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Big News from OTP: The Pause of an Era

OTP Logo 200There have been news days and there have been NEWS days here at OTP over the last few years. When we broke the story about Brady Hoke leaving, that was a NEWS day. When we broke the story about Pete Lembo being hired, that was a NEWS day. When we transitioned from the old site to this one, that was just a news day. Today is probably more of the latter than the former, but it’s noteworthy all the same.

Beginning April 16, Fearless Leader will be transitioning to a new role as the Managing Editor of Hustle Belt (www.hustlebelt.com). Most of you who have been loyal Fans of the Pylon for the last few years should be familiar with HB, but in case you aren’t, it’s the MAC home on SB Nation, the preeminent site network for news, notes, features, and fun. I’m excited for the opportunity, grateful for the chance, but more than anything, I’m thankful for the loyal support of the Ball State fanbase that made the Pylon part of their digital routine.

Back in 2008 when The Pylon started, the blogosphere was the wild west of sports commentary and critique. There was a lack of substantive local coverage, a significant lack of BSU in the blogosphere, and nowhere close to the options that are present these days for MAC and subsequent Ball State news and notes. Site co-founder RV and I began this site as a way to kill some time and bring snark to the masses, as if there was any sort of lack of that. What followed would be a seven-year ride that would see undefeated seasons, coach searches, AD searches, podcasts, The Parrish Era, the CPL regime, and now The Neu Day. The things we’ve been able to do, able to see, able to chronicle, and able to be privy to all made this something more than just two dudes chirping (see what I did there?) about BSU sports.

I don’t know what role OTP played in the current landscape of Cardinal coverage, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that coverage of BSU is night and day from what it was when The Pylon started. The size of the role we played in prompting better coverage, seeking better access, and providing opportunities for fans to see the inner workings of the program is anyone’s guess, but I’m proud of the work we have done, the tone we have set, and the legacy we’ll leave.

To be clear, this isn’t a goodbye. This is a see you later. It is entirely likely posts will pop up here that are tremendously BSU focused or homer-riffic from time to time. I’ll still be somewhat active on our Twitter (@OverThePylon) for BSU stuff. And who knows, this could all be an epic disaster and I’m back here Pylon-ing it up in a couple of weeks. Despite the sadness of stepping away, part of what has made this decision easier is the fact that I’ll still have the ability to be a voice for BSU and the athletic program, albeit on a larger stage and as part of larger MAC coverage.

I’d be remiss to not give some thanks to some folks who made the Pylon what it was. First and foremost, the site’s leadership through the years like RV, Edge, and Jason who provided all sorts of things from a different perspective to just an ear to bounce things off of. Folks who wrote for the site like Jen Zarate, Dustin White, and Nathan Pace provided some great perspective as well. Our work with local media like Ben Breiner and Tom Davis made our coverage better and bridged a gap that was insurmountable when we started. Our  Ball State contacts made what we did easier and more informative. Folks like Joe Hernandez, Chris Ulm, Tyson Matthews, Brad Caudill, and really the entire media relations staff made our jobs easier and our coverage better. From an administration standpoint, folks like Bill Scholl and Brian Hardin helped us immeasurably and never made us feel like anything other than a respected outlet. We didn’t get a chance to work closely with Mark Sandy or Michael Clark, but I’m very impressed with what we’ve seen so far. I’m excited to keep working with all of them under a different masthead.

Finally, we have to thank the coaches, staff, and players who made our time worthwhile. Coaches Hoke, Parrish, and Lembo all treated us with the utmost respect and value. I have no reason to believe Coach Neu would have been any different and look forward to working with him as part of Hustle Belt. A special shout out to some assistant coaches through the years like Joey Lynch, Jason Eck, Phil Burnett, Eddie Faulkner, and others who helped champion the cause of OTP.

On a personal note, I have to thank the countless number of fans and readers who have interacted with the site, listened to the podcast, commented on social media, emailed us, etc. Though the Ball State fanbase is small, it is mighty, and there is a small part of me that is tremendously sad to be stepping back from something we started, maintained, and created simply for the love of our institution. Running OTP was a labor of love and one that I hope can be either passed on to an eager Cardinal fan or rekindled at some point.

But for now, it’s onward and upward at Hustle Belt. I think it fitting to close our time here the way Jason has closed the last few seasons of the OTPcast, as we all are proving that there are multiple someones with enough free time to obsess over Ball State athletics.

Thanks for the memories and the support and we’ll see you at Hustle Belt!

-AMR

Spring Game Set for April 23

Mike Neu

I just realized Mike Neu and Ted Cruz don’t look all that different.

Remember that time that Fearless Leader got a new job right after the Cardinals landed a Neu (see what I did there?) head football coach? No? Oh that’s right, that’s because it just happened. Perhaps Fearless Leader is actually Mike Neu and hasn’t had a chance to get bloggy because he’s been too busy recruiting and hiring coaches and planning out spring practice? THE PLOT THICKENS!

Or it doesn’t. Sorry to disappoint, but Fearless Leader isn’t Mike Neu, though Mike Neu and Fearless Leader have never been seen together. I’m just sayin’. Kidding. I’m not Mike Neu. I promise. I wouldn’t mind being Mike Neu. He seems to have a pretty bitchin’ life. Nice family, good job, all the BSU gear he could want, and probably has Drew Brees’ Snapchat username. Brees probably has the most boring Snapchat in the world. Nothing but family dinners, Bible studies, and Saturday cartoons. But what if he didn’t? What if it was a plethora of booze-fueled trips in the French Quarter? What if the Hangover was really a Drew Brees bio-pic? What if there’s cool stuff on there that we don’t even know exists but Mike Neu does because he has access to it. Mike Neu has all the fun.

What Mike Neu also has is a date for the Spring Game, too. Mark your calendars, set a reminder on your phones, do whatever you need to do to make sure you get your bottom to The Scheu on April 23. It’s the first Lembo-less Spring Game and I can’t remember a time when you really had this little an idea about what the Cards were going to look like. During the lead up to the Neukakke on April 23, we’ll have all the goodies to get you ready for the spring game and beyond in the usual OTP-ness of it all. Play your cards right and Jason might actually publish his drone footage or get himself excited enough to podcast about it. You just never know what him and his beard are up for.

So welcome back to me, to OTP, and (hopefully in the fall) some fun Ws on the schedule. A guy can dream… about stuff other than Drew Brees’ weekend coke benders.

 

[VIDEO] Throwback Thursday: Mike Neu as a Cardinal QB

For some on this site, you may not remember Mike Neu as the Ball State quarterback. That would be unfortunate. Let us refresh your memory from some footage provided by the U:

Riley Neal, get ready. Cards fans, get ready. MAC… you’re on notice. It’s a Neu day, yes it is.

 

Officially Official: Mike Neu Returns as Ball State Head Coach

Mike NeuIt is now official. Mike Neu is coming back to Muncie as the Cards’ head football coach. The release from the U:

Ball State University is welcoming back one of its own as Mike Neu has been named the new head coach for the Cardinal football program. Neu played collegiate football at Ball State where he was named 1993 Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

“We could not be more excited and proud to bring Coach Mike Neu and his family home to Ball State,” said President Paul W. Ferguson. “Coach Neu brings deep experience in college and professional football back to his alma mater. He is committed to elevating the student-athlete experience, catalyzing fan engagement, and developing a winning tradition in the highly competitive MAC.”

Neu has 15 years of coaching experience with stops in the National Football League (NFL), Division I FBS football and the arena leagues. Most recently, Neu served the previous two seasons as the quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. In 2014 under Neu’s guidance, quarterback Drew Brees was selected to his franchise-record eighth Pro Bowl as a Saint. Brees led the league in completions (456), tied for first in passing yardage (4,952), ranked second in completion percentage (69.2) and tied for fifth in touchdown passes (33). This year, Brees once again led the NFL in passing yardage (4,870) while ranking second in completion percentage (68.3) and completions (428).

Neu, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, started 38-of-41 games at quarterback in his four seasons at Ball State (1990-93). He was honored with the MAC’s Vern Smith Award as the league’s most valuable player and the MAC Offensive Player of the Year award as a senior. That year, Neu and the Cardinals went 8-3-1 overall and 7-0-1 in league action to capture the MAC championship. In one of his greatest games as a collegiate quarterback, Neu threw for a Ball State record 469 yards and completed 28-of-40 passes against Toledo in 1993 to help the Cardinals rally from a 30-3 deficit and record the largest comeback in Ball State history, a 31-30 Homecoming victory.

“We are delighted that Mike has agreed to become our head football coach,” Ball State Director of Athletics Mark Sandy said. “His football expertise, leadership traits and passion for Ball State are qualities that our student-athletes and fans will embrace.”

Neu played professionally in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League (AFL) from 1995-97 before beginning his coaching career in 1998 with the AFL’s Nashville Kats. In 2000, Neu was named head coach for the first time as he took over the Arena Football 2’s (AF2) Augusta Stallions. He led that organization to a conference title in 2000 with a 14-4 record and was named the AF2 Coach of the Year.

In 2001 and 2002, Neu worked with the AFL’s Carolina Cobras. He served as the offensive coordinator in 2001 and was promoted to head coach in 2002. During his stint as head coach, Neu led the team to the quarterfinals of the AFL playoffs, including the team’s first-ever playoff win.

Neu then spent four years as head coach of the AFL’s New Orleans VooDoo. There, he compiled a 33-31 record and earned 2004 AFL Coach of the Year honors. During his first season at the helm, Neu led the team to a franchise-best 11-5 record, a division title and a playoff berth.

From 2008-12, Neu worked on the New Orleans Saints’ player personnel staff. He then spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons with Tulane as the quarterbacks coach. In 2013, Neu helped guide Tulane to a 7-6 overall record and its first postseason appearance in 11 years – the 2013 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Neu received his bachelor’s degree in sport administration from Ball State in 1994 and served as a graduate assistant coach for the Cardinals during the 1994 season. He was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.

Neu and his wife, Charmin, have a daughter, Graycen (15), and two sons, Carson (13) and Chase (five).

Mike Neu’s Coaching Timeline
1994 Ball State Cardinals (Graduate Assistant)
1998-99 Nashville Kats, Arena Football League (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
2000 Augusta Stallions, Arena Football 2 (Head Coach)
2001 Carolina Cobras, Arena Football League (Offensive Coordinator)
2002 Carolina Cobras, Arena Football League (Head Coach)
2004-08 New Orleans VooDoo, Arena Football League (Head Coach)
2012-13 Tulane Green Wave (Quarterbacks Coach)
2014-15 New Orleans Saints (Quarterbacks Coach)

Mike Neu’s Head Coaching Record
2000 Augusta Stallions: 14-4
2002 Carolina Cobras: 7-9
2004 New Orleans VooDoo: 11-6
2005 New Orleans VooDoo: 9-7
2007 New Orleans VooDoo: 5-11
2008 New Orleans VooDoo: 8-8

What Others Are Saying About Mike Neu
“Mike is a tremendous coach, person and family man. In a place like college football where it is as important to mold the lives of young men as it is to win football games, he is the perfect man for the job.” – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees

“I think this is a fantastic choice for Ball State. It’s great to have an alum back and leading the program. Not only is he a good coach, but also he’s genuinely a good person who understands other people and is a team player. I look forward to seeing him work on the sidelines this fall.” – Paul Schudel, former Ball State head football coach (1985-94)

So welcome back to Coach Neu! Buckle up, boys and girls. Press conference Friday at 2PM. CoachSearch16…. in the books.

Until We Meet Officially, Get To Know Mike Neu

In case you are wondering what Ball State fans are in store for with Mike Neu taking the reigns of the program, check out the below video from when he was hired as the Tulane QB coach. This should at least satiate you until today’s announcement.

CoachSearch16 Update: Is it Neu? Is it Not?

BSULogoUPDATE: Apparently an announcement is forthcoming at 3PM today to officially make Neu the head coach. Stay tuned.

As expected, an announcement hasn’t come today (yet) about Mike Neu being named the head coach at Ball State nor has an announcement about an announcement been announced. Keeping up? This is not abnormal,not unexpected, and doesn’t signify (at least to me) any sort of problem or potholes with the search. Everyone I have talked to, whom I trust implicitly for reasons far beyond information they have shared with the Pylon in years past (Lembo hire, among other things) are still confident in their information and expect that to become officially official within the next 24 hours. Things for hiring in any company move at a snail’s pace and when you’re dealing with a state supported/funded job it decreases that speed exponentially. Public universities aren’t built for efficient things.

Someone emailed me this morning and asked whether or not I was worried. On a scale from 0-100 with 100 being extreme panic, the OTP Worry Level is at a 5, holding steady at that place since we broke the agreement in principle yesterday. Is there a chance it falls through? There’s a chance for anything. Hell, there’s a chance that Mark Sandy hires me (admittedly, a small one, and I’ll go on record that I am not a candidate). So the short answer is no, I’m not worried. I think at this point we’re at the “Get everyone’s signatures on things and make some travel plans for important folks” kind of deal, and that does take time.

Ironically enough, the story we broke yesterday about the banquet being canceled is, to me, the biggest tipping of the hand about what’s about to happen. I would think the coaching staff is likely almost all, if not entirely all, out of a job once their current contracts expire in March. That’s the heartbreaking part of this story, as Tom Davis indicated on our record-setting OTPcast about the departure of CPL, that so many good and decent people have (or are about to) lose their jobs. It’s further emphasis in case you needed it that this is a business above all else.

The second most received quandary about this announcement is whether or not Sean Payton staying with the Saints changes anything regarding Neu’s transition back to the college game and his alma mater. I would say yes and no. I’m of the opinion that the whole impetus for Neu searching was the level of certainty that those around the professional game that Payton would not be back in New Orleans next season for one of a whole host of reasons. With Wednesday’s announcement that Payton was staying in NOLA and the organization was ok with that, I’m sure that made Neu at least take a pause. Pure speculation is that if that news came out a week or two earlier, this search might have had a very different end. For once, timing appears to have been on the side of Ball State. That’s a nice change of pace.

So no reason to worry or panic yet. If we haven’t seen Mark Sandy at a podium followed by Neu by the close of business Tuesday, then my worry increases exponentially and I’d say somewhere along the way something happened. Let’s hope we don’t get to that point. I’m confident we won’t.

BREAKING: Ball State and Mike Neu Agree in Principle

It's a Neu Day, Yes It Is

It’s a Neu Day, Yes It Is

We said all along that this search was unlike any other that we’ve been around for. From the beginning and middle with its virtual wall of silence from Mark Sandy and Ball State to now to the presumed end with a stellar hire, Coachsearch 16 was an exercise in patience and now presumed success as sources with knowledge of the coaching search have confirmed what Fox Sports initially reported: Ball State University will name Mike Neu, former Cardinal and current New Orleans Saints assistant coach, the next head football coach for BSU. The announcement could come as early as Thursday afternoon if i’s are dotted and t’s crossed on both Neu’s side and the University’s. If that is not accomplished a Friday announcement is likely. Details of the contract (salary, terms, length) were not immediately known and a message for official confirmation or details from BSU was not returned by this publication.

What Ball State is getting is a head coach intimately familiar with the program and the ins and outs of Muncie and BSU, seeing as how Neu was a former Cardinal, winning the 1993 MAC Offensive Player of the Year. He want on to a stint as a player in the Arena League, a coach in the Arena League, and most recently the QB coach of the New Orleans Saints in the NFL. While a Cardinal, Neu completed his career as Ball State’s all-time leading passer with 6,221 yards and 43 touchdown passes. Riley Neal should be pretty jazzed about that little nugget.

The ability of a MAC squad to “win the press conference” is a rarity considering the budgets MAC programs work with, BSU especially. But I won’t lie and say I’m not excited. First and foremost, it is someone who understands the logistics and (sometimes) warts of this program. Second, it is a coach with a commitment and a mind for offense, not just delegation and CEO-ness. Third, it’s someone with head coach experience which is always a plus. Truth be told, between the last few hires (Lembo, Parrish, and Hoke specifically) a case could be made that Neu’s background is as solid or more so than any of them.

So welcome to Coach Neu. It’s always a great day to be a Cardinal, but especially so when hope and optimism springs eternal at the Scheu.

BREAKING: Ball State Cancels Football Banquet

BSULogoSo today was going to be the day when I got out in front of the stories circulating around the football program with what I know about the coaching search and the situation with names that keep coming up. That takes a bit of a backseat as some news has broken this afternoon that the Ball State football team will have no recognition banquet or season close out which was originally planned for January 17.

In a message sent from Michael Clark, Associate AD for Strategic Communication, to the 2015 football team:

To the 2015 Football Team:

I hope you had a wonderful holiday break. We look forward to seeing you soon.

As you know by now, Coach Lembo has taken a position at the University of Maryland. Because of this transition period, we are cancelling the football banquet. To honor our seniors who have played their last game for Ball State, we will hold a reception for the student-athletes and their families early in the spring semester. More details will follow soon.

Please enjoy this last week with your families and travel safely back to Muncie this weekend.

So that’s delightful. A source close to the program also shared an email circulated to parents that indicated this was the first cancellation of such an event in the last two decades. We’ve also received reports from OTP sources that the football staff that remains in place in Muncie was prepared to move forward with the banquet, but senior athletics administration decided that would not be prudent. “Thanks for your service guys, we’ll try to have some cookies and punch for you at some point if we can get somebody hired!” was what I presume that conversation was like.

Admittedly, the hiring of a new coach takes the utmost priority and attention, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people (apparently including those that work in the Fisher Football Complex) that don’t think having some sort of celebration of the team, staff, and coaches isn’t appropriate, needed, or expected. If the argument is that a new coach isn’t in place, I’m quite positive Coaches Lustig, Kelly, and Lynch can figure out how to get guys shown up to a banquet. Football players like to eat. I was one. If the worry is a new coach will be there, I would hope like hell he’s adult enough to handle that or if he isn’t, don’t show up. Seems simple enough.

The biggest reason to absolutely ignore is that Coach Pete Lembo is gone. CPL always preached that the program should be recession proof and live on after he’s gone. If it can’t even sustain a cold cut tray or some baked ziti, I’d say we’re officially screwed. This is Ball State University, not the University of Pete Lembo, and I think we’d do well to remember that before we sob over milk that’s already been spilt. So, no banquet, no coach, and the beat goes on in Muncie.

OTPcast 7.10, the Farewell to CPL Edition

OTP Cast Logo200Stunning news out of Ball State today as Coach Pete Lembo announces he is resigning for a new position at Maryland. Who better to discuss the shocking news as well as the present and future of Ball State football than those that knew CPL through their coverage of him. Alan is joined by The Ft.Wayne News-Sentinel sports editor Tom Davis, former WLBC play by play man Pat Boylan, and former Muncie Star Press BSU beat writer Ben Breiner to break down all the news from today and where BSU goes from here. It’s an explosive podcast not to be missed.

For those looking for the podcast, the easiest way is to subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher or by searching OTPPodcast on either. It’s already live for those subscribing.

 

Ball State Press Release Makes It Official: Lembo Out

BSULogoPer the Ball State football press release just circulated:

MUNCIE, Ind. – Ball State football head coach Pete Lembo stepped down from his current position Tuesday to join the Maryland football coaching staff. Lembo will be the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator for the Big Ten’s Terrapins.

“It has been my sincere pleasure to know and respect Coach Lembo during these past two seasons and to work with him to enhance and support the football program at Ball State University through the Cardinal Commitment, initiatives such as the new Scheumann Stadium turf, the Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Football Team Complex, and the many opportunities to partner with him in engaging in his remarkable leadership development of our student-athletes,” said Ball State President Paul W. Ferguson. “We wish Pete, Jen and the family much continued success at the University of Maryland. They all will be deeply missed.”

In his five seasons as head coach for Ball State, Lembo guided the Cardinals to an overall record of 33-29. Ball State appeared in back-to-back bowl games in 2012 (Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg) and 2013 (GoDaddy Bowl). Under Lembo’s guidance, Ball State defeated teams from the Big Ten (Indiana in 2011 and 2012), Big East (USF in 2012) and ACC (Virginia 2013).

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working this year with Pete,” Ball State Director of Athletics Mark Sandy said. “He is an outstanding coach and mentor. We wish Pete, Jen and their family the very best at Maryland.”

The Cardinals set or tied more than 60 program records during Lembo’s tenure including most points scored (501) and total offense (6,199 yards) in 2013. That year, Ball State reached double-digit wins (10) for just the third time in program history. Four former Cardinals who played under Lembo are currently competing in the NFL – Jonathan Newsome (Indianapolis Colts), Eric Patterson (St. Louis Rams), Willie Snead (New Orleans Saints) and Keith Wenning (Cincinnati Bengals).

“It is incredibly difficult to say goodbye after five very meaningful years and building so many wonderful relationships with student-athletes, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community,” Lembo said. “I tried to make a difference every day and I am proud of our many accomplishments on and off the field.”

Not only did Ball State enjoy success on the field with Lembo as head coach, but the Cardinals also excelled in the classroom. Ball State’s APR (Academic Progress Rate) score of 966 in 2011-12 was the highest in program history. Seven football players earned their bachelor’s degree last week at Ball State’s fall commencement ceremony while two others were recently named to the MAC’s Distinguished Scholar Athlete list.

“The opportunity to join Coach DJ Durkin at Maryland and build a program in the Big Ten with him is one which I simply can’t pass up,” Lembo said. “Returning to the Washington, DC area will also allow us to live near our immediate family. My family and I wish nothing but the best for the Ball State football program and University moving forward.”

“We have an outstanding group of student-athletes returning and the foundation for success is in place,” Sandy said. “The search for our next head football coach has begun.”

Ball State is slated to return six starters on offense and nine on defense for the 2016 season, including freshman quarterback Riley Neal and first team All-MAC honorees Joshua Posley (defensive lineman) and Sean Wiggins (linebacker).

That last sentence is the telling one. There is talent on this team. But this hire is absolutely critical. The coach search may be underway, but let’s hope it takes Sandy outside the football complex to complete it.