Coach Mike Neu Hopes for Sustained Success for the Cardinals Football Team
Writer / Aimee MacArthur
Photographer / Ashley Logan
Mike Neu, Ball State University (BSU) head football coach, lives and breathes football. For college football fans, you want your team’s head coach to be someone like Neu, who played the game from childhood, through high school and college, and in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League, and who also worked for the New Orleans Saints.
Neu is devoted to football, and has a deep respect for the players, staff, officials and fans. He is clearly the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Being an NCAA Division I head football coach is becoming more competitive and complicated, with issues like roster management, name, image and likeness, and the day-to-day responsibilities and stressors of being a head coach in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Despite the changes and challenges, as BSU’s head football coach since 2016, Neu handles it all with ease and positivity.
Neu’s players describe him as down-to-earth, energetic, genuine and passionate. As fans know, Neu is a proud Ball State alum who had a successful football career as a quarterback with the Cardinals. “I was fortunate enough when I was here as a student-athlete to be part of two championship teams, which was awesome,” Neu says. “To be a part of that, those memories are special, and they get better every year.”
Coach Neu loves what he does and he does not take it for granted that, although it may be difficult at times, he knows he has a dream job.
“Nowadays, especially in college, there are so many challenges and they’re continuing to grow every single year with the transfer portal, with name, image, likeness,” he says. “There are a lot of things that go into it now, and obviously mental health is front and center more than it’s ever been, and rightfully so. There’s a lot that goes into it off the field. It’s not just about coaching. You’ve got to love it to continue to do it, because it’s continuing to get more and more challenging.”
Although there were some disappointments last season, Neu is laser focused on the upcoming 2023 season. He feels optimistic and knows what the team needs to do for a winning season.
“I feel like we have a chance to have a really good football team here,” he says. “Some of the things that caused us to lose some of those games a year ago, I know we can fix those. It comes down to turning the ball over. It comes down to scoring touchdowns in the red zone on offense and then being better in two-minute situations at the end of games. That happens in our conference almost every week. We played seven one-possession games in our conference last year. It’s very competitive. It’s certainly a very unpredictable conference, if you will. Just trying to focus on getting better at the things we need to improve on.”
Neu encourages his players to move on quickly after any loss or setback, and focus on what’s ahead.
“There’s nothing you can do to change what’s already happened,” he says. “The only thing you can control is what’s going to happen next. Just having a next-play mentality – you’ve got to move on, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. How you respond to adversity really kind of defines who you are and what we are as a team. I just try to preach that.”
Neu is excited about the 2023 roster, including a new addition, running back Marquez Cooper, who joins an already impressive group of top-tier student-athletes. Neu is routinely asked about quarterbacks Layne Hatcher and Kiael Kelly, regarding who will be the starting quarterback. He is also asked if there is a scenario where both quarterbacks can be on the field together. Neu is open to many possibilities, and fans will have to wait and see how the final lineup looks.
The Cardinals welcomed two new coaches in January of 2023 including Adam Morris, defensive line coach, and Cedric Cormier, wide receiver coach. Morris is a Ball State alum and was the head football coach at Muncie Central High School a few years ago. Most recently he coached at Eastern Illinois. Cormier spent the past few years at Houston Christian University.
Neu says both Morris and Cormier are excellent coaches who have mentored top-tier players, and are terrific additions to the talented coaching staff. Neu is also thrilled about the Cardinals’ indoor facility, which has been open now for about two years. He thinks the indoor facility is a win for the team and helps the team’s recruiting efforts. In addition to the indoor facility, the complex at the stadium was recently freshened up with paint and graphics, and newly renovated meeting rooms.
The MAC is a highly competitive conference, and Neu is often asked what separates BSU’s football program from other MAC programs. For Neu, BSU’s program is all about family and mentoring young student-athletes.
“I think the biggest thing that separates us, that makes me proud, is we are a big family,” he says. “I’m the youngest of eight kids. In the recruiting process with families and young men, we’re just trying to make sure their family knows, when they drop them off here at Ball State, they’re going to be in good hands. We’re going to raise them, and by the time they graduate from Ball State they’ll be better men than when they entered. We’re just trying to educate them and tell them there’s more that goes into it than just football and academics. I’m just trying to make sure that’s what we’re all about as a program.”
Coach Neu and the Cardinals are ready for a successful and thrilling season.
“We start out with a really challenging schedule to begin the season, being on the road at Kentucky and being on the road at Georgia, which has won back-to-back national championships, so those are awesome opportunities for our guys,” Neu says. “If you look also at our schedule, this is the first time in several years that we’re playing Indiana State. When I was here as a student-athlete, we played Indiana State every year as a trophy game. It’s exciting to have Indiana State back on our schedule. None of our guys who are in our program would have ever had that experience yet, so I think that’s awesome to be able to have that game on the schedule again.”
Neu works hard to mentor players, whether sharing stories about his time as a player or drawing from the all-star coaches who mentored him. He says former BSU head football coaches Paul Schudel and Bill Lynch, and former New Orleans Saints head football coach Sean Payton, were all coaching mentors who left lasting impressions on him. Neu says he adopted certain approaches from each coach and incorporated them into his own unique coaching style.
Neu is happy to have his extended family nearby and loves that they can attend Cardinals home games. Ball State feels like home to him, and he believes these special memories will last a lifetime.
“I love it here,” he says. “It just hits different when you have a chance to be a head football coach at your alma mater. I want to see Ball State sustain success. I think our university has so much to offer from an academic standpoint. I just want to have a football program that everybody can be proud of. I want to compete for championships year in, year out. I just love it here. It’s like home. I don’t know if I see myself being anywhere else. Obviously you’ve got to have success in order to be able to continue to have your job. I understand that. I certainly love it here at Ball State and haven’t really thought about anything else but being here.”
Get ready – the season begins Saturday, September 2 with the Cardinals playing at the University of Kentucky. The Cardinals will also play at the University of Georgia on Saturday, September 9. For information including the game schedule, ticket details, merchandise, the latest news and more, visit ballstatesports.com/sports/football.