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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

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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.

 

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.

The Last Two Games Critical for Cards Future

Pete Lembo Ball StateFor the last few years this time of year has been joyous around the Pylon as we get ready for the critical season-closing games to determine which bowl the Cards will be heading to, which schools are possibly coming after Coach Lembo, and where some of our Cards are headed in the pending NFL Draft. What a difference a year makes. This season? None of the above. The Cards won’t be bowling over the Christmas holidays unless they take a team trip to Clancy’s, the only people coming after Coach Lembo are the BSU faithful, and as for the NFL, let’s worry about that in the spring. So this season, heretofore known as The Lost Season, is a bit of uncharted water for BSU fans under CPL’s leadership.

Even CPL’s “bad” years were good compared to Stan Parrish and some of Bill Lynch, but this season (barring winning out) will set a new low for CPL in Muncie. Are there reasonable explanations for why this season went off the rails? Of course. Coordinator turnover, youth in critical positions, and an upswing in competition in the MAC are just a few of the many reasons why the fighting football Cardinals have fallen on hard times a bit. Is there a rational write off that this is a fluke season that is a bump in an otherwise smooth road? There is, but the ability to swallow that pill is getting harder and harder as the losses mount and the way in which the losses are achieved sets in.

The lone bright spot in 2015 was Northwestern, a closer than expected loss against a reputable team. Every other loss was either what we expected or far worse, both in terms of score (NIU, WMU) or prestige (Georgia Freakin’ State) and the wins were uninspiring against subpar teams that were closer than they should have been. It hasn’t been a good year, I won’t sugar coat it, and for the first time in CPL’s tenure in Muncie, I am genuinely concerned about the current direction of the program.

The fanbase is at a critical juncture where people are beginning to lose faith. Can you blame them? They’ve been down this road so many times before. A program’s prodigal son has a special season and bolts for the west coast. His replacement, lauded as the conquering hero to promote continuity, falls flat in spectacular speed and fashion. Every time in recent memory that the fanbase, the small dedicated few of Cardinal nation, has gotten their hopes up, reality sets in fast enough to use an egg timer. Until Coach Lembo. Then it appeared that things were trending up on a sustainable arc. It was foundational. It was fundamentals and discipline. It was the “right way”. Then this season happened. And no one had an egg timer handy.

There are two games left this season. The Cards are at Ohio next Tuesday and at home against Bowling Green the Tuesday that follows. BG sits at 7-2, undefeated in the MAC, and are in possession of victories over Maryland and Purdue, both dumpster fires in their own right, but power conference dumpster fires all the same. Ohio (6-4, 3-3 MAC) is a likely bowl team, but they have lost three of their last four, so they are beatable. But those losses were to WMU, BG, and Buffalo, so don’t get too excited.

If you forced me to set percentages, I’d say there’s a 74% chance the Cards close at 0-2, a 25% chance the Cards split at 1-1, and a 1% longshot that they beat both Ohio and BG, both of those last percentages set because it’s likely BG has nothing to play for given their pending MAC title game berth. For the sake of the program, CPL, the coaching staff, etc. I certainly hope that 26% chance happens. If not, it’s going to be a tumultuous, though well-deserved, offseason.

Monday Hangover: Northwestern

Wilbon was happy Saturday, I'm sure.

Wilbon was happy Saturday, I’m sure.

You know, this is going to sound weird, but Saturday could have been much much worse. Yes, I thought there were opportunities for the Cardinals to get a win, on the road, against a top 25 team and those kind of moments don’t come around often for BSU and certainly weren’t expected this year. No, I didn’t think that would be likely before the game started. We can harp on opportunities squandered, defensive lapses, and how this somehow got away from us, but I think that would be missing the broader narrative and doing a disservice to the team and their efforts.

In all honesty, I feel considerably better about this team than I did after VMI, Texas A&M, and in some respects Eastern Michigan. I feel like the offense is finally in the hands of the QB that it needs to be in for success to be achieved. I feel like Darian Green is going to be something special to watch in Muncie for the next bit of time. I feel like we’re already doing that with Jordan Williams. On the negative side, I feel like the defense is still mediocre and the playcalling at times leaves a bit to be desired, but all in all, those things are at least palatable if not outright fixable with time.

So, it wasn’t a win but it wasn’t a game I walk away from pissed off or upset about. It would have been nice to have won the game, but the outcome of this season isn’t impacted one way or another because of this loss. For now, the issue isn’t Northwestern and the Cards’ performance in Evanston. Oh, no. Every bit of focus, every bit of effort, every bit of attention has to shift to the MAC and this week’s opponent, Toledo. The rest of the season and the goals we all had when it started are still attainable, but it starts with a victory over Toledo. Make it so, CPL.

What say you? What were your takeaways from Northwestern?

Revisit Hulk Smashing Leg Day Before It Made it on College Gameday

Last week, the Cards made their now annual visit to College Gameday. Last year it was because of an enterprising BSU student that had “We Want Bama” that was answered by an Alabama fan with “We Want Ball State”. This year? Leg day, obviously. There are worse ways to get on ESPN than the awesomeness that is Dave Feeley’s strength and conditioning program. Get your gainz, bro!

That is epic on so many levels.