After reportedly hosting Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson and former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell for on-campus interviews on Monday afternoon, the Blue Devils have now been linked to several head coaching candidates ranging from Steve Spurrier to Paul Johnson to Grambling's Rod Broadway.
The job has been confirmed to have been offered to both Spurrier and Johnson - both of whom declined. Other candidates such as Air Force's Troy Calhoun have expressed early interest, but did not pursue further contact. Then there are once highly thought of candidates such as Terry Bowden and Steve Logan - both of whom claim they have not been contacted by anyone representing Duke.
Of all the names mentioned when speaking of the job left by former coach Ted Roof, perhaps none but Spurrier himself have the litany of accomplishments that appear on Rick Neuheisel's resume.
As a quarterback at UCLA he earned MVP honors in the 1984 Rose Bowl before playing briefly in the USFL and NFL. After he retired from playing, Neuheisel became a served as a graduate assistant with UCLA, where he tutored Troy Aikman before becoming a full time assistant with the Bruins before moving to Colorado where he would become the head coach of the Buffalos in 1995. After a four year run that saw the UC compile a 33-14, Neuheisel was hired in January of 1999 by the University of Washington.
The 1997 season is officially listed as 0-11. Colorado was forced to forfeit all five wins for 1997 due to the ineligibility of Darren FIsk - a special teams only performer (who logged three tackles that season). When Fisk transferred to Colorado in 1994 he did not indicate on his eligibility form that he had played in one game in 1993 at San Luis Obispo; the error transpired under the watch of the previous head coach (Bill McCartney) and the compliance staff at that time. The penalty was paid in 1997 though it is just mentioned in a notation for the season that the games were forfeited and did not affect the coaching record of Coach Neuheisel or series records with opposing schools (per NCAA Stats policies).
After arriving in Seattle, Neuheisel immediately began building the Husky program - starting with a 7-5 campaign in 1999 before winning the Rose Bowl in 2000 with an 11-1 finish and a final No. 3 national ranking. Subsequent 8-4 and 7-6 seasons - good enough for 2nd and 4th place finishes in the Pac 10 with appearances in the Holiday and Sun Bowls respectively - left him with an overall record of 33-16 at Washington.
Following the 2003 season Neuheisal was fired for allegedly participating in an NCAA basketball pool. The accusations became a scandal when it was revealed that the coach had received an internal memo from the University's compliance department that authorized gambling in off-campus tournament basketball pools. The NCAA infractions committee found Neuheisel violated NCAA rules against gambling but didn't sanction him, citing the memo by Washington's former compliance officer that mistakenly authorized this type of gambling.
A legal action brought by Neuheisal allowed the coach to collect approximately $4.5 million in an settlement agreement with Washington after the Huskies were forced to abandon their case in the discovery process.
Since leaving Washington he has spent time as a volunteer high school coach before the Baltimore Ravens hired him as the quarterbacks coach in 2005. A year later he Neuheisal was was promoted to the offensive coordinator post where he currently serves under Brian Billick.
When Duke fired Roof three weeks ago, Neuheisel was put in contact with athletics director Joe Alleva. Since that time, however, no interview has been set up according to several sources despite strong support from several individuals in and around the search committee.
"Maybe it's just been a case of the schedules not meshing to this point, but I know [Alleva] has spoken with him at least once but hasn't set up an interview to this point. It's kind of surprising because several highly respected national coaches including those who have had success at Duke have recommended Rick to the appropriate people including the Athletics Director and President. They think it would be a great fit."
Detractors will point to the problems with the NCAA suffered by Colorado, but those issues would be fair game in the interview and would be explained fully complete with documentation from the principal factors involved.
"He's getting a bad rap because of what happened under another coach's watch. The violations reported under Rick at Colorado were for things such as giving a kid a sweatshirt on an official visit to Boulder Colorado in December and the kid not giving it back when he left; or Rick telling a kid in front of his high school coach that he couldn't talk to him under NCAA rules - because it happened in a quiet period he was cited. All of these things are documented, and fair game if Duke interviews him. Even his former Athletic Director is willing to give him a positive recommendation, which says a lot given the history."
Which leaves the question of when, or even if, Duke will grant Neuheisal an interview. After missing on two big candidates in Spurrier and Johnson, Alleva's public pronouncement of hiring a coach with meaningful (not to mention successful) Division I-A head coaching experience seems to be running out of viable options. While both Dorrell and Johnson have certainly coached in BCS conferences, neither have been to a BCS bowl game. Indeed the two candidates combined have just two winning seasons out of 12 compared to Neuheisal's seven winning campaigns that include Holiday, Cotton, Aloha, and Rose Bowl titles.
"We've got a commitment here to football. Most of you [in the media] may not believe that, but we have a tremendous commitment to football," Alleva told reporters after firing Roof. "When you look at our athletic department, it's the one element in our department that does not live up to Duke's standards of excellence. We have to correct that."
What better way to do that than by bringing in a coach who has won at the BCS title game level; has been a successful offensive coordinator at the NFL level; and is anxious to return to college to restore his legacy at a program that so desperately needs its own respectability restored?
"All the pieces are falling into place, but there's a crucial piece missing in all of this. If any lesson has been learned in the past year it should be to look at all the facts before rushing to judgement."
Currently there is no public timeline for the Blue Devils to hire a new coach.