Debunking the Neuheisel Myths

After the traumatic coaching change in the summer 2003, I decided that I would not write anymore about former Husky coach Rick Neuheisel. The situation at Washington had changed and he was no longer relevant to the scene.

There was also part of me that felt empathy for Neuheisel; it was an embarrassing way for his tenure to end and I don't believe in kicking someone when they're down. There have been times in my life that I have been down, and the last thing I would want would be somebody piling on.

Earlier this summer, however, the sands of my Neuheisel stance began to shift underfoot. That was when two articles emerged in succession; one in which Neuheisel granted an interview with Ted Miller of the P-I, and the other a piece in the Sporting News. Both articles were as surreal as they were disgusting in the conveyance of Neuheisel's self-absorbed self-pity, as well his refusal to take responsibility for his mistakes. The theme of both articles was very much in the vein of "gosh golly darn it, if I had only not bet on an innocent NCAA tournament pool, I would still have my job and everything would be fine. If I only had known! But Dana Richardson…"

Following the pitiful 27-13 defeat to Stanford this past weekend the Huskies are 0-4 and not feeling good about themselves. In the past week, I have heard and seen Neuheisel's name mentioned 15-20 times, be it on message boards, on the radio, or in talking with acquaintances. The comments have ranged from "if Neuheisel was still here, we'd be 3-0", or "you have to give it to Neuheisel, the guy knew how to recruit!" or "I miss the way he inspired the team and fans, and all he did was gamble in a neighborhood pool and they fired him—give me a #$%!#$ break!" Two days ago I heard KJR's David Locke stated that say what we will about Neuheisel, he always had his teams ready to play.

This became the tipping point for me and I am now taking on the topic a final time.

Myth #1: Neuheisel was a great recruiter

If this was true, if Neuheisel was such a great recruiter, then where are all the great recruits? The sophomores, juniors and seniors on this team are all Neuheisel guys. Where is the talent? It was Neuheisel who stated that Isaiah Stanback was the best high school quarterback in the nation. Yet in his third year, Stanback is the 3rd string QB on a dismal team. Stanback is a great physical talent that may develop into something down the line. But it was clearly Neuheisel-generated hyperbole. Neuheisel also poured his heart and soul into landing the nation's prized running back Lorenzo Booker from California. When in the eleventh hour Booker selected Florida State, Neuheisel's wounded ego publicly proclaimed the solid talent of Kenny James as the best running back out of California. When Jimmy Newell ran a 4.39 in a summer camp in 2000, he went straight to the top of Neuheisel's want list. Newell has proven to be a hard worker and good teammate, but is admittedly undersized and maybe out of position at safety.

The state of Washington's offensive and defensive lines is paper thin and lacking confidence, toughness and nastiness. It was alarming how they were worn down against Stanford. The gigantic warning sign pointing to this was in 2002 when Wyoming's defensive line giddily declared to the media was that the Huskies were "soft" up front, following an uninspired Husky victory at night. Overall, the only top-notched recruits that Neuheisel can be given credit for luring to Montlake in four years would be Reggie Williams, Charles Frederick, Joe Lobendahn and Nate Robinson- and Robinson was neglected for a time before being locked up late in the recruiting game.

Myth #2: Neuheisel inspired his players and had them ready to play

I don't see how anyone can be of this opinion, after seeing the Huskies trudge out onto the field and play uninspired football in the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The Lambright guys were all but gone, and the newest generation of Huskies was assuming the mantle of leadership. These being Neuheisel's 3rd and 4th seasons, the examples of an unprepared and uninspired team taking the field are legion; From collapse losses to Oregon State, Arizona State, USC and UCLA, to a 65-7 annihilation at the hands of Miami; To sleepwalking performances against Idaho, Wyoming, California and Arizona; to Neuheisel's final game as Husky coach, with the Huskies' embarrassing Sun Bowl appearance on national TV (After taking a 17-0 lead, the Dawgs surrendered 34 unanswered points in getting routed by a 6-6 Purdue team.)

Anybody can inspire a team when heading into a rival game, such as Oregon or Washington State. But the ability to inspire and prepare a team consistently against all comers is obviously the mark of a good coach. Rick Neuheisel deserves great credit here for the 1999 season, for being a temporary breath of fresh air, but after that his presence began to slowly wear thin. By 2001, despite the 8-4 record, the signs of the program's serious deterioration were becoming apparent.

Myth #3: Neuheisel was a caring coach who put his players first

After former Athletic Director Barbara Hedges fired Neuheisel last year, he traveled to Eugene in September 2003 to watch the Ducks play the Michigan Wolverines. What was infamous about that game was that Neuheisel posed for a photo wearing a Duck hat and standing next to a duck fan. This never bothered me as much as it bothered some others. What did rankle me was that when the Autzen Stadium PA announcer informed the Oregon crowd with a booming voice that Washington was losing its game early on to Idaho, Neuheisel reacted with glee. Considering that the Husky team was filled with players that he had recruited and purportedly cared for, this display was self-absorbed and speaks to what is in his heart.

Myth #4: Neuheisel was a great strategist and coach

Rick Neuheisel received a lot of credit for switching the offense to a heavy emphasis on the option in 1999. The helped turn around a dismal 0-2 start and resulted in the Huskies reaching the Holiday Bowl, where they battled Kansas State valiantly before falling 24-20. This was the season where I was thrilled that Neuheisel was the Husky coach. He seemed to inject a lot of needed enthusiasm into the team following the downslide of morale in Jim Lambright's final season. However, it was Marques Tuiasosopo that eagerly pushed the coaching staff to implement the option attack. It had been the coaching staff that had Tuiasosopo in the 7-step drop and throwing the football 44 times in a 31-21 loss the Air Force in week 2.

As the Washington team's talent pool began to dwindle, so too did technique and bravado. Defensive backs lost their aggressiveness and ability to track the football (as evidenced by Texas QB Major Applewhite throwing for seemingly 3,000 yards in the Holiday Bowl game against UW). Offensive linemen became proficient at pass blocking, but lost all notion of how to effectively run block. Wide receivers gradually lost effectiveness in gaining separation from defenders. Defensively, the tackling faltered. Linebacker talent and aggressiveness fell off the table. And size and athletic ability at the safety positions went from that of formidable beasts to undersized and less than intimidating. This metamorphosis into decline transpired predominately on Neuheisel's watch.

In closing, I wish Rick Neuheisel well, and hope he finds fulfillment in his future endeavors. But I disagree vehemently with notions that Washington would have been better off to keep him. And that goes without bringing up any of Neuheisel's dozens of various NCAA infractions, both from Colorado and Washington.

In the factory town that is Neuheisel's coaching career, those sanctions are the widespread and filthy soot covering everything.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories