And so we joked about who it could possibly be: Lou Holtz! Lee Corso! Mack Brown! Rick Neuheisel!
Unfortunately, this isn’t a joke anymore. FootballScoop is now reporting that Rick Neuheisel, who it says it “alluded to” in its prior report, is “very much in play” at Arizona.
Neuheisel is currently an analyst for CBS Sports. He has not coached since he was fired at UCLA in 2011 nearly seven years ago. At UCLA, he went 21-29 over four seasons with exactly one winning season (7-6!). Despite recruiting relatively well, his teams didn’t go anywhere, only making bowl games twice.
At his prior head coaching stint (Washington), he was fired for betting on college basketball, which is an NCAA violation. In response, Neuheisel sued the University of Washington for wrongful termination, eventually settling his case for $4.5M. (Some have said it’s “baffling” that Arizona would fire Rich Rodriguez without cause and simply pay his buyout, but it’s a calculated decision to avoid the headache, hassle, cost, and risk of a Neuheisel-esque lawsuit).
At Colorado, Neuheisel left a host of NCAA sanctions in his wake. I’ll let the NCAA Infractions Committee summarize its conclusions:
This was a serious case in which a football coaching staff, led by the former head football coach, in a calculated attempt to gain a recruiting advantage, pushed beyond the permissible bounds of legislation, resulting in a pattern of recruiting violations.
Colorado was left with reduced scholarships, and Neuheisel (who, predictably, had moved onto Washington at that point) was restricted from recruiting off-campus for a short period of time.
This, apparently, is who the Wildcats are considering as their next head coach. I’m sure he’ll deal with the media well, and it’s unsurprising to see some of the old guard excited at the prospect. And he’s undoubtedly cheap. Unlike Troy’s Neal Brown, Neuheisel doesn’t have a buyout, and unlike Kevin Sumlin, he’s not likely to command a significant pool of funds for assistants.
It is difficult, though, for me to consider him any different than John Mackovic, the coach who legendarily set Arizona football back 10 years. At the time of his hire, Mackovic had been out of coaching for three years. Neuheisel has been out of coaching for six years. Mackovic left television to go back to coaching. Neuheisel would, too. Mackovic underperformed at Texas, a school with a ton of resources in a recruiting hotbed. Neuheisel did the same at UCLA. And Mackovic was 57 years old at the time of his hire. Neuheisel is 56.
This would be a mistake. Arizona can go a lot of different directions for this job: a highly-regarded head coach who is unexpectedly available, an up-and-coming head coach or coordinator, or even the interim that the players love and respect. Any of these would be fine.
Neuheisel would not be fine. Please, Dave Heeke: don’t do this.