I still remember the second time I met Rick Neuheisel. It was the Fall of 2003 and he was biding his time as the quarterbacks coach for Rainier Beach High School in Seattle before scoring 4.5 million from the University of Washington and his next foray into head coaching. I still don't know how it happened, but my high school, Sedro-Woolley (Yes, this is the real name of the high school), had gotten into a home and home series with the powerhouse high school from inner Seattle and in the second year of the series, they had to travel 70 miles or so North to our stadium.
It was a shock to everyone that Sedro-Woolley almost pulled off the upset and Rainier Beach barely escaped with a win. Having met Neuheisel before at his coaches clinic which I attended when I was 15 (Long story), I was under the false impression that he would remember me, so I waited for him to head back to the locker room where I imagined we would chat like old friends. I wasn't completely wrong about this as I shook his hand and reminded him that I went to his coaches clinic and he pretended like he actually remembered me. While it may have just been him being nice, I think it is this exact characteristic that has allowed him to grab three elite college football jobs without a great deal of success, and it is also why I think he is an overrated coach, but may have finally found his calling in the broadcaster's booth.
Neuheisel's overall record as a coach is solid at 88-59, but I don't feel that it accurately conveys a lot of the struggles he had as a coach. He started off strong both at Colorado and Washington, but was drifting into hot water towards the end of both tenures as his team's underachieved, lacked toughness and discipline and were prone to making costly mistakes at the worst times. These same problems plagued him at UCLA from the start and he was pretty much sitting in the hot tub by the end of his first year in Westwood. As a coach, Neuheisel was kind of that "cool guy" teacher or camp counselor that wanted to be just "one of the kids" a little too much and crack jokes and strum the acoustic guitar. The problem was that this kind of figure is taken advantage of 100 percent of the time and always struggles with the kids that are difficult to manage.
Because of these traits, the man who declared that the football monopoly in LA was over was always kind of more of a politician than a football coach and would probably actually be a magnate in the corporate world of mind control, cult of personality and the perpetual shifting of blame. Unfortunately for Neuheisel, college football isn't the corporate world and you can't talk your way out of losses. In the end it all just boils down to wins and losses - as Neuheisel once said himself to Mike Bellotti, "Scoreboard, baby."
The good news here is that I believe that the long awaited Pac-12 Network and Neuheisel have come together to find what should be a great fit for him. Frequently, the best commentators are guys who weren't necessarily the greatest at the sport themselves (Check out most NBA commentators) because a lot of it hinges on personality, and though the man was nicknamed "Slick Rick," he has that ability where it is almost impossible to hate him despite what he does. For example, for how bad he left the Huskies, there actually isn't a ton of animosity in the Seattle area for him, especially when compared to Tyrone Willingham. I think I remember my Dad once even suggesting that he would be happy to have him back as coach before Sarkisian was hired although this is about on par with his idea to suit up Lawyer Milloy for the Oregon game last season.
Many former Pac-10 coaches have already gone on to be very good announcers as well. While I may have hated the aforementioned Belotti when he coached the Ducks, I am always glad when I find out that he is doing the game that I am watching, and Terry Donahue has been solid in the booth for quite a while now. Some of my favorite commentary has also come from former coaches who are ironically entertaining like former WSU coach Jim Walden, who just left doing radio for the Cougars, who was my favorite "Homer" color guy of all time (He thought there was a Cougar getting held on every single play) and former Beavers coach Jerry Pettibone who actually had a weekly coaches show where he would play the "What If" game with each game during his 13-52 tenure with the Beavers. The "What if" game was that Jerry would watch a game and perpetually go, "Well if USC doesn't run in those two touchdowns early, we don't fumble in the second quarter and we don't miss that tackle in the fourth, then we're right in the game." While he is a great character, I see Neuheisel fitting in more of the Belotti mold, he will have a lot of great insight, mixed with interesting color and knowledge of the conference and the game.
So while he may not be at the helm of a Pac-12 ship anymore, I'm still looking forward to seeing how Coach Neuheisel does come September.