Neuheisel, Williams left cringing by Terps


February 18, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

AS PENANCE for the hot water Rick Neuheisel got himself into for participating in a 2002 NCAA men's basketball tournament pool, the former University of Washington football coach should have to pick Maryland to win it all again.

Talk about punishment.

No doubt Marylanders, a group that will soon include Neuheisel, will once again go with the home team. Can any one of us truly imagine the look of a bracket without Maryland penciled in for a round or three? Not really, even when the smart money screams "Buyer beware!"

That's not all that's screaming, or at least frustrated.

After getting clocked by North Carolina State on Wednesday night, Gary Williams could no longer protect his seesawing players. He has prodded them, protected them, challenged them, stuck with them, but John Gilchrist and Co. continue to audition for the ACC Jekyll-and-Hyde Award.

Maybe Williams should tell the Terps every foe is a Blue Devil.

Williams said yesterday that he has never seen one of his teams produce such dramatic swings between good wins and bad losses.

"That's the good thing about sports," he said. "The court doesn't lie. What you see out there is what you are. There's no discussion. We weren't ready to play. But we're still in good shape. Our power rating is good. We're going to work hard to get ready for Virginia. Let other people speculate on the NCAAs and what comes next."

This has not been a great week for local coaches. That includes Neuheisel, the new Ravens quarterbacks coach whose career path was radically altered thanks, in part, to the Terps. See, it was the Juan Dixon/Lonny Baxter/Chris Wilcox Maryland team on which Neuheisel put money in 2002, a situation that helped cost him his college coaching job.

By accepting the Ravens job and going under the tutelage of Brian Billick and Jim Fassel, the brainy blond coach has decided career redemption is with teams that don't hold coaches up to NCAA bylaws.

Owings Mills is a good place for Neuheisel, who is about the only one who could make Billick appear verbally challenged.

Neuheisel is probably too smart and too slick for the college ranks, where his failure was grand.

After reading Neuheisel's testimony this week and after watching the Terps lose to N.C. State, possibly jeopardizing their NCAA tournament appearance string, it occurred to me how odd it is that the currently agonized state of Williams dovetails with the currently agonized state of Neuheisel.

The man who got into trouble after putting money on the Terps is coming to the state where the Terps are in trouble.

The Terps' split personality was in full view as they got outclassed by the Wolfpack. Meanwhile, Neuheisel was alternately crying and combative on the witness stand this week in a Kent, Wash., courtroom, the site of his wrongful-termination suit.

The trial has been a pathetic display of dirty laundry and bad management at Washington.

Neuheisel wants to clear his name, but Washington and the NCAA have heard so many unflattering anecdotes about Neuheisel that it's unlikely he'll ever coach in the college ranks again, even if he convinces the jury he was wronged.

Neuheisel probably wishes he had never heard of Maryland, the school that won him thousands of dollars in 2002, when he engaged in a friendly little neighborhood "pool party" with various and sundry Microsoft millionaires near his Lake Washington mansion.

The NCAA, catching wind of the potential infraction, asked him if he bet. Neuheisel said he didn't, at first. Then, he said he "purchased" Maryland. In testimony this week, Neuheisel used a new euphemism - "bid" - in an attempt to characterize the NCAA pool he participated in as something other than a betting pool.

No wonder there have been endless comparisons of Neuheisel to Bill Clinton. It depends on what your definition of "is" is, but Neuheisel is definitely one to navigate the slippery slope of semantics.

He bet, and he bet on Maryland, in an "innocuous" little pool among friends for thousands of dollars. That was trouble for the NCAA to look into, but what got him fired by Washington was an accumulation of lies, not to mention rules violations dating to his days at Colorado. It all added up to a picture of Neuheisel as a compulsive truth-bender, a posture he seems incapable of changing.

"I don't think I lied," Neuheisel testified this week. "I was being very careful and narrow. One of my primary goals was to see an attorney about what my rights and obligations were."

In the end, it wasn't the NCAA pool that got Neuheisel fired, it was the initial lie he told to investigators.

This kind of gray-area mastery may be a strong suit for lawyers. Neuheisel passed the bar in Arizona. However, for NCAA coaches and employees of institutions of higher learning, his accumulated fibs became the one infraction viewed with greater alarm than drinking (former Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy) or being accused of partying with strippers (former Alabama coach Mike Price).

Eustachy (Southern Mississippi) and Price (Texas-El Paso) have new college jobs. Neuheisel says he never got a phone call from another college. That's why he has finally taken a job in the NFL, one far below his formerly high pedigree and salary scale.

One day, it would be no surprise to see Neuheisel getting a head coaching job in the NFL, just as we fully expect to see Williams take Maryland to the Final Four again - one day. Some guys you can't keep down.

In the meantime, Neuheisel can take some consolation. At least he can now bet to his heart's content in the Ravens' NCAA office pool. Maybe Steve Bisciotti will even let the new quarterbacks coach have the Terps.

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