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Comments on Rick Neuheisel and the Quiet-Day Rule

Editorial written for dawgman.com, September 1999

Running into an Iceberg
By Rich "Malamute" Linde

As a fifth-year senior at UCLA, Rick Nueheisel typified the "gutty little Bruin," as the Bruins were called then. In a modern day setting, with the legacy of wishbone quarterback Mark Harmon behind him, the baby-faced Neuheisel might have auditioned for the lead part in Titanic. Back in the early eighties, he didn't fit into the mold of a UCLA quarterback, even as a gutty little Bruin.

As a walk-on at UCLA, he spent most of his time on the sidelines carrying a clipboard rather than throwing a football. No one ever said he was another Mark Harmon. Although he lacked the physical qualities to be a great quarterback, Nueheisel stayed with the program when others would have quit. In 1983 as a fifth-year senior at UCLA, he set an NCAA record for pass-completion percentage, going 25 for 27 against Washington. He was the Rose Bowl MVP that season, and was UCLA's choice to replace Terry Donahue as head coach in 1995. Is he a character out of a Horatio Alger story or the second coming of Darth Vader?

He was impressive during the Huskies' spring game this year. Down on the field communicating with Sonny Sixkiller and Tod Pickett by headphone/microphone, he was hardly the longhaired, maggot infested, hang-ten, used-car salesman the media have portrayed him to be. He was articulate, affable, and humorous, in total command of the situation, certainly not a Slobodan Milosevic.

"Call me Rick, not Coach," he told Sixkiller, the ex-husky quarterback who is behind the microphone at Fox Northwest. For a moment I wondered whether he was trying to recruit Sixkiller, prompting another investigation.

After suffering through several years of probation, Washington fans have a right to be suspicious of any act that could bring on the wrath of that august body called the NCAA. Unfortunately, the hiring of Rick Neuheisel rekindled old flames.

One month after giving Head Coach Jim Lambright a vote of confidence, Barbara Hedges (Athletic Director at Washington) fired him. Then with lucrative contract in hand, she hired the 38-year old Neuheisel away from Colorado.

As the new kid on the block and without much time left to recruit, Neuheisel sent several assistant coaches out in the field to contact potential recruits on "quiet day," a day in which no recruiting can take place according to NCAA rules. Also, Neuheisel contacted former players at Colorado to wish them well. This also could have violated NCAA rules because permission to contact the players had not been obtained from Colorado authorities beforehand.

These infractions, along with the firing of Lambright, sparked negative responses from fans, the media and several opposing coaches. Seemingly, Rick Neuheisel's inadvertent mistakes along with Hedge's "callous act" gave people an opportunity to castigate Husky fans, the school and their coaches.

After the quiet-day visits, according to the media, several opposing coaches sent a letter to the NCAA protesting Neuheisel's actions since they felt that the NCAA would not deal harshly enough with Washington. Since then, two of the coaches who reportedly signed the letter denied doing so. Gary Barnett, Nuheisel's successor at Colorado, was quoted as saying they "petitioned the NCAA to make this punishment fit the crime, because it won't. They'll get their hands slapped and they'll be reinstated. That's just the way it's done. I just think that's ridiculous."

Washington's self-imposed penalties were much more than a slap on the wrist. When it comes to "welcoming" its new head coaches, Neuheisel was quick to learn that there is no penalty for piling-on in the PAC-10 conference. For a moment in his young life, he may have felt that he was on board the Titanic, rather than coaching the Washington Huskies.

Whether the fans, coaches and media were acting sincerely or disingenuously is a matter of conjecture. Certainly, some of them are entrenched Husky haters, carrying festering wounds from PAC-10 battles that won't heal. Put in perspective, their acrimony was unprecedented in college football, considering that Rick Neuheisel had never coached a game for the Huskies.

I believe Neuheisel deserves the benefit of the doubt in these situations. He has a law degree from USC; he might have acted impetuously, but he is not stupid. With the death penalty just around the corner, deliberately incurring NCAA infractions is akin to giving the hangman his rope.

Now that the season has started, Neuheisel may need a life preserver if his Husky ship runs into another iceberg. Many shell-shocked fans believe that Neuheisel's detractors are operating in stealth mode, building an arsenal for a final assault if and when the Huskies begin to lose. Some experts say the Huskies will have a losing season this year, since they have an offensive line that is suspect and have a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback, Marques Tuiasosopo, with no experience behind him. Anticipating a losing season, Neuheisel fans are hunkering down, preparing for another strike.

On a personal level, can Neuseisel take another pillorying from the fans and media? It will be tough for him. At Washington, he never has had a honeymoon with the media, virtual or real. He provides the launch pads for their strikes: He lets it all hang out; that's his style. It's in his DNA. He's a great recruiter and his players like him. At times, he almost seems effusive, but he's not; rather, his openness makes him a ready target. As a Husky fan I wouldn't want him any other way.

Someday friends and foes of mighty Washington will look back on these times and have a good laugh, wondering why we all took them so seriously. As someone once said, sports are nothing more than the toy department, located in the department store of life. But after his stint at Washington, I wonder whether Neuheisel will think he worked in the toy department at Macy's or was taken for a cruise on the Titanic.

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