When Madison Poole mailed a game tape from his hometown of Seattle to Westwood, Calif., he knew precisely what he was getting himself into.
The fact that Poole lived not far from the University of Washington campus and was essentially applying to play for head coach Rick Neuheisel was not lost on his friends and family.
“I always heard little jokes: ‘You’re going to play for Slick Rick?’ ” Poole said this week.
Upon graduating from Seattle’s Blanchet High School, that’s exactly what Poole ended up doing.
Hard as it is to believe, there are people in Seattle who still hold Neuheisel in the highest regard.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever played for,”said Justin Mann, a redshirt freshman from Woodinville, Wash., who is a backup defensive lineman for UCLA. “A lot of people have never even met him in person. They don’t know him.”
As the second Neuheisel Bowl approaches, this time on the 48-year-old coach’s home turf, some of the feelings have faded and the Neuheisel name isn’t the four-letter word it once was.
Two Seattle-area players have taken Neuheisel up on an offer to play for him, and the last of the coach’s UW recruits is facing him for the final time.
Trenton Tuiasosopo, a sixth-year linebacker at UW who was recruited by Neuheisel as a junior at Mariner High School, called the former Huskies coach “a good man.”
“People make mistakes,” Tuiasosopo said this week. “It’s not the mistake you make, but how you bounce back. Obviously, he’s trying to do what he can for UCLA.”
While Neuheisel has yet to get the Bruins off the ground – UCLA has lost all five of its Pac-10 games this season and has a 7-13 overall record during Neuheisel’s tenure there – he has professed to have moved on.
When asked this week about his well-publicized exit from UW, Neuheisel said: “That’s gone by the wayside.”
Neuheisel went on to compliment the job done by first-year Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, who is the third man to hold the post since Neuheisel left in 2002.
“It’s fun to see Husky Stadium jumping around again,” Neuheisel said. “To see it on television, and see the camera bouncing, that brings back some good memories.”
Neuheisel was at UW from 1999 through 2002, compiling a 33-16 record while taking the Huskies to a Rose Bowl.
But he will forever be remembered in Seattle for the way he left town.
A controversy involving a college basketball betting pool got Neuheisel in trouble with the NCAA, and the school finally cut ties with him after Neuheisel lied about a job interview with the San Francisco 49ers.
Neuheisel subsequently threatened to sue the school, and the relationship between UW and its ex-coach seems beyond repair.
When Neuheisel rejoined the Pac-10 last year, then made a November trip to Seattle as the Bruins’ coach, the bad feelings ultimately resurfaced.
Neuheisel has continued to say all the right things since taking over at UCLA, preferring to remember the good times at UW rather than rehash the sordid details of his firing. He was taking the higher ground again this week, as he prepared to welcome the Huskies to his part of the country for Saturday’s game.
“I always have a (special) feeling when we play Washington,” Neuheisel said during Tuesday’s Pac-10 Conference call. “I had great memories there. No animosity. I just remember the good times.”
Enough time has passed that none of the current Huskies has played a game for Neuheisel.
Even Tuiasosopo, the linebacker who was recruited by him but went on to play for three other head coaches at UW, doesn’t profess to know Neuheisel well.
“It’s too bad that it happened the way it did with the coaching change,” said Tuiasosopo, who has received two medical redshirts because of a series of health problems. “But with change, you’ve got to adapt. It’ll be good to see him, though.”
The athletes who play for Neuheisel now say that he’s received a bad rap – especially in Seattle.
Mann, who first met the coach while attending a Washington football camp as a 13-year-old, was so taken with Neuheisel when the UCLA coach called him two years ago that he accepted an offer to walk on at the school.
Mann added that Neuheisel’s bad reputation in the Seattle area is “because people from Washington only see the media side of it. They don’t really know what happened.”
Poole, the kicker from Seattle, also respects Neuheisel. So even when Poole’s friends and family teased him, the 2009 graduate jumped at the chance to head south to Los Angeles and play for the veteran coach.
“I was pretty excited,” Poole said. “He’s got a great reputation as a coach. And he’s a great guy to be around.”
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