Neuheisel tells of courtship by 49ers
KENT, Wash. -- Rick Neuheisel acknowledged in court Thursday that he wasn't entirely truthful in early 2003 when he told his boss at the University of Washington that he'd been contacted about the San Francisco 49ers' head-coaching vacancy.
Before he flew down to interview for the job in February 2003, Neuheisel said, he told athletic director Barbara Hedges he had been contacted by a friend of the 49ers' general manager.
He did not tell her that he had talked extensively with general manager Terry Donahue, or that Donahue had offered him $3 million a year to coach the NFL team.
Neuheisel is suing the university and the NCAA in King County Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly fired from his job as head football coach in June 2003.
Hedges, who retired in January 2004, testified earlier that the main reason for the firing was dishonesty. The university has cited both the 49ers incident and Neuheisel's initial statement to NCAA investigators on June 4, 2003, that he never bet on college basketball. Neuheisel recanted later that same day, admitting he participated in auction-style NCAA basketball pools.
Neuheisel contends the school fired him over the NCAA basketball gambling, despite evidence that a former university compliance director had mistakenly authorized such activity in an e-mailed memo.
On Thursday, he described to jurors the evasive measures he took to avoid being discovered at the San Francisco hotel where he met with 49ers officials. As reporters waited in the lobby, Neuheisel said he followed a bellboy through a series of fire escapes and service elevators, ducked into a waiting car and hid his face as the driver left the area.
Then, Neuheisel said, he found an inconspicuous spot behind a kiosk at the airport, where he called his parents and wife. He told them things had gone well, but that he did not plan to take the job.
Unbeknownst to Neuheisel, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter had overheard the conversation. When the reporter asked him why he was in San Francisco, Neuheisel pulled a golf ball from his pocket and said he was there to play golf.
But the truth was out.
Asked Thursday why he had only told Hedges a little bit about the 49ers contact, Neuheisel said he was trying to strike a balance between keeping Hedges informed and respecting the confidentiality requested by the 49ers.
He also contended that Hedges lied as well when she told a reporter she had not spoken to Neuheisel about the 49ers job. In fact, Neuheisel testified, they had discussed the job the previous week.
"She looked at me and said, 'I think you should take the job in two years,' " he told jurors. Neuheisel said he interpreted her statement to mean that she intended to retire in two years, a possibility that made him feel less secure about his future at the school.
Earlier Thursday, Neuheisel testified about a series of NCAA infractions when he was Colorado's coach, and his self-reporting in Seattle when he discovered he'd violated organization rules with the Huskies.
He began his second day on the stand by telling the court how Washington lured him to Seattle in January 1999 by offering a seven-year deal at $1 million a year -- a significant increase over the $600,000-plus he was making at Colorado.
He said he'd been at the school less than a month when he committed his first NCAA infraction by dispatching coaches to visit potential recruits at their homes during an association "quiet day," the Sunday before signings began.
When he learned of the violation, Neuheisel said: "I went to Barbara Hedges' office and I said, 'I messed up.' I told her I was sorry, that I couldn't believe I had done it, but that we had to self-report" the infraction to the NCAA.
Later, trying to impress potential recruits with the Huskies' importance in Seattle, he improperly showed them video footage of the team getting a police escort to Husky Stadium. Under questioning from his attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., Neuheisel said he received letters of reprimand, admonishment and caution about the lapses from Hedges.
Responding to his admission about the improper videotape, Hedges wrote on April 11, 2001, "I appreciate the commitment and integrity that you have demonstrated with regard to compliance matters."
When she admonished him a month later for not getting permission before accepting $38,000 in speaking fees, also an NCAA infraction, she wrote: "I understand this violation may have been unintentional on your behalf."
She went on to note that it was extremely important for him to be familiar with the fine print in the NCAA rule book.
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