So as I'm walking onto the field for the morning practice at Oakland Raiders
training camp up in Napa a couple of weeks ago, I thought I noticed a familiar
figure. He was standing between Raiders' senior assistant Bruce Allen and
football talking head Artie Gigantino. The three had their backs to me, facing
the practice field, and were chatting.
As I kept walking, I kept thinking to myself, "why does that guy look
Then it hit me. The blond hair, the golf shirt, the made-for-TV smile…it
was none other than Rick "Who, Me?" Neuheisel himself. I couldn't
It turns out that Neuheisel had simply been invited by the Raiders to check
out a practice or two, and it didn't seem like Slick Rick was there to lobby Al
Davis for a gig. Of course, being the cynical, snarky bunch that we are, it
didn't stop the media contingent from cracking bracketology jokes at just about
About 90 minutes later, practice ended and I caught up with the former coach
in the parking lot. After introducing myself as a Stanford alum, I jokingly
congratulated him for ruining the Cardinal's seasons in 1999, 2000, and 2001.
Those three games still give me nightmares to this very day.
"What are you taking about?" Neuheisel asked me. "Heck, you
guys went to the Rose Bowl one of those years!"
I grinned devilishly, "That's right, we did beat you out for a Rose Bowl
bid!" Knowing that he'd walked into a trap, Neuheisel laughed and said,
"That was sneaky."
Coach and I made small talk for just a brief moment, and then we went our
separate ways. He got in his rental car and drove to the airport. I went home
and checked "being called 'sneaky' by Rick Neuheisel" off my list of
things to do before I die.
By far the biggest story in college football this past offseason involved
coaches behaving badly. Tricky Rick Neuheisel's observance of the March Madness
holiday cost him his job. Mike Price's own personal episode of "Wild on
Pensacola" cost him his brand new gig at Alabama. There's no question that
those men made foolish mistakes that have, at best, put their careers on hold
or, at worst, ended their careers completely.
But while these stories unfolded, the biggest question to me became: Since
when do we expect our coaches to become saints? Why, all of a sudden, are
coaches being held to a higher behavioral standard than your friendly
It probably started the day that ball coaches started getting paid more than
your friendly neighborhood politician. It floored me when I found out that the
highest-paid employee on the state of Iowa's payroll isn't the governor, it's
Cyclone hoops head coach Larry Eustachy.
It's not unfair to have high expectations of an employee's behavior,
especially when so much money is invested in that employee. But do the big
paydays give athletic directors and university presidents the green light to
legislate that behavior by any means necessary?
Mike Price's case is especially galling, both for his complete indiscretion
on the night in question, and for the witch hunt that followed. We all know the
sordid details, at least those according to Sports Illustrated, and the
anti-Price boosters (of which there appeared to be many) and the media would
have made his transgressions a big distraction for him off the field. But would
his date with Destiny have taken away from his actual job of overseeing the
day-to-day operations of the program? Unless Price was accepting lap dances
during coaches' meetings, somehow I seriously doubt it.
Also, the Price incident didn't directly affect or involve the students
themselves. Can't say the same about Larry Eustachy, yet Eustachy kept his job.
Someone else who kept his job was John Mackovic. His actions not only forced
his own players to revolt against him, they've also damaged the Arizona football
program for the foreseeable future. To me, his actions were far worse and far
more damaging to his program than Neuheisel's or Price's actions were to theirs.
After hearing about all the way he treated his players, would you want your son
to play for Mackovic?
I'm not an athletic director, but I'll play one in this paragraph. I wouldn't
have fired Mike Price. The only reason I would have fired Rick Neuheisel is
because I would have had to, given the rules against gambling in the NCAA. I
wouldn't have fired him for lying about whether or not he interviewed with the
49ers, and quite honestly, I wouldn't have cared. I would have fired John
Mackovic on the spot. Period.
As an AD, I know that brackets and strip clubs are bad PR. But I also know
that the best PR is winning. The best way to keep everyone happy, from the
boosters and the media to the players and coaches, is to win. It really is that
Maybe my morals have been warped by the good old American competitive spirit.
Maybe the three weeks I spent with the Raiders during training camp has warped
my brain. But if I'm an AD at a typical football school, as long as my coach
brings me at least three major bowls every five years, and at least one of those
bowls is a BCS bowl, I'm cool.
As sneaky as his methods were, Neuheisel put winning teams on the field. Mike Price coached in two Rose Bowls with Washington State, of all schools. If that's
not winning, I don't know what is.
Yes, Tricky Rick coached for the hated Dawgs. Yes, both of my parents went to
Colorado. Yes, his administrative and recruiting methods were, shall we say, a
bit on the creative side. And yes, he's so slippery that he can sell ice to an
Eskimo. Twice. But I gotta admit it. I'm rooting for him. I'm also rooting for
Mike Price, too. But this fall, both men will be paying the price by watching
the college football season roll on without them.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
First, to the Stanford fans who think UC Davis's "win" in last
week's scrimmage means the end of the world for the Cardinal, I quote the great
poet, philosopher, and bard Allen Iverson: "We talkin' about practice. We
ain't talkin' about a game…we talkin' about practice!"
A look at Stanford's depth chart this week features a notable omission, one I
just recently noticed…no fullback. Instead, two separate tight-end positions
are listed, with Brett Pierce manning one spot and Alex Smith at the other. Not
hard to figure out why. When you've got the two best tight ends in the Pac-10,
fullback is a question mark, and the offensive line needs all the help it can
get, it makes perfect sense to go with two tight ends as a base offense…
Conference teams went 6-1 last weekend. That's impressive, but the Pac-10's
Day of Reckoning will be September 20. Check out that day's slate: Michigan
comes to Oregon, New Mexico goes to Wazzu, Stanford heads to Provo, UCLA gets on
a plane to Norman, the Beavers host Boise State, Arizona State goes to Iowa,
Arizona travels to Purdue, and cal faces Illinois in Champaign…if the Pac-10
only loses one game that day, I'll take back everything I said about the Pac-10
in my conference preview…
That's cool…it wouldn't be the first thing I've had to retract from that
I've only seen the 1975 Steelers defense on film, but I'd imagine if you took
those players while they were in college and put them all on the same team,
they'd look like U$C did against Auburn…
Think about it…when was the last time you saw a college defense hit like
that? It's been a while, hasn't it?
How much goal-line work do you think Jeff Tedford is putting his boys through
again this week?
And by the way, when it's fourth-and-goal inside the one, you go for it every
time. You also go straight up the middle, which is what Tedford should have done
Have you seen the Washington Husky fan boards this week? They think the sky
is falling! Never mind the fact that they faced the defending national champs in
front of 105,000-plus in Columbus and an audience of millions nationwide. Never
mind that the front four, already one of the nation's best, lived up to the hype
and more. Never mind that the defense actually played reasonably well after
allowing the initial score. Never mind that Cody Pickett showed the nation his
toughness. Never mind the fact that Washington's next two opponents, and offense
played okay considering the circumstances. Is it a tough loss? No doubt. But is
it the end of the world for the Huskies? No way…
That said, the Huskies still need a running game. When they had third-and-one
with midway through the second quarter, you just knew they weren't going to
convert it if they ran the ball. I knew it, the Ohio State defense knew it,
Buckeye Nation knew it, and I suspect the Huskies players knew it, too…
Is it the unis? Mike Bellotti got great quarterback play from both Jason Fife
and Kellen Clemens…they'll need it, because the Green Light defense made its
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which
airs Saturday mornings at 8:30 on Fox Sports Bay Area.
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