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In safety critical applications, control architectures based on adaptive neural networks (NNs) must satisfy strict design specifications. This paper presents a practical approach for designing a mixed linear/adaptive model reference controller that recovers the performance of a reference model, and guarantees the boundedness of the tracking error within an a priori specified compact domain, in the presence of bounded uncertainties. The linear part of the controller results from the solution of an optimization problem where specifications are expressed as linear matrix inequality constraints. The linear controller is then augmented with a general adaptive NN that compensates for the uncertainties. The only requirement for the NN is that its output must be confined within pre-specified saturation limits. Toward this end a specific NN output confinement algorithm is proposed in this paper. The main advantages of the proposed approach are that requirements in terms of worst-case performance can be easily defined during the design phase, and that the design of the adaptation mechanism is largely independent from the synthesis of the linear controller. A numerical example is used to illustrate the design methodology.