Mike Neu got his first true taste of Augusta when he stepped foot onto the Augusta National Golf Club earlier this month.
That's when he knew he had the right job.
"I was in awe," said Neu, who grew up watching the Masters Tournament on television every year. "I couldn't believe anything that beautiful was behind that wall on Washington Road. Just seeing Amen Corner, it's every bit as beautiful as I could have imagined.
"I realized how lucky and fortunate I am to be in Augusta. If I would not have been coaching here, who knows if I would have ever seen the Augusta National."
Neu became head coach of the Augusta Stallions in October when the team was announced. His experience as an Arena League player and offensive coordinator got him the job.
"We wanted a guy to lead our team who is not only a former player in our league but a guy who has excelled at it," Stallions owner Frank Lawrence said at a news conference last year.
The 6-foot-5 Neu started playing football in the third grade and played through his high school days at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis. From there, he went to Ball State University and led his team to two bowl games and a pair of Mid-American Athletic Conference championships.
"I overachieved in college," he said. "I had the height, but I wasn't blessed with the strong arm. I just had the desire and work ethic."
After a brief mini-camp stay with Cleveland Browns, Neu went to the Canadian Football League in 1995. However, as a third-string quarterback with Calgary, he played behind Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia and never saw much playing time. Then he got a call that changed his life.
The Orlando Predators knew about Neu and wanted him to come down for a visit. But he wasn't so sure.
"I didn't know anything about arena football," he said. "I didn't know if this was the best thing for me."
He went to Orlando, Fla., in November 1995 on a recruiting trip and met Predators president Jack Youngblood.
"I was thinking if Jack Youngblood is involved in arena football it can't be that bad," Neu said. "The league must be OK. I was so impressed on that recruiting trip I signed a contract that day to go to training camp with the Orlando Predators."
His stay in Orlando was brief, though, as he was traded to the Nashville Kats in 1996. So he went to Nashville, Tenn., and became the No. 2 quarterback there. In a practice late in the season, he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
With his playing days numbered, he caught a break. Nashville offensive coordinator Jay Gruden left to become head coach at Orlando, and Neu was offered Gruden's old job. So rather than be somebody's backup, Neu took the job and the team went 17-11 in his two years.
Then, Stallions owner Lawrence called. But Neu, the youngest of eight children, wasn't sure whether he wanted to do this coaching thing. He didn't want to spend long hours in the office and have no time for himself.
"Down the road I want to have a wife and kids," he said. "What kind of life would that be? I'd never get to see my wife and kids ever. When this opportunity opened up, it was a blessing in disguise because arena football still allows me to have flexibility in my schedule where I could spend time with my family. You're dealing with a smaller number of players, and the rules being what they are, you can't sit up all day and night watching film.
So the 28-year-old coach is here trying to build a team that reminds him of his Ball State playing days.
"In arena football, you can't have one superstar," he said. "You have to have a group of hard-working guys who are willing to do what it takes and just listen to what you try to teach them."
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