LOS ANGELES >> Rip Scherer paced the sideline with his arms crossed over the block-lettered “Memphis” on his royal blue starter jacket. The 1996 version of UCLA’s current tight ends coach, whose brown hair had only started thinning, chomped at his chewing gum as he watched the seconds tick off on one of the biggest wins in school history.
Memphis 21, Peyton Manning and No. 6 Tennessee 17. The Tigers’ first win over their in-state rivals in school history.
Fans flooded the field on the final whistle. They scaled the yellow goal posts and toppled them to the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium grass as Scherer’s father, also named Rip, interrupted a live TV interview to wrap his son in a bear hug.
Twenty-one years and six coaching stops later, Scherer will return to the scene of his greatest coaching triumph at 9 a.m. Saturday. As the No. 25 Bruins prepare to face Scherer’s one-time team, the 65-year-old coach is in for a shot of nostalgia with his unwavering competitive spirit.
“It’s a little strange, obviously,” Scherer said of the return. “But also, it’s been 17 years since I was fired from there. A lot of water has gone over the dam. So in a lot of ways, it’s just another game.”
Scherer’s shining moment came in the second year of his six-year tenure as Memphis head coach. The magical November night became one of the few highlights in six consecutive losing seasons. After compiling a 22-44 record, he was fired in 2000.
The Pittsburgh native spent more than two decades climbing toward the coveted Division I head coaching position. He started as a graduate assistant at Penn State from 1974, and in 1975, he reported then-freshman defensive back Tom Bradley to head coach Joe Paterno for acting up in study hall, a slight for which the current UCLA defensive coordinator is still plotting his revenge. Scherer spent 10 years as a head coach — four at James Madison before the Tigers — but never wore the head hat again after Memphis.
Despite the sour ending to his head coaching tenure, Scherer said that time made him a better assistant in the six coaching positions he’s held since. He understands the pressures of the big chair.
“Being in charge of the big picture and having that responsibility is a two-edged sword,” Scherer said of being a head coach. “It’s an immense responsibility, but it’s also something that you work in this business to get to. … But by the same token, the one thing that is more difficult as a head…