Hedges deleted e-mail at crux of Neuheisel's case

Updated: February 2, 2005, 3:54 AM ET
Associated Press

KENT, Wash. -- Former Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges, testifying in the trial of former football coach Rick Neuheisel's unfair dismissal lawsuit, angrily defended her 2003 advice to Neuheisel about a possible job with the San Francisco 49ers.

Hedges insisted she told her then-coach "to think about it" during a family vacation and then tell her if he planned to pursue the NFL opening.

Neuheisel's lawyer, Bob Sulkin, asked Hedges if she had advised Neuheisel "to work things out." Such words, he suggested, would indicate Hedges knew the coach was going to interview with the NFL team in February 2003.

"I did not," Hedges testified Tuesday, her voice rising. "I told Rick Neuheisel to think about it."

Neuheisel has sued the university and NCAA, contending he was unfairly fired as Washington's coach and that the NCAA pressured the school to dismiss him. Testimony in his King County Superior Court trial began Monday.

The 49ers issue is key because university administrators contend Neuheisel lied about his interest in the job and didn't tell Hedges before traveling to San Francisco for a job interview. After that, Hedges said Neuheisel was warned privately that additional lies wouldn't be tolerated.

When he was fired four months later, in June 2003, Hedges said Neuheisel wasn't forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators who were looking into his high-stakes gambling on NCAA basketball.

University lawyer Lou Peterson earlier told jurors the coach's contract allowed him to be fired for acts of dishonesty.

Sulkin showed jurors a paragraph in Neuheisel's contract, stating he was required to inform supervisors before interviewing for jobs with "other schools."

"He wasn't obligated under the contract with regard to professional teams," Hedges testified. "But as an employee of the University of Washington, I believe he was obligated to notify us for any other jobs."

Hedges admitted the contract language was changed when Keith Gilbertson succeeded Neuheisel as coach. In his contract, Gilbertson was required to notify Hedges before interviewing for "other coaching positions."

"It was corrected in his contract," Hedges said.

"You got it right?" Sulkin asked.

"We got it right," she answered.

Sulkin asked Hedges about a quote attributed to her in a Seattle newspaper -- that she had asked Neuheisel "to work things out" regarding the 49ers job during a vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho. Hedges said she was misquoted. She testified that Neuheisel said only that he had been approached about the job by a third party.

"As far as I knew, Rick Neuheisel had not been contacted by the 49ers and had shown very little interest in the job," Hedges said, adding that she knew Neuheisel was going to Idaho on vacation.

"I told Rick, 'Go to Sun Valley and think about it, and we'll talk about it on Monday,"' she testified.

While he was away, Neuheisel interviewed in San Francisco.

After returning to Seattle, Neuheisel insisted he wasn't a candidate and even issued a university news release denying interest. Later that week, he admitted he had lied, saying he had to honor a confidentiality agreement with the NFL team.

Sulkin also questioned Hedges about an e-mail issued by Washington's former compliance director, Dana Richardson, that mistakenly authorized gambling by athletic department employees in NCAA basketball pools.

NCAA rules prohibit gambling by athletes, coaches and athletic department staffers and member schools.

Hedges admitted she didn't read the e-mail when it first was distributed on March 13, 2003. The memo, a cornerstone of Neuheisel's lawsuit, went to the entire Washington athletic staff.

Hedges testified she deleted it after glancing at the headline, "Reminder about NCAA rules on gambling."

Jurors were shown the text, which reads: "The bottom line is if you have friends outside ICA (intercollegiate athletics) ... you can participate. You cannot place a bet with a bookie or organize your own pool."

Asked by Sulkin why she deleted the e-mail, Hedges replied: "I know very clearly the rules. You cannot in any way place bets on college athletics. I looked at it. I deleted it."

The memo resurfaced on June 5, 2003, one day after Neuheisel was questioned by NCAA investigators. Hedges said her secretary handed her a copy of the e-mail, and she testified it was the first time she read the full text.

Hedges said she immediately called Washington's then-faculty athletic representative, Rob Aronson, who advised that the memo was issued concerning small-stakes NCAA pools.

After that discussion, Hedges said she didn't believe the memo applied to Neuheisel's gambling. He won $18,523 in 2002 and 2003 in an auction-style pool with neighbors.

Neuheisel was recently hired by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens as quarterbacks coach.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press