Neuheisel meets with players

With a lot of Washington football players gone on vacation when termination proceedings against Rick Neuheisel started, a Tuesday-afternoon team-only meeting gave their embattled head coach a chance to see them face-to-face, for many the first time since they found out their coach might not be on the sidelines this fall. Player reaction was mixed about the probability of seeing Neuheisel this fall, but they back him 100 percent in his fight to keep his job.

"We all love Coach Neuheisel and we're all supporting him," Jimmy Newell said, shortly after the meeting broke. "And hopefully he'll still be the head coach at the University of Washington."

"I still have the highest of aspirations that he'll be our coach come August 30th," Reggie Williams added. "I just don't see it as a smart decision for him not to be head coach."

This meeting was the second such 'players' meeting in two days. There was a meeting Monday, but it was held more as a formality because the beginning of the summer quarter also started on the 23rd. No other coaches were at Tuesday's meeting, just Neuheisel.

The rest of the coaches were putting the finishing touches on the end of the team football camp, which began on Saturday the 21st.

"The team was terrific," Neuheisel said as he headed to his car after the meeting was finished. "I've said that all along. They are outstanding young people and it was important to me to update them because many of them were out of town when this entire thing unfolded. So I did that and shared with them some of my thoughts and wished them well. I told them that hopefully we would be back together again soon."

But will they? Reaction was mixed. "We went about it like we were preparing for the worst," defensive tackle Terry Johnson said. We said some goodbyes and stuff like that. But we're still rooting for him."

He added, "Whatever happens, I just hope Coach is alright and his family is alright. He's done great things for us and I can't say enough good things about him."

Senior running back Rich Alexis was more emphatic. "I'm very confident that I'll be seeing Coach again," he said. "I don't see any reason why not. We're just hearing one side of the story right now, pretty much. But on Thursday he'll get his chance to speak and people are going to see that he's not the character the newspapers try to put him out to be."

Thursday is the last day Neuheisel can inform the Washington Athletic Department and AD Barbara Hedges as to his intentions regarding his termination with cause. "You're going to see Coach Neuheisel fight," Rich added. "The same way we fought the last three games of the season last year. Coach is a fighter and hopefully he'll prevail."

Other players were more concerned about their own objectives. "Everybody's ready to play football," said defensive end Manase Hopoi. "We do have some coaching problems right now, but we all know what we've got to do. We've got to get ready for Ohio State. That's what we're here to do. Ever since yesterday (Monday), we know what we're here for. We're here to play football.

"I want Coach Neuheisel to stay, but if he goes...there's nothing we can do about it. Our focus is on getting ready for Ohio State and beat Ohio State."

Alexis echoed those thoughts. "He (Neuheisel) told us that, regardless of who the coach is, that you have to go on and play football," Rich said. "We know what we have to do, and that's to get ready for a game August 30th against Ohio State. That's our main focus right now."

But there's no question some are frustrated, even angry at the situation. "A lot of guys are angry and some are still confused about it," Williams said. You never like to see a major part of why you came to this school leave. Especially at a time like this, under that kind of a situation."

"He just told us that in the next seven days anything could happen, either getting a new coach or him being completely out of the picture," said Johnson. It's frustrating right now. I don't even know what's going to happen."

It's unclear whether or not the team will visibly display their show of support for Neuheisel. "I hope our leadership and senior class thinks about doing something," said Alexis. "For me personally, I'm 100 percent behind Coach Neuheisel. Without him, a lot of us wouldn't be here right now. He's going through a rough time right now and we need to be there for him and show our support."

"Coach Neuheisel recruited every single person on this football team and that's what is going to earn us a championship," added Hopoi. "Everybody is going to eventually realize that."

Neuheisel appeared thankful for his team's outpouring of support. "I'm fortunate that they are all good people and that they feel that way," he said.

"He told us to keep fighting, regardless of whether he's here or not," Williams said.

"Just to keep fighting."

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