Missteps and ill will have marred Rick Neuheisel's move to
This is an article from the Feb. 15, 1999 issue
He took his players tubing down Boulder Creek, strummed his
guitar on his live radio show and liked to crack wise. During
his four seasons at Colorado, 38-year-old Rick Neuheisel left
himself open to the charge that underneath that youthful
exterior lay an immature interior. Was he more style than
Until Jan. 9, when Washington signed him to a seven-year, $7
million deal, no one knew that Neuheisel was even considering
another coaching job. Since then Neuheisel has been hailed in
Seattle as a bold tonic for the Huskies and denounced in Boulder
as a turncoat. The attacks by Colorado's fans and media have
been breathtaking in intensity. Neuheisel says the timing of his
hiring--on a weekend when 11 recruits were visiting
Colorado--"made me come off as a person who lacked commitment,
who lacked loyalty. I don't think those deficiencies are part of
It is both the charm and the curse of Neuheisel that he wants
people to like him. A coach less concerned about others would
not phone some of his former players to say goodbye and wish
them luck, as Neuheisel says he did in the days after arriving
in Seattle. Neuheisel's successor with the Buffaloes, former
Northwestern coach Gary Barnett, uncharitably labeled those
calls "potential tampering," implying that Neuheisel might have
been improperly trying to persuade some Buffaloes players to
transfer to Washington. That proved to be the least of
Neuheisel's possible NCAA worries last week. At the suggestion
of Huskies special teams coach Bobby Hauck, four Washington
assistants hit the recruiting road on the Sunday before the Feb.
3 signing date. Hauck came up with the idea because someone had
offered him a ticket to the Super Bowl in Miami, and Washington
had a commitment from kicker John Anderson of Boyton Beach, Fla.
Hauck figured he could meet his new kicker and see the game.
Three other assistants traveled to California.
However, in 1995, the NCAA ruled that coaches could not travel
to recruit after the Saturday before the signing date. Neuheisel
and his assistants say they didn't know the rule had changed
because they typically finished their recruiting in mid-January.
"I'm embarrassed by it," Neuheisel says. "In six years of taking
recruiting tests"--quizzes on rule revisions given each year by
the NCAA--"I've never missed a question."
Washington turned itself in for the recruiting violation, which
most likely will result in nothing more than a letter of
reprimand. Barnett and three other coaches--Colorado State's
Sonny Lubick, Oregon's Mike Bellotti and Washington State's Mike
Price, have written the NCAA asking that a sterner penalty be
leveled. The controversy overshadowed the Huskies' signing of
high school All-America running back Paul Arnold of Seattle, who
had also considered attending UCLA, Michigan and Notre Dame. The
6'1", 200-pound Arnold rushed for 1,974 yards and 32 touchdowns
last fall at Kennedy High.
The lack of a running game plagued Neuheisel at Colorado, as did
charges that the Buffaloes lacked discipline. The bottom line is
that Colorado went 33-14 under Neuheisel and his players had far
fewer brushes with the law than did players under Neuheisel's
predecessor, Bill McCartney. With 16 Buffaloes starters back from
an 8-4 team, Neuheisel would have had a Top 10 contender next
fall. A successful season would have quelled the doubts about his
Now Neuheisel must prove himself by rebuilding a Washington team
that drifted into mediocrity under coach Jim Lambright, a career
assistant who in six seasons never grasped how to communicate
with his players or the public. Linebacker Lester Towns says
that after Lambright's firing on Dec. 29, "Guys walked into his
office and looked around, saying, 'Whoa! I've never been in here
Neuheisel's door is open, literally and otherwise. Under
Lambright, Washington wore purple helmets the last four years.
Every Monday last season, Towns says, he asked Lambright if the
team could switch back to its traditional gold. The answer was
always no. At his first meeting with his new team, Neuheisel
talked of his days as quarterback of UCLA and how intimidating
the Huskies had been in their gold helmets. Then he produced one
from behind the podium and asked the players if they wanted to
wear gold again. They roared their approval. "When they rose out
of their chairs," Neuheisel says, "I realized these guys were
just like the guys I left behind."
The Ayes of Texas
SIMMS SWITCH IS ICING ON THE CAKE
Texas would have finished first in this year's recruiting race
even if Ramapo (N.J.) High quarterback Chris Simms, son of
former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, had stuck with his December
commitment to Tennessee. Longhorns coach Mack Brown invited 36
players to make official visits, and 26, many of them
blue-chippers, signed letters of intent, including Simms, who
announced his change of mind last month.
Simms could have redshirted at Tennessee next fall and competed
for the starting job in 2000 with Vols signee A.J. Suggs of
Powder Springs, Ga. Instead, Simms chose to lock horns with Texas
starter Major Applewhite, who has three years of eligibility
From Europe to Knoxville
THE VOLS SIGN THE GERMANATOR
Though Tennessee lost Simms, the Vols did sign the best player
from Germany. Don't laugh--Constantin Ritzmann, a 6'4",
245-pound defensive end from Berlin, had 26 sacks last season
for North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Florida's Class 2A
state champion. Ritzmann, 19, came to the U.S. in 1998 as an
exchange student sponsored by NFL Europe after becoming one of
the best players on the club level in Germany. For the past
three years an all-star team of players from Europe has played a
similar team from another country in an NFL-sponsored game on
the day before the Super Bowl. Ritzmann has been the MVP each
year. "He's tall and extremely strong for his age," says Tilman
Engel, general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy. "I hope someday
he will play on my team." Ritzmann's hopes are grander: He wants
to play in the NFL. He takes to Knoxville a ready-made nickname:
TOP QUARTERBACK PICKS SEMINOLES
After watching Pahokee, Fla., quarterback and safety Anquan
Boldin account for 320 yards of offense in the Class 3A state
final, Florida coach Steve Spurrier took charge of luring Boldin
to Gainesville. "Coach Spurrier told me that the two teams they
lost to last season [Tennessee and Florida State] had mobile
quarterbacks," Boldin said last month. "He said he is looking to
get a quarterback like that." Last week Boldin signed with
Florida State. The Gators wound up with Parade All-America
quarterback Rex Grossman of Bloomington (Ind.) South and Chris
Stephens of Gainesville (Fla.) Buchholz.
The Next Generation
Here's a look at some newly signed recruits, including Chris
Simms (above), who have strong football bloodlines.
CHRIS SIMMS, QB, Texas - Father: Phil, QB, Giants, 1979 to '93
Nation's top-rated quarterback made a nonbinding oral commitment
to Tennessee, then changed his mind. He never considered playing
for his dad's alma mater, Morehead State.
ELI MANNING, QB, Ole Miss - Father: Archie, QB, Saints, Oilers,
Vikings, '71 to '84
Dad was an Ole Miss legend, but the toughest task for Eli may be
escaping the shadow of brother Peyton, whose QB coach at
Tennessee, David Cutcliffe, now coaches the Rebels.
Jarrett Payton, TB, Miami - Father: Walter, RB, Bears '75 to '87
Jarrett's signing with the Hurricanes seemed inconsequential
compared to the revelation that his Hall of Fame father may not
survive the next two years unless he gets a liver transplant.
ROBERT POLLARD, LB-FB, TCU - Father: Robert, DE, Cardinals,
Saints, '71 to '81
Son shone on both sides of the ball at Beaumont (Texas) West
Brook High, where he rushed for 525 yards and made 70 tackles.
It's safe to say he inherited his dad's toughness.
JOSH DAVIS, TB, Nebraska - Father: Tony, RB, Bengals, Bucs, '76
Nebraska coach Frank Solich sticks his neck out for the son of a
former Cornhusker. Josh faces two felony charges in connection
with a burglary in Colorado.
MATT RAY, QB, UNLV - Uncle: Bill Walsh, general manager, 49ers
The holder of 40 Northern California high school passing
records, Matt will play for Uncle Bill's old friend and rival,