CF.C goes one-on-one with Rick Neuheisel

HE'S THE GUY many Cougar fans love to hate, with a surreal 9-0 record as a head coach against WSU. But that feeling is far from mutual, Rick Neuheisel says. There he was this past Saturday, calling the WSU spring game, offering up pithy analysis and insight. We wanted to know more, so we went one-on-one with the Pac-12 Networks analyst. Some of what he said will surprise Cougar Nation.

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Off in the distance, far in the future, can you in your wildest dreams imagine Rick Neuheisel as head coach of the Cougs?

"I think coaching there would be an absolute blast!" said Neuheisel.

Understand, Neuheisel isn't campaigning for the job. He says he sees Mike Leach at WSU for a long, long time. He also loves what he does these days, entering his second year with the Pac-12 Networks. It's also clear after a lengthy conversation with him -- he simply has a soft spot for the Cougs.

"I have great respect for Washington State -- Bill Moos is one of my favorite guys, I think he's a terrific athletic director. I've told lots of people, I think Mike Leach is very fortunate to have an athletic director like Bill Moos ...I see great things in store for the Cougs. I think there are no better fans. Every Saturday when you see that Coug flag on ESPN Game Day, wow. The Cougs are unique," said Neuheisel.

WSU RUNNING BACKS COACH Jim Mastro joined Neuheisel at UCLA after helping perfect the Pistol offense at Nevada, and he turned Neuheisel into a true Pistol believer. He thinks elements of it would be a plus in the Air Raid.

"Having been indoctrinated into the Pistol, having seen Jim Mastro and how he coached it ... I think the Pistol could solve a lot of what the Cougars saw in the way of pass rush last year ... you can still throw the ball like Mike Leach likes to throw it, ultimately I think it could be beneficial.

"You'd have to adapt it to what you're doing but I think a legitimate run threat would bring nothing but positives for their offense, and it would clamp down the looks they see given the personnel on the offensive line."

THAT BRINGS US to what Neuheisel says are the three things that need to happen for WSU on offense to take the next step in 2013.

"The No. 1 thing WSU has to be better at is pass protection," said Neuheisel. "They find themselves with an offensive line laden with guys that didn't come in on scholarship. They're giving it all they've got, but they're maybe not the most talented guys. It was a similar situation to what I found at UCLA. We were heading in the right direction and I think WSU is too…They have to find a way to simplify and if it already is simplified, they have to find a way for the guys to execute it better.

"Secondly, the QB has to be more accurate, especially to receivers that are catching the ball less than five yards down the field, so they have a chance to run with it. You run that drag route and put the ball a yard in front of the receiver, it becomes a handoff and the guys can get the necessary yards. If it's behind them or makes them turn, it's an unsuccessful run."

"Third, Mike Leach when he was in Lubbock had playmakers. On Saturday, Kristoff Williams, Rickey Galvin, Gabe Marks, Bobby Ratliff – all those guys and others showed signs of being playmakers. If you can get those guy to blossom…"

BASED ON WHAT Neuheisel saw on Saturday, who has the edge at QB – Connor Halliday or Austin Apodaca?

"I've been a fan of Halliday because of his toughness," said Neuheisel. "That game in Utah in the snow where he (lacerated his liver and played on), that's tough guy stuff. You immediately remember guys that have that kind of toughness. He kept his competitive form when things didn't always go well on Saturday, but to take the next step it's about getting it to the guys in the right spot so they can do something with it.

"And I haven't watched Apodaca enough yet. I thought he looked athletic, put some balls up that were ill-advised. I thought Halliday was the better of the two."

WHILE THE TERM "genius" has been attached to his Air Raid offense, Neuheisel says the real genius of Leach is most apparent in a different area.

"I'm intrigued with how he does what he does," said Neuheisel of Leach's offense. "It seems simple as he calls his plays and sips coffee -- we all assume it's coffee in that cup, (laughs). But I think really where his genius lies is in his relationships with his players.

"Publicly, we get the sense he's challenging, calling them out, calling them names. But I think he's earned the right to do that publicly because he's earned their trust privately. I think they really admire him. I had some guys when I was with the Baltimore Ravens (such as LB Mike Smith) that absolutely loved him.

"And from the broadcasting side, I think he's a welcome relief to the vanilla -- sometimes (coaches) are afraid of the media."

NEUHEISEL WAS FIRED from UCLA after four seasons, just as Paul Wulff was at Washington State. Both, Neuheisel says, were building their prospective programs back up -- but ran out of time.

"I thought Paul did a nice job his last year there but I understand it," said Neuheisel. "Fair isn't football. Fair is where they give a blue ribbon to a pig."

Neuheisel says that as state budgets have tightened, schools have shifted even more to boosters with money in order to compete. Those boosters, he says, have shortened the tenure of head coaches – including himself.

"In this day and age, athletic departments are on their own and they've turned to individuals and private donors -- pseudo-owners are created," said Neuheisel. "And when the pseudo owners grumble -- and they don't come to practice and see what's going on, they don't see enough of it – but then the AD has to acquiesce more often than not to those people.

"WSU was in the midst of a big capital campaign and they had to give people some hope, and unfortunately a guy who worked his tail off like Paul Wulff, he pays the price. And that's where I think fan pressure was on (UCLA A.D. Dan) Guerrero as well. I don't think it's fair, but I understand it."

WILL HE RETURN to coaching some day?

"Well, I never say never," said Neuheisel. "I miss coaching. I miss the relationships with the players, I even miss recruiting. But I'd also be lying if I said I didn't like what I'm doing.. I get to tell stories about football that too often went untold. I'll be critical when needed but ultimately there's a lot of positive things out there."

BONUS Q&A WITH RICK NEUHEISEL
CF.C: What do you think is the key for Washington State as far as sustained success?
Neuheisel: It all comes down to recruiting. If you go back and trace the roots of those 10-win seasons, Mike Price and Bill Doba had a great formula for the recruiting visit... It was always around game day, and recruits were around kids that liked one another. They had a pipeline to southern California where those kids saw they could focus on football, get their degree and stay away from distraction. That (sales pitch) won the day more often than not. And they recruited Washington very well too -- Marcus Trufant is a perfect example of that. .. It was no accident that they were winning. It was about executing and a bunch of kids that like one another. The recruiting trailed off when unfortunately, I think Doba's wife (Judy) got ill.

CF.C: How important are facilities to the recruiting equation?
Neuheisel: Well, I think Oregon has proven how important they are. Back when I played, WSU, OSU and Oregon were all taking what was left after Washington. Oregon got tired of that and created an operation unlike any other. I don't mean this as a negative either, but Oregon created a bling associated with the program. Unprecedented success has come from that. Oklahoma State did the same thing with Boone Pickens. You would be shocked at how nice those facilities are and yet Oklahoma State is not on the beaten path. But with those facilities, they have now become a top 25 team every year. Bill Moss understands that, the Field of Dreams concept – if you build it they will come. You get there and now you see all those facilities after the drive from Spokane.. and that's how you get it going.

CF.C: Name the Coug offensive and defensive players that most concerned you on game days.
Neuheisel: Well, Marcus Trufant obviously comes to mind, a heckuva player. There was Jason Gesser obviously... Mike Bush was a terrific player. Always concerned about Will Derting. He was a try-hard guy who always found a way... Erik Coleman was a fantastic player.

CF.C: How did you go 9-0 against the Cougs, even pulling out some games that were seemingly in the win column for WSU until the final minutes?
Neuheisel: I was fortunate in the years I was at Washington to have a very, very good WSU team to go against. So they got the absolute full attention of my players that week... When you go into it like UW did last year, you get ahead and you get complacent. I was always up against a really good football team, we studied and knew how to attack..What we did was study the heck out of where they lined up. And we then what we called hot reads even though it wasn't hot, we went there and we threw the ball into Reggie Williams hands as much as possible.

CF.C: Hardest thing about coaching?
Neuheisel: Losing.

CF.C: Hardest thing about broadcasting?
Neuheisel: Looking at that dang camera.

CF.C: I'm going to say a phrase and I want you to tell me which coach comes immediately to mind: Sweater Vest.
Neuheisel: That would be me…I had no idea that would become such a big deal!

NOTABLE NOTE: Neuheisel over the years has had plenty of neighbors and friends who bleed crimson. One neighbor in Medina decorated Neuheisel's yard and home with crimson and gray toilet paper one Apple Cup week. So his wife Susan called a bunch of Husky friends and they returned the favor the next night with purple and gold TP. "Toomer's Corner had nothing on what we did to his house, his house was under siege," says Neuheisel. "Hey you've got to mention Amy Schwartz for me. She's a huge, huge Coug fan. Her husband is a Husky, I have coffee with her every Sunday. They've been married 25 years and she's not turning back, she's great, a true dyed in the wool Coug fan."