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Hedges: Neuheisel lied about 49ers contact

KENT, Wash. -- Barbara Hedges liked Rick Neuheisel as a
person as much as she respected him as a football coach.

So as Washington's athletic director, she took no delight in
firing him, she testified Wednesday in his lawsuit against the
university and the NCAA.

"Rick and I were friends," Hedges said during her third day of
testimony in King County Superior Court. "It's very difficult to
say something like that to a friend, who happens to be an
employee."

Questioned by university lawyer Lou Peterson, Hedges described
"an extremely difficult meeting" with Neuheisel on June 5, 2003,
one day after the Huskies' coach was asked by NCAA investigators
about his gambling on NCAA basketball.

"We talked about his options: termination or resigning,"
Hedges recalled. "At that meeting, it was very clear to me -- and
to Rick Neuheisel -- that he would no longer be the head coach at
Washington."

Neuheisel contends he was unfairly fired as Washington's coach
and that the NCAA pressured the school to dismiss him.

Peterson offered Hedges' testimony to indicate to jurors that
the decision to fire Neuheisel was made June 5 and not after
several days of pressure from NCAA officials, as Neuheisel alleges.

Hedges testified that the main reason for the firing was
dishonesty, not gambling on NCAA basketball.

Hedges, who retired in January 2004, said she and former
university president Lee Huntsman knew they'd have to fire
Neuheisel after he initially told NCAA investigators on June 4,
2003, he never bet on college basketball.

Later that day, Neuheisel recanted, admitting he had
participated in auction-style NCAA basketball pools with neighbors.

During their June 5 meeting, Hedges said she advised Neuheisel
to resign, suggesting it would be better for his career. A
termination letter, she warned, would cite a pattern of dishonesty
at Washington.

When she fired him June 11, Hedges said Neuheisel had also lied
about interviewing for the San Francisco 49ers' head coaching job
in February 2003, and that she and Huntsman had warned him that
further lies wouldn't be tolerated.

Peterson asked Hedges if Neuheisel disclosed that he had
preliminary contract negotiations by telephone with the 49ers,
discussing a proposed four- or five-year deal worth $3 million a
year.

"Absolutely not," Hedges said.

According to Hedges' testimony, Neuheisel told his boss that he
left his family during a vacation at Sun Valley, Idaho, and
traveled to San Francisco to play golf with friends.

He actually interviewed with the 49ers on Feb. 9, 2003.

The next day in Seattle, Hedges asked Neuheisel about his
interest. He told her he didn't want the NFL job, so she asked him
to issue a statement through Washington's sports information office
denying interest. He complied.

"I am very happy with my position and I am not interested in
coaching anywhere else," said the news release, which was entered
as trial evidence.

The statement went on to say that Neuheisel was close to former
San Francisco general manager Terry Donohue, who was his coach when
he played college football at UCLA.

"I consider him a mentor and a friend," Neuheisel wrote. "But
we have never discussed the opening with the 49ers."

The truth came out Feb. 12, when a Seattle newspaper columnist
reported he had overheard Neuheisel discussing the NFL job on his
cell phone days earlier as they waited to board a flight at the San
Francisco airport.

"I was very angry with Rick Neuheisel," Hedges said of that
incident. "He placed himself in jeopardy. He placed the department
in jeopardy. It was just a very, very uncomfortable situation."

Though Neuheisel was verbally warned about his conduct,
plaintiff's lawyer Bob Sulkin asked Hedges why he never received a
written reprimand.

She testified that such a document was to go into his personnel
file on June 9, 2003, the scheduled date of his annual review.
Hedges said it wasn't presented because the NCAA interview on June
4 led to his firing.

A draft of the letter, dated Feb. 20, 2003, has been entered as
trial evidence.