UCLA fans may remember Rick Neuheisel for his rather lackluster stint as the Bruins coach from 2008-11, but his latest coaching gig is off to a pretty hot start.
As a head coach in the new Alliance of American Football, Neuheisel led his Arizona Hotshots to a 38-22 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions in their debut game Sunday night.
Neuheisel can’t promise every outing will be as successful — after all, he won his debut game with the Bruins in 2008 before losing the next three — but he said there’s at least one thing the fans can count on every time.
“I can’t tell you it’s going to be perfect. We’ve only been together for a very short amount of time,” Neuheisel said. “But I will tell you the fans are going to be entertained because this is a fun group.”
John Wolford, Wake Forest’s starting quarterback from 2014-17, sparked the uptempo offense, throwing for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s exciting. You’re part of a start-up, everything is a first,” Wolford said. “Every pass is the first pass, the first completion, the first touchdown. So it’s fun.”
Another veteran coach who found success in his return to the sideline this weekend was Steve Spurrier, whose Orlando Apollos defeated the Atlanta Legends 40-6.
It was the sixth straight opening win with a new team for Spurrier, who got in a dig at one of his former teams after the game.
“Even won with the Redskins,” joked Spurrier, who was 12-20 in two years as coach of Washington’s NFL team. “That’s not easy to do.”
The return to football for Christian Hackenberg — a three-year starter for Penn State who was a second-round pick for the New York Jets in 2016 but never appeared in a regular-season game — didn’t go so well.
The most notable part of Hackenberg’s debut with the Memphis Express was all of the profanities he uttered that were picked up by the TV microphones during the broadcast.
He spoke much more eloquently after the 26-0 loss to the Birmingham Iron.
“We’re going to keep scrapping,” said Hackenberg, who completed 10 of 23 passes for 87 yards with one interception. “I’m confident in our coaches. I’m confident in our players.”
He added: “I know every single one of those guys in there, and myself included, take it personally, and we’ve got to go back to work and make sure we iron those things out.”
Coach Mike Singletary was noncommittal about whether Hackenberg would get a chance to iron things out on the field next week.
“We’ll figure that out as the week goes by,” Singletary said.
Birmingham linebacker DeMarquis Gates forced two fumbles and teammate Nick Novak kicked four field goals.
In the other AAF game on opening weekend, the San Antonio Commanders beat the San Diego Fleet 15-6.