More from my one-on-one interview with Rick Neuheisel…
Have you been as uncertain as you are now about what you’ll see in a first game?
Neuheisel: “That’s always a concern. It was a concern last year when we played San Diego State, with two new coordinators. Both Rocky Long and Al Borges were brand-new, and a new head coach in Brady Hoke. Shoot, we had ideas, but you’re not certain. And that’s the case again this year. A new defensive coordinator in Kansas State gives you cause for a measure of consternation. And that they’re a quality program playing at home is also a reason to stay up late. But you can’t change that. You just go and you play the very best you can, and you play and error-free as you can. The formula for a first game is to make as very few mistakes as you can. Whether it be the sideline decorum, substitutions, strategy, turnovers certainly, kicking game – you just make as few mistakes as you can, and usually, you’ll find yourself in good position.”
How sure are you the Pistol is going to work?
CRN: “It doesn’t make any difference what offense we run. It will work if we execute it properly. You try to put your guys, who are out there battling for you and the school, in the best position you can. This was an effort to put our guys in more advantageous positions. We didn’t put them having to block uphill or move the ball uphill, hopefully we’re moving it downhill. I’m fairly certain it will work, because I think we’ve worked hard at it. To what level will the improvement be as compared to last year? Hopefully significant.”
You talk about putting them in the right positions, well now you have a guy like Anthony Barr, a Malcolm Jones, a Dietrich Riley – more queens than pawns, guys who can do some things, who you can move around – are you seeing the fruits of your labor immediately?
CRN: Each of those three individuals – and there are certainly more guys who can fall into that category – are exciting players. But really, you judge them by how it works in a cohesive effort. You don’t judge it as to how individuals flourish. Rahim Moore, who had a fabulous year last year, and Akeem Ayers, who are both being touted as top players, and deservedly so, would trade all of that if we won more games. Coaches are the same, even though we take pride in individual accomplishments. As long as we flourish as a team, everyone will get their share of the pie. I don’t worry so much about seeing those guys out there, but certainly they will help the football team. That’s where we go back to roster development – you’re always looking to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade so that the whole team can enjoy in the success. I know this from personal experience, if I’m on a winning football team, I feel good about the effort I’ve put in.”
But given the health of the team, they might play early…
CRN: “You have to be fortunate that your people stay healthy. We’re not like the NFL. We can’t go to the waiver wire and sign three, four more guys. That’s now how it works. You hope and you plan for depth, you plan for an evolution of your team. All your freshmen certainly want to be given an opportunity to play early, but if they don’t, they’re going to be good players when their time comes. It has been unbelievable, the difficulty in keeping our offensive line healthy. Just unbelievable. And available, for a variety of reasons, we just have struggled. But we can’t whine about it. Have to go play.”
Have you been in a situation in which you have no offensive linemen available from two straight classes, ’08 and ’09?
CRN: “It’s unusual, but I always believe that when you go through that, good things are on the horizon. We’ll be stronger for it. It provides great opportunities for other guys. I go back, and rather look at it as, ‘How did that happen?’, I say thank goodness we have Eddie Williams and Ryan Taylor, two great kids who came here as junior college guys, and both are going to graduate from here. Guys we’re counting on heavily.”