By Doug Miller
Rick Neuheisel is a football lifer. It was only a matter of time before he’d try to help build a winner at home.
The former star player and coach and current college broadcaster, who will be the head coach of the Phoenix-based Arizona franchise in The Alliance of American Football in its inaugural season (beginning this February), grew up sitting in the seats of Sun Devil Stadium.
The home stadium of Arizona State was not far from McClintock High School in Tempe, where he starred at quarterback before heading to UCLA. Now Neuheisel is preparing to patrol the sidelines of that stadium as a professional coach in a new and exciting elite-level venture set to change football starting in the spring of 2019.
“I just remember back in 1977,” Neuheisel said in the press conference announcing him as the Arizona franchise coach. “(McClintock) won the state championship, 14-9, so hoping we can rekindle that in 2019. To jump back to coaching is unbelievably exciting.
“I’m pinching myself because it’s really happening. If it seems like I’m in a coma, it’s because I don’t want to be woken up.”
Neuheisel has had his share of football glory. He was the MVP of the 1984 Rose Bowl while quarterback at UCLA, a pro QB with the San Antonio Gunslingers of the USFL in 1984 and ’85, and had some NFL time in 1987 with the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Neuheisel also coached at Colorado (1995-98), won a Rose Bowl as head coach of Washington (1999-2002), coached UCLA (2008-11), was quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, and has been a broadcaster since May 2012. Currently, he’s a college football analyst for CBS and a broadcaster on SiriusXM Radio.
And now this. Neuheisel will be working with an experienced executive in Arizona general manager Phil Savage, and he’ll be fulfilling a dream that was set in motion as soon as he heard about what league co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol was trying to accomplish with The Alliance.
“From the very beginning of the conversation about this … starting two years ago, he made it his life’s mission to bring a team to Arizona and the Phoenix-Tempe area,” Ebersol said at the introductory press conference.
“Eventually, I said, ‘Coach, we always wanted to go to Phoenix.”
But Neuheisel’s goals for the Arizona team and Ebersol’s goals for The Alliance as a whole are not just about compelling football games for a nation of fans that just can’t seem to get enough football. There’s going to be a lot more to the AAF than that.
“We want to be a complement to the NFL,” Neuheisel said, and to that end, he spoke of a desire to assist players with their careers and lives after their football-playing days have come to a close. Neuheisel did the same, passing Bar exams in the state of Arizona and in Washington, D.C., between playing and coaching.
But come February, the action will be on the field at Sun Devil Stadium and Neuheisel will be back with a headset, a team playing for him, for each other, for his home state and for new fans.
“I’m really, really proud to represent my hometown here,” Neuheisel said. “This is homegrown stuff, and I think that’s the idea behind this. … “We’re thrilled. Looking forward to the challenge.”