Ball State University welcomed back one of its own as Mike Neu was named the head coach for the Cardinal football program in January of 2016. Neu played collegiate football at Ball State where he was named 1993 Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Neu has more than 15 years of coaching experience with stops in the National Football League (NFL), Division I FBS football and the arena leagues. In his inaugural season as Ball State’s head coach, the Cardinals finished 4-8 overall, a mark one game better than the 2015 record. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the football team came up just short in five MAC losses that were decided in the final minutes.
Four Cardinals came away with All-MAC accolades last year, including running back James Gilbert. As a sophomore in 2016, Gilbert piled up 1,332 rushing yards, the fourth most in a single season by a Ball State player. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals ranked second in the league and 27th nationally in sacks. Ball State was also one of the least penalized teams in the nation, ranking fifth in that category.
Before returning to Ball State, Neu spent the 2014 and 2015 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). In 2015, 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.
“Mike’s football expertise, leadership traits and passion for Ball State are qualities that our student-athletes and fans have embraced,” Ball State Director of Athletics Mark Sandy said.
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.