When Rick Neuheisel attended the 1998 Rose Bowl, to be inducted into its Hall of Fame, he took the time to enjoy the moment and bask in the gala and pageantry of the college football game known simply as “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
As he watched the shadows creep over the Arroyo Seco, and the sun disappear into the western horizon, he turned to his wife, Susan, and said, “We’ve got to get back here someday.”
It happened sooner than he expected.
Three years later Neuheisel was back in the Rose Bowl, hoisting the championship trophy above his head to the delight of 40,000 Husky fans after Washington had dispatched Purdue’s Boilermakers 34-24.
After quarterbacking UCLA to a 45-9 victory against Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and coaching the Huskies to their seventh Rose Bowl championship, Neuheisel will long be considered one of the Rose Bowl’s favorite sons.
Neuheisel prefers to deflect the attention for Washington’s ascension back to the top of the college football ranks over the past three seasons. He will be the first one to credit his players and coaching staff for making the commitment to return the Huskies to dominance.
When he first arrived in Seattle in January of 1999, Neuheisel challenged the Huskies to forego any feeling-out process with a new staff and simply make a commitment to winning.
The results speak for themselves. During his first three years as a Husky, Neuheisel's teams have placed second, first and second in the Pac-10 race. Washington has been ranked in the Associated Press poll for every game during the past two seasons. The Huskies have made two trips to the Holiday Bowl and one showing in the Rose Bowl under Neuheisel.
Last year's team posted a 8-4 record that included six wins at Husky Stadium to extend the Huskies' current home winning streak to 14 games. A young Husky squad faced five teams that were ranked in the final Associated Press Poll and picked up wins against three of those opponents.
Neuheisel's second Husky squad, the 2000 team, posted the first 10-win season since the 1991 Huskies went 12-0 en route to the national championship. It was Washington’s first Rose Bowl title in 10 years and its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1992.
The 2000 Huskies were a remarkable team. Washington trailed in eight of its 11 wins, showing incredible resilience and heart, not to mention strategy, in pulling off five consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks in a row. For his efforts, Neuheisel was listed as a finalist for coach of the year by several different media outlets.
In 1999, his first season as the head football coach at Washington, Neuheisel accomplished something that none of his predecessors achieved. He guided the Huskies to a 7-5 record, including an invitation to the 1999 Culligan Holiday Bowl, becoming the first UW coach to take the team to a bowl game during his inaugural season.
Husky football fans and casual sports followers alike have quickly embraced Neuheisel for the spark he has added to Washington’s storied football tradition. As a public speaker, he is in high demand. Neuheisel has spoken at numerous fundraising events and generated lofty contributions with his charismatic speeches and penchant for innovative fundraising ideas.
Neuheisel took over the Washington program in January of 1999 after serving as the head football coach at Colorado from 1995 to 1998. His six-year coaching record now stands at 59-24 (.711).
Washington is the second head coaching position for the 41-year old Neuheisel, who spent seven seasons as an assistant coach prior to securing the Colorado job. He worked six years at his alma mater, UCLA, under his college coach Terry Donahue, and was an assistant coach for one season on Bill McCartney’s staff in Boulder. He was named the head coach at Colorado on Nov. 29, 1994.
At Colorado, Neuheisel compiled a 33-14 (.702) record and was 3-0 in postseason bowl games. All three of his bowl games were against Pac-10 Conference opponents. He had 20 wins in his first two seasons as a college coach, which tied for the fourth-most by a first-time college coach in the Division I-A modern era. Both of those Colorado teams finished in the top-10 of the national polls.
Neuheisel had a number of “firsts” while coaching the Buffaloes:
• He became the first first-year Colorado coach to take a team to a bowl game.
• The team’s 10 wins in 1995 were the most ever by a first-year CU coach.
• The Buffaloes’ No. 4 ranking in the USA Today standings and No. 5 ranking in the final Associated Press poll were the eighth-highest rankings ever for a first-year coach.
• Neuheisel’s 10 wins his first year tied for the fifth-most by a rookie.
• The 1996 Colorado team set a school record by winning 10 consecutive road games.
• The 1997 Buffalo team produced three All-Americans, including Butkus Award winner Matt Russell.
• He is only the fourth coach to guide his first two teams to a pair of 10-win seasons.
The road that led Neuheisel into coaching was an interesting, if not a unique one. After finishing his college career with a spectacular performance in the 1984 Rose Bowl in which he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, he graduated from UCLA in May, 1984, with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Neuheisel had a solid 3.4 grade point average, the highest of all graduating football seniors, and was named Academic All-Pac 10. He won the Jack R. Robinson and Paul I. Wellman awards from the school to honor his academic excellence, and also earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship as he aspired to attend law school. Neuheisel was inducted into the Rose Bowl’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
v He played two seasons (1984,1985), with the San Antonio Gunslingers of the United States Football League. Following the 1985 USFL season (which was over by the end of summer), he decided to use his NCAA scholarship award and enrolled in law school at Southern California.
The following summer, he joined the UCLA staff as a volunteer coach, specifically to tutor Troy Aikman on the UCLA offense. Aikman matured under Neuheisel’s tutelage, and the two remain close friends to this day.
In 1987, Neuheisel played in the National Football League. He suited up for three games for the San Diego Chargers (starting two), and still holds a team record for completion percentage in a game (81.8, going 18-of-22 for 217 yards and a touchdown at Tampa Bay). He completed 40-of-59 passes in those three games for 367 yards and one touchdown, and added another touchdown rushing. Another claim to his short-lived NFL fame is that he is the last player to rush for a one-point conversion, running in a muffed PAT attempt at Cincinnati. This is forever a trivia answer, with the NFL now sporting the two-point conversion.
He closed out the season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, dressing for two games, but never getting the chance to play. He wore the same number at Tampa Bay (No. 7) that he wore for San Diego.
Neuheisel would again return to his alma mater, but this time in the capacity of a full-time assistant coach in charge of the quarterbacks, which he would coach for the next two seasons before switching to receivers coach in 1990. While an assistant at UCLA, Neuheisel continued his studies in his pursuit of a law degree. He graduated from the University of Southern California School of Law in 1990 with his juris doctor degree. He would be sworn into the Arizona State Bar Association in May of 1991, and the Washington, D.C., Bar in March, 1993.
Neuheisel began his collegiate playing career as a walkon at UCLA, holding for kicker John Lee, and eventually battled Steve Bono for the starting quarterback job by his senior year. He secured the starting job four games into the regular season and quarterbacked the Bruins to the Pac-10 championship in 1983, earning honorable mention All-Pac 10 honors in the process. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the 1984 Rose Bowl when UCLA beat Illinois, 45-9. In that game, Neuheisel completed 22-of-31 passes for 298 yards and four TDs, including a pair to Karl Dorrell, who later became Washington’s offensive coordinator.
Neuheisel completed 198 of 290 passes for 2,480 yards and 15 touchdowns in his UCLA career, which at the time placed him sixth on the Bruins’ all-time passing yards list. He still holds school records in completion percentage for both a single season (69.3 as a senior) and career (68.3). Another school record he still holds, completion percentage in a single game, set an NCAA record at the time; Neuheisel completed 25 of 27 passes (including 18 straight at one point) for 287 yards against Washington in 1983, a remarkable 92.6 percent.
He graduated from McClintock High School in Tempe, Ariz., in 1979, and was the school’s most outstanding athlete his senior year as he lettered in football (quarterback), basketball (guard) and baseball (shortstop, outfield, pitcher). He is a member of McClintock’s Hall of Fame. Richard Gerald Neuheisel, Jr., was born on Feb. 7, 1961, in Madison, Wis., where he made his debut as a head coach when CU beat Wisconsin 43-7. He is married to the former Susan Wilkinson, and they have three children, Jerry (10), Jack (8) and Joe (5).
Neuheisel’s father, Dick, was one of the original Tempe Diablos, a group which helped found the Fiesta Bowl, and is a former president of Sister Cities International, a worldwide goodwill organization. The son of Dick and Jane, Rick has three sisters, Nancy, Katie and Deborah. From his home on Lake Washington, he occasionally drives his boat to work. He has been a semi-regular participant on the Celebrity Golf Association Tour. In 1999, a month before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he shot a 74 on the course.