Neuheisel will leave us, but not for Notre Dame

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Monday, December 24, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

Rick Neuheisel is everything Notre Dame could want in a football coach.

He is charismatic. He is photogenic. He is eloquent. He is charming. He is diplomatic.

He has a beautiful family – a lovely wife and three great looking kids.

He doesn’t have to lie on his resume for it to be impressive. He really did play football at UCLA. He really does have a law degree.

He is a crackerjack recruiter. If you think he can win kids over now, just think what he could do as the Fighting Irish coach.

He is a proven winner. And not a bad rebuilder. In two seasons at the University of Washington, he accomplished what he had set out to do – put it back up among the nation’s elite. He infused the program with an energy that it was badly in need of.

He seems to really care about his players. He is secure enough in his own abilities to have two former college head coaches on his staff and to listen to them and implement their ideas. He is superb with the media.

He would be a perfect fit for Notre Dame, the most visible football program in America. And it isn’t at all surprising that his name would surface as a top candidate for the Irish job.

He could get the Notre Dame program out of this mode of mediocrity it has fallen into and he could do it quickly. He could do for the Irish what they used to be famous for doing: He could win national championships.

Yes, plural, not singular.

He could build a legacy that would rival the last great coach the Irish had – Lou Holtz. And he could make a lot of money doing it – reportedly $2.5 million to start.

He could build such a name for himself that he could catapult into about any arena he chose – the NFL, politics, public speaking, broadcasting, CEO of a business.

Who could pass up such an opportunity? Well, Rick Neuheisel for one – if it were offered. Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White says it hasn’t been. And Neuheisel makes it sound as if he isn’t interested even if it is offered.

“I’m happy as I can be at Washington,” he said. “I think Washington is also a prestigious job. I’m fortunate to have it.”

I believe him. I believe he is happy.

He’s got a solid program. He’s looking to have a fine recruiting class. He’s earning a nice salary. He’s got a new indoor practice facility. He’s worshipped by the fans.

What’s Notre Dame got that Washington doesn’t have? Oh, for starters, the most storied program in college football. Knute Rockne. George Gipp. The Four Horsemen. The Golden Dome. Touchdown Jesus. All those national championships. All those Heisman Trophy winners. All those All-Americans. All those NFL players.

Need we go on?

Along with that, the Fighting Irish have the largest fan base in all of college sports. And you don’t have to have attended Notre Dame to bleed Gold and Blue. With that comes several million “coaches” worldwide – your every play-call scrutinized, your every loss criticized.

A few years ago, I was passing through O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on my way back to Seattle. The Irish had been beaten the day before and I happened to sit down next to some Notre Dame fans in a restaurant. They were berating the Irish coach at the time, Gerry Faust. This one guy – he was in his 50s – was livid. He was so enraged that he could barely speak without spittle forming on his lips. I’d seen angry fans in my time, but never anything like this. I suspect he wasn’t alone in his outrage.

And coaches consider this the plum coaching job in America? Well, maybe not so much anymore. Some of the sheen is missing from the Golden Dome. Maybe that’s why people such as Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders, Steve Mariucci of the San Francisco 49ers and Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos have said they’re not interested in the job. Or maybe it’s the pressure they would encounter. They have enough, as it is. Why seek more?

If we can believe Neuheisel, he, too, will stay right where he is. For now anyway.

While he said he was happy with his current job, he also remarked “while Notre Dame is a great university and certainly would be a very prestigious job for whoever would take it, it’s not the job I’m looking for.” Then came the “happy as can be at Washington” ta-da, ta-da, ta-da statement.

You got the key phrase: Not the job I’m looking for.

Whether that was a slip of the tongue, we don’t know. But we may find out in a couple of years.

When Neuheisel took the UW job, I said he’d stay here five years, tops.

If he were to take the Notre Dame job, it wouldn’t come as a complete shock, despite what he said.

But I don’t think he will. He’s got too much going for him here.

Back to that key phrase: What job would he leave for?

One man’s guess: UCLA, his alma mater.

But that job is still filled. If it comes open, then Husky fans may have something to worry about.

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