Neuheisel has no offers to field despite clearing name
Posted: Friday November 5, 2004 5:59PM; Updated: Monday November 8, 2004 5:49PM
OK, it's coming up on silly season in college football. Job openings have already sprung at Florida, Washington and Nevada-Las Vegas and a dozen or so more fine academic institutions figure to be shopping for a head coach before Christmas.
Which raises an interesting question: Why is Rick Neuheisel so far off the radar? Someday soon, you figure a search committee or college athletic director will have the gumption to inquire about Neuheisel. Or maybe they'll never call. Maybe the stigma of having participated in high-stakes college basketball tournament betting pools is just too hot to deal with, even if the NCAA recently cleared the ex-Washington coach of any gambling violation.
Neuheisel probably hasn't helped his cause in pursuing a wrongful termination suit against Washington and the NCAA, but he'd be stupid not to go after the millions lost by his firing. You just wonder why his vice is perceived as worse than the frolicking, hell-raising antics of ex-Alabama coach Mike Price and former Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy, both of whom landed jobs after their firings.
But after having been a hot number at Washington, where he flirted with openings at Notre Dame and later the San Francisco 49ers, Neuheisel hasn't fielded a single job inquiry since his June of 2003 ouster. Now, his name is only in the public eye as an analyst on a weekly college football preview show airing on College Sports Television. And his sideline time comes coaching his son's youth team and tutoring quarterbacks at a Seattle-area high school.
What made him an outcast is he partook in NCAA tourney betting pools, those fan-friendly things synonymous with March Madness. Only gambling on college sports is a no-no for coaches and these were high-stakes pools that won him roughly $11,000. And when pressed on it by NCAA investigators, he pulled a Bill Clinton and initially fudged about his involvement.
So Neuheisel screwed up on a couple counts, but whether he was wrongfully fired with five years left on a contract that paid an average $1.3 million a season will be determined when his case goes to trial King County Superior Court on Jan. 24.
The NCAA cleared him last month of violating its bylaw related to gambling after Neuheisel successfully argued that he relied on two e-mails sent by UW's compliance office that mistakenly said participating in pools outside the office was permissible. Washington officials, for their part, pulled out all the stops before the NCAA's infractions committee as Bill Gates Sr., whose son founded Microsoft and Dan Evans, the former Republican U.S. senator and Washington governor, were paraded in to help argue the school's case.
You'd think the NCAA ruling is a huge winner for Neuheisel, 43, both for his lawsuit and aspirations he has of getting back in the college game. And it could be. But the gambling perception remains tough to kick, based on the fact that nobody is calling as jobs start to trickle open.
"It is just too difficult to determine or ascertain what the collateral damage is,'' Neuheisel says. "It is significant, I imagine, given that guys like Mike Price and Larry Eustachy are already back to work and I'm still kind of in limbo. Not that they both don't deserve opportunities. It's just that I thought I had a pretty good record myself. So I don't know when and where, and all that stuff.
"I know that I have the hunger to do a good job again. And I'm anxious for the opportunity. I just don't know whether I have to go back and start at the bottom as an assistant and work my way back up, or if somebody is going to look at the record and say, 'You know what, I think this guy did pretty well.'''
No, this guy isn't rock-solid like Oklahoma boss Bob Stoops and some have gone so far as dub him "Slick Rick,'' but he can coach a little bit. He's got a sharp offensive mind, as well as a knack for developing quarterbacks. And there's nothing made up about his 66-30 [.688] record: 33-14 at Colorado followed by 33-16 at Washington.
The resume shows a couple 10-2 seasons at Colorado, as well as an 11-1 mark in 2000 and a Rose Bowl victory for Washington. But if you look deeper, you find he also left a string of NCAA violations at both schools, though nothing overly egregious.
How does this balance out? Is he deserving of another shot?
Yeah, someday soon, it's a good bet some AD will bring Neuheisel in on a short leash or he'll surface in the more forgiving NFL, most likely as a quarterback coach.
"I think certainly that the NCAA's decision here of late has got may name back at least into the candidate pool,'' Neuheisel says. "Obviously, people have to make their determinations if I am the candidate for them. Ultimately, ours is a business where you got to call people that you know and you have to say, 'Hey, what do you think about putting in a good word for me here or a good word for me there.' As some of my friends like to tell me and keep me optimistic, it only takes one. So you just have to wait and see.''
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.