Neuheisel embracing fresh start

OWINGS MILLS -- Fairly or unfairly, Rick Neuheisel has often been labeled as a cheater, a liar and a self-promoting job hopper.<br><br> Earlier this week, Neuheisel regained the description he prefers: high-level coach. One who's highly regarded for his acumen with developing quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman and Kordell Stewart. One who also happens to own a law degree.

The Baltimore Ravens' new guitar-strumming quarterback coach has emerged from nearly two years of exile to step back into the inner sanctum of football.

Embroiled in controversy for initially lying about his participation in a high-stakes NCAA basketball pool that reportedly netted him $11,000, Neuheisel was dismissed as head coach by the University of Washington in June of 2003. He correctly picked the University of Maryland basketball team to win the national title, and was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing by an NCAA investigation.

Now, Neuheisel, 43, is looking to repair his besmirched reputation, both on the field with the Ravens and in the courtroom where his wrongful termination lawsuit against the university and the NCAA begins Monday.

"I'm thrilled to be back into coaching," said Neuheisel, who had been coaching at a Seattle high school and working as a college football analyst. "I'm as excited as I can be, being back in the game and very appreciative of the opportunity."

Neuheisel's quest for vindication won't begin in earnest until Jan. 31, when opening statements are scheduled as next week is set for jury selection.

Neuheisel is seeking the $2.1 million remaining on his contract as well as punitive damages. He has accused the NCAA of breaking its protocols and conspiring against him to force the school to fire him.

The university will argue that it fired Neuheisel with cause for acts of dishonesty, including lying to his superiors and the media about a secret interview with the San Francisco 49ers as well as denying he was in the betting pool. Washington has countersued Neuheisel to recover a $1.5 million loan it provided.

Ravens coach Brian Billick is allowing Neuheisel to remain on the West Coast while this legal drama plays out. The trial could last a month.
"Brian was very upfront and candid with me, and I wanted to be the same with him and explain that my ordeal is coming to a head," Neuheisel said. "He was terrific in understanding that you have to finish what you start."

Neuheisel, who tried to recruit Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller to Colorado and Washington with Boller choosing Cal, plans to visit with Boller soon.

"Ultimately, I want to really study and fine-tune my thoughts as to how I think he can go from where he is currently and help him achieve what we all think he's capable of, which is being a Pro Bowl player," Neuheisel said.

Neuheisel went 66-30 at Colorado and Washington, winning a Rose Bowl in 2000 with the Huskies. Now, he'll try to adapt his style to the NFL, a league where he's never coached.

"I don't pretend to tell you that I have a wealth of experience and that it's going to be just a snap of the fingers, it's going to take some work," Neuheisel said.

A walk-on quarterback at UCLA, Neuheisel became a starter as a senior and led the Bruins to a 1984 Rose Bowl win over Illinois where he was named the game's MVP. He earned a degree in political science from UCLA and a law degree from USC while mentoring Aikman as a UCLA graduate assistant.

Neuheisel started twice for the 1987 San Diego Chargers, and still holds a team record for single-game completion percentage (81.8 percent). He also played two years in the USFL for the San Antonio Gunslingers.

"We talked philosophically about how to organize a quarterback's mind and how I went about doing that with different guys," said Neuheisel, relating his discussions with Billick about coaching quarterbacks.

At Washington, Neuheisel was scrutinized for minor recruiting infractions that included meeting with players during designated dead periods.

"You never say never," Neuheisel said of coaching another college. "This is just a new path."

With the Ravens, Neuheisel's focus will be on helping Boller go from being an average to solid quarterback to taking a quantum leap to good in his third season.

If that happens and Fassel becomes an NFL head coach again, Neuheisel could be in line to be the next coordinator.

"I don't know that patience has ever been my long suit," Neuheisel said. "Certainly, I'm going to want to grow."

During Neuheisel's exile from football, his telephone calls seeking coaching jobs went largely unanswered. It was an emotional period where he leaned heavily on his wife, Susan, and spent more time with his children.

"There's been a lot of introspection, a lot of social lessons that you learn," Neuheisel said. "People are in love with football, and the head coach resides in a chair that's coveted. People treat the guy in the chair a certain way.

"When things start to crumble around you, sometimes the guy in the chair is the last one to know. It's been an interesting 18 months in terms of dealing with that, a lot of emotions."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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