Loving hate: Rick Neuheisel returns to Oregon

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

In 2002, when Rick Neuheisel was still Washington's coach, he called Oregon a "propaganda machine."

He later explained he intended it as a compliment.

Reporters immediately took that spin to Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, who's priceless expression when asked if he considered Neuheisel's description a compliment was equal parts anger and amusement.

"No, I did not," he said at the time. "Propaganda in my mind usually has something to do with untruths, and all we do is tell the truth here about the record and everything else."

So if Bellotti is all about truth, it must be hard for him to be diplomatic about the return of Neuheisel to Eugene as UCLA's first-year coach.

After all, these guys hate each other, right?

"We're actually pretty good friends, more so than people would think," Bellotti said. "I respect what he's accomplished and what he's done and I've heard him say the same thing."

Neuheisel's colorful history as the coach Oregon fans have long loved to hate is well-documented.

But just in case you don't have those documents in front of you, Neuheisel didn't avoid the issue this week (link includes video):

"It goes back to 1995 [when Neuheisel was Colorado's coach] when I faked a punt, probably ill-advised, late in a bowl game. I was a first-year coach. I'm making no excuses but it was probably a poor decision. That drew their ire. We played them in another bowl game in Hawaii and we ended up on the winning end.

"I guess Mike had been in a press conference saying they had the better team. And I said, "Scoreboard -- like Al Davis says, 'Scoreboard, baby.'" And then you add that to I become the head coach to one of their arch-rivals [Washington]. It just kind of took off. I probably wasn't mature enough to handle it the way I should have.

Make no mistake: There have been some legitimately contentious moments between Oregon and Neuheisel, who's 4-1 against the Ducks.

After national signing day in 2002, Neuheisel accused Bellotti of dirty recruiting and groused about Oregon broadcasting an unflattering video of him on its scoreboard that juxtaposed his image with a movie scene of people throwing up.

Then-Oregon athletic director Bill Moos apologized for the video, and the Pac-10 office intervened -- much to the chagrin of reporters who loved the back-and-forth -- basically instructing both coaches to hush.

The "Duck Shop" just outside the Oregon's indoor practice field in the Moshofsky Center used to sell all sorts of anti-Neuheisel T-shirts and other memorabilia, many bearing cartoons depictions of "Slick Rick Neu-weasel".

And after Washington whipped Oregon 42-14 in Autzen Stadium after the "propaganda machine" hullabaloo -- then Bellotti's worst home defeat in eight seasons -- Neuheisel encouraged a raucous post-game celebration that Bellotti later described as "in very poor taste."

And yet, when Neuheisel's career at Washington imploded only a few months later, Bellotti was one of the first coaches who reached out to him and offered support.

"I am forever thankful to Mike for being willing to extend himself in the way he did and write a letter on my behalf to the NCAA," Neuheisel said. "There's a lot that's been said about my relationship with Mike -- the acrimony, if you will -- but I think that all has been put in the past and I consider him not only a great coach but a really good guy."

So don't be shocked if Bellotti and Neuheisel exchange a warm handshake and chat amiably before the game Saturday.

Of course, the Autzen Stadium fans might not be as welcoming.

"We've been typecast in our roles and I've got the black hat," Neuheisel said. "It wouldn't shock me. It may even disappoint me if it weren't that way."