GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At first, David Raih told no one. Not his friends and certainly not his parents. He knew what they would say -- that he would be crazy to give up a six-figure salary at a job selling hip and knee implants to surgeons at the prestigious Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Raih has nothing but good things to say about Zimmer Inc., but for a college graduate who had just finished playing quarterback at the University of Iowa, selling medical devices didn’t give Raih the same kind of buzz he got from football.
“I was out there, and all I could think about was football,” he said.
Then one day after three years on the job, Raih (pronounced Rye) turned on the TV in his apartment and saw that UCLA was set to introduce Rick Neuheisel as its next football coach at a news conference the following day in 2008. On a whim, Raih showed up at the event, and thus began his foray into coaching -- a decadelong journey that led to his promotion this week to assistant offensive line coach with the Green Bay Packers.
Neuheisel didn’t know anything about Raih, and he had plenty of former Bruins asking him for the job. But none of them sought out the new coach at his introductory news conference.
“There was this kid sitting there until all the media asked their questions and then basically introduced himself and said, ‘Listen, this is going to sound way out of left field, but I’d like to talk to you about working for you,’” Neuheisel recalled in a phone interview this week. “I said, ‘David, I’ve got a long list of guys that I’m more familiar with that I need to go through first, but I appreciate your interest.’
“And he said, ‘Well, is there any way I could just talk to you?’ I said, ‘I’ve got a lot of things to do right now, but you’re welcome to wait.’
“He sat there and waited outside my office for five hours.”
Day turned to night and Neuheisel finally walked out of his office to take a break from his first day on the job. He was startled to see Raih still there.
“I said, ‘You’re still here? Come on in,’” Neuheisel said. “He told me basically what he was doing, and I said, ‘Listen, you’re nuts. You’re certifiable to give up a job where you’re making six figures to come work for nothing, to start at the bottom of a ladder where there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get to the top.”
Nevertheless, Neuheisel made Raih a proposal: “Come back in two weeks if you haven’t come to your senses.”
“And the son of a gun did it,” Neuheisel said. “He came back, and so I said, ‘All right, anybody who wants it this badly, I’m hiring you as an intern.”
Unpaid, of course.
At that point, after Raih quit his sales job, he knew it was time to tell friends and family.
“It’s one of those things, it was almost so ridiculous you don’t even want to tell anybody,” Raih said. “You know what I mean? … So I didn’t tell a lot of people until it was done, and I was at UCLA working. And then I certainly didn’t tell them it was for free.”
Raih quickly impressed Neuheisel, who eventually gave him a stipend for the whopping sum of $900 a month.
“In L.A.,” Raih chuckled. “Like, is that even legal? I don’t know, it may not be.”
But it was football, and Raih soaked it up.
Raih stayed as close to Neuheisel as possible, even going along on recruiting trips (although he had to wait in the car, because NCAA rules prohibited him from talking to prospects). Neuheisel also started inviting Raih into coaching staff meetings to discuss players and game plans.
“He became immediately part of our family,” Neuheisel said. “It was a blast to have him around. Everybody who’s ever had him on their staff falls for the guy because he’s just got that way about him.”
In two years at UCLA, Raih helped out with quarterbacks and tight ends before he returned to his alma mater in 2010 as a graduate assistant to work with the offensive line and then the tight ends. He later jumped to Texas Tech as the director of high school relations and then receivers coach before Mike McCarthy hired him as a Packers coaching administrator in 2014 on the recommendation of Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who played for the Saints when McCarthy was New Orleans' offensive coordinator.
Raih, 35, spent the past two seasons in that role before McCarthy promoted him this week.
“It wasn’t a typical path,” Raih said.
“On paper, it was insane [to leave Zimmer Inc.],” Raih said. “But you have to take your life -- and just this opportunity of your life -- seriously, and I do. You have to do what you want to do. You have to be out of your mind. I’m kidding, but you know what I mean? It’s not easy. You all know that. But there’s something about being in a really competitive business, it brings out the best in you. This was it for me -- football.”
Raih’s story, while atypical, isn’t unique. It’s almost identical to the path Brad Stevens took in basketball. A young Stevens bailed on a potentially high-paying job with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in Indianapolis to take a low-level coaching job at Butler University, where he eventually became the head coach and led the Bulldogs to consecutive appearances in the national title game before he was hired to coach the Boston Celtics.
Raih doesn’t know Stevens but knows of him and his story.
“I think the thing about it is you have to be a little bit crazy and obsessed with it,” Raih said. “I’m sure he’s the same way with basketball.”