Neuheisel turns over a new life, and a QB

Ravens: The team's new quarterbacks coach wants to put the stress and allegations of the past two years behind him to focus on his new job.

Football

April 28, 2005|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

After a nearly two-year ordeal that took him through the unemployment line, Seattle courts and national scrutiny, the tumultuous life of Rick Neuheisel has slowed down.

A hectic pace will come to rest for at least a year in Baltimore while Neuheisel serves as the Ravens' quarterbacks coach. The new job includes tutoring third-year quarterback Kyle Boller and redefining an offense that lacked personality as much as punch.

"To finally be able to sit down and get back to learning football, whew," Neuheisel said. "We're talking about learning a new language, answering questions about protection and other things that seem mundane at times, but are absolutely wonderful to be involved in again."

Neuheisel, 44, reached a $4.5 million settlement last month with the NCAA and the University of Washington in a wrongful termination suit filed after he was fired as the Huskies' head coach in July 2003.

When news of a settlement was announced, there was some brief high-fiving among the Neuheisel family in the courtroom, but he has failed to take any harsh public shots at his former employers.

He said the two-year drama has changed him.

The university fired Neuheisel because he participated in a high-stakes NCAA basketball tournament pool and he lied initially to NCAA investigators. University officials also claimed he didn't tell (Neuheisel said he did) former Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges about talks with the San Francisco 49ers about their vacant head coaching job, which also led to his dismissal.

The three parties agreed to a settlement on March 7 after a disclosure that the NCAA had been using outdated due-process rules when its investigators questioned Neuheisel in 2003 about the gambling allegations.

Because they feared a possible mistrial, the NCAA and the university agreed to pay Neuheisel $2.5 million and $500,000, respectively, while the school also forgave a $1.5 million housing loan it had provided Neuheisel in 1999 when he took the job.

But a lot of damage had already been done.

"I've learned humility in a very public way, and I've benefited from it," said Neuheisel, who coached football at a Seattle high school and for his sons' recreation teams during the past two years. "Initially, this was the hardest thing I and my family had ever been through because of the scrutiny and negative publicity. In that respect, it brought us closer as a family.

"As far as vindication, facts and documents showed that this story wasn't as it was originally portrayed. You never get total vindication, but hopefully the true story will transcend into more opportunities down the road."

Coming up roses

Before he was fired, Neuheisel was one of college football's top coaches, noted as a fighter, a competitor always looking for an edge. As a quarterback at McClintock High in Tempe, Ariz., Neuheisel was considered too small and too slow to play major college football, but he walked on and eventually led UCLA, earning Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player as a quarterback.

Neuheisel acknowledged making a mistake by joining friends and neighbors who were also involved in the basketball pool, but he said he did receive an e-mail from Washington's former compliance officer indicating it was not against NCAA rules to participate.

Already armed with a law degree he obtained from Southern California, Neuheisel was prepared to fight in court.

"I knew when I stepped into the fray that there was going to be hard feelings, but I didn't have a choice because of what was being said about me," Neuheisel said. "It left me little recourse in terms of explaining it down the road, so I had to stand up for myself if I was going to continue this career.

"Fortunately, I was in good enough position where I could do it. The sad thing is that there are people with cases like mine that can't muster up the finances to take on an entity such as the NCAA."

Certainly, taking on the NCAA or having accusations leveled at him is nothing new for Neuheisel. Soon after he left the University of Colorado for Washington, the Buffaloes were placed on two years' probation for secondary recruiting violations, mostly from Neuheisel's tenure from 1995 to 1998. In an unusual move, he was once censured by the American Football Coaches Association for a lack of remorse over those illegal visits at the high schools. Colorado was also cited for giving recruits free apparel, none of it worth more than $36.

There were accusations later about Neuheisel trying to lure Colorado players to Washington. According to published reports, after his stint at Colorado led to NCAA sanctions, Neuheisel was prohibited from visiting recruits in their homes for 2003 with Washington. According to published reports, Neuheisel proposed a variety of innovative solutions to get around the limitations, including using closed circuit television and playing videotaped messages to contact recruits.

What's in a name?

Neuheisel's nickname is "Slick Rick."

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