defensive coordinator the last two seasons. "I'm more anxious to see all the things we've done as a team. The little tweaks and little talks, and all that. I want to see if it is worth a (hoot) or not."

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