Rick Neuheisel's tumultuous life is moving along dual tracks these days.
While the former University of Washington football coach pursues his case that he was wrongfully fired by the school for participating in an NCAA basketball pool, he's keeping his eye on the NFL in hopes of landing a job. The San Francisco 49ers seriously considered hiring him to replace Steve Mariucci after last season, and a lot of people believe the onetime UCLA quarterback is better suited for coaching in the pros.
"I don't have a preference [between coaching in college or the NFL]," Neuheisel said this week. "I understand, given the particulars of my situation, that it probably fits better right now at a professional level. But I also know there might be some trepidation because of my experience. So hopefully an opportunity will present itself, and I promise to make the most of it."
In eight seasons as the top man, Neuheisel was 33-14 in four seasons at Colorado, 33-16 in four seasons at Washington, and 4-3 in postseason games with victories in the Rose and Cotton bowls. He wants to be a head coach, although he realizes his way back into the game might be as an offensive coordinator. It remains to be seen whether he can generate interest at the pro level; he said he hasn't been contacted by any NFL teams, even though this is shaping up to be a busy off-season of hirings and firings.
"All I'm hoping for is that someone will be intrigued enough to want to have a conversation," he said. "And after that conversation, I'll take my chances."
Neuheisel has his share of detractors who think of him as an opportunist who will break rules to gain a competitive edge. Critics also portray him as one who is always looking for a better job. He's determined to dispel that reputation.
"I think that there was a belief that I was on the fast track and in search of the next best deal, as opposed to being content with my personal situation," he said. "I don't believe that to be true at all. I turned down several opportunities, so I could stay in both [Colorado and Washington].... I'm a very loyal person."
An interesting fit for him could be the Oakland Raiders, who might be in the market to replace Bill Callahan and, as the league's last-chance saloon, they have a history of reviving troubled careers.
Two down, at least four to go.
That's what the NFL coaching landscape is looking like in the wake of the Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel firings. Buffalo, Chicago, Arizona and Atlanta (again) are very likely to make coaching changes. It could well happen in Miami, New Orleans and Oakland too. Nor are Washington's Steve Spurrier and San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer in the clear.
The hottest prospects from the college ranks are, in order, Louisiana State's Nick Saban and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, both of whom have NFL experience. It seems unlikely that Pete Carroll will leave USC.
Saban, who has said he plans to stay at LSU, probably will be courted by the Falcons, Bears and Dolphins. St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is a leading candidate to replace interim Coach Wade Phillips in Atlanta.
Look for Tom Coughlin to be hired by the New York Giants, and Fassel to wind up in Arizona. Although Fassel could be a fit with the Raiders, too, where he was once their quarterbacks coach.
If Jim Haslett is fired by New Orleans, he could land in Buffalo, where the Bills are set to get rid of Gregg Williams. The Bills will also take a long look at Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
Some teams are certainly going to weigh the merits of New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Because it's a double whammy when teams in the same division get stronger by weakening a rival, it makes sense that Miami and Buffalo would be especially interested in Crennel and Weis.
Where does Dennis Green fit in? And what of Dallas offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, a guy Bill Parcells says is ready to be an NFL head coach?
Really, there's only one thing we know for sure: It's a brutal business.
When Chicago plays host to Washington on Sunday, Bear quarterback Rex Grossman will oppose Spurrier, his coach at Florida. Grossman, who made his starting debut last Sunday in a 13-10 win over Minnesota, recounted this week how his mother insisted he take a recruiting trip to Florida as long as he was checking out Florida State.
"[Spurrier] showed me little details about the position, how to beat defenses, how to look off defenders, everything a young quarterback can learn coming out of high school," Grossman said. "He really got me ready for where I am right now."
It's unclear exactly where Grossman is on the learning curve. He won his debut, that's the important thing. But he put up modest numbers, completing 43% of his passes and compiling a ho-hum passer rating of 60.0. But he didn't turn over the ball and the Bears had no false starts or delay-of-game penalties.