Report: Newly released tapes show Neuheisel lied about gambling

Updated: August 21, 2003, 10:22 PM ET

SEATTLE -- Former Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel sued the university and the NCAA on Thursday, alleging he was wrongfully fired for participating in college basketball gambling pools.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges the UW fired him in an effort to avoid an NCAA investigation of the school.

Neuheisel's lawyers filed the suit even as audio tapes were released of his questioning by NCAA investigators.

Neuheisel has claimed all along he was blindsided by the investigators, and the tapes certainly back up that contention.

The tapes, however, also support the university's position that Neuheisel initially lied about his involvement in high-stakes NCAA basketball tournament gambling pools.

"I never placed a bet on anything," Neuheisel said early in the tapes, recorded June 4 when NCAA investigators first met with him.

Later that day, after Neuheisel was given time to speak to an attorney, he acknowledged his involvement in what he considered a friendly neighborhood pool. He said it didn't involve organized, illegal gambling.

Neuheisel lawyer Bob Sulkin alleged Thursday that the NCAA targeted Neuheisel in "an unfair and flawed investigation."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and "such other relief as the court deems just and proper."

"The university is confident that its termination of Coach Neuheisel was consistent with the terms of his contract, and that this lawsuit against the university has no merit," said a statement issued late Thursday by the UW athletics department.

Neuheisel was terminated "for cause due to repeated instances of dishonesty and participation in high-stakes gambling on intercollegiate athletics," the UW statement said.

An NCAA spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment late Thursday.

On the tapes, Neuheisel said, "I did not consider it gambling on college sports, although now that I'm sitting here, I realize it may be contrary to other opinions."

The university released three NCAA-produced tapes, which had been given to Washington athletic officials and Neuheisel's lawyers.

The tapes were obtained under public disclosure laws by The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Nearly 60 minutes of recordings covered three separate interviews in meetings that led to Neuheisel's firing, which took effect July 28. Keith Gilbertson was named head coach the next day.

Sulkin said earlier Thursday he didn't think the tapes would affect his case.

"The tapes are consistent with what we have been saying all along. There's no news here," Sulkin said.

He also criticized Washington and NCAA officials for mishandling a tape that recorded the first part of the interview. Sulkin contends it contained key information now missing from the record.

"What is clear is that Mr. Neuheisel fully disclosed his involvement in the March Madness pools on the first day of the investigation," Sulkin said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit. He added that the UW fired the coach "even though its own Compliance Office issued a memorandum authorizing participation in the pool."

Sulkin contended senior NCAA officials called for Neuheisel's dismissal before knowing the facts, in violation of NCAA policies.

The lawyer said Neuheisel's responses would seem much different if the original context was available because the early questioning implied a possible connection to illegal organized gambling.

"I find it incredible that key evidence has been ... lost or destroyed," Sulkin said. "Not all the facts are out. When they're all laid out on the table, people will see the truth."

Notes taken during the interviews by university administrators were released last month. The notes showed most of the missing questioning centered on potential NCAA violations.

Although the NCAA organization considers gambling a major infraction, Neuheisel claims he didn't know he was breaking NCAA rules. He has said a university memo authorized participation in off-campus tournament pools.

However, the tapes reveal Neuheisel admitting he knew of NCAA rules against gambling.

The coach was asked during the morning interview sessions if he had concerns about participating in the 2002 and 2003 pools. Teams of neighbors pooled money and bid on NCAA basketball tournament teams in an auction-style setting.

"I won't go again, if that's the question," Neuheisel said, laughing. "No, I didn't have any concerns at all. I know we can't gamble. I know I can't place a bet or anything like that, but I wasn't. I was just there watching."

NCAA investigators told Neuheisel that others had corroborated a tip from a confidential source, who reported his involvement.

"Obviously, somebody's got some witch hunt here," Neuheisel said. "I want to know why, and I want to know who and then I want, then I'll be totally candid with you."

In the afternoon session, Neuheisel outlined his involvement. Though he acknowledged his four-member team won "somewhere around $5,000," he refused to characterize it as gambling.

"I never bet anything, just participated in an auction," Neuheisel said. "I don't know much money was involved because, frankly, I was just enjoying the evening."

In later interviews with reporters, Neuheisel said he invested $6,400 and won $12,123 in his two years in the pools. He said he donated some winnings to charity and the PTA at his children's school.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index