Neuheisel says he lied to NCAA to buy time
KENT, Wash. -- Rick Neuheisel cried on the stand Monday while discussing his firing as Washington's football coach, being separated from his former players and the impact on his family and career.
"It was devastating to my family. It was devastating to me professionally," he told jurors in the King County Superior Court trial of his wrongful termination lawsuit. "Everybody out there was writing stories that I was this gambler."
“ I was used to being seen in public, but this was foreign. ... I was being likened to Pete Rose, this guy who was gambling. It never, ever seemed accurate or fair. ” — Rick Neuheisel
He admitted he wasn't fully forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators about gambling on NCAA basketball, explaining that he feared implicating himself or harming his friends.
"I was scared," he testified. "It was very nerve-racking to me."
Neuheisel is suing the NCAA and the university. He finished his second full day of testimony and was expected to return to the witness stand Tuesday. He claims Washington administrators fired him in June 2003 under pressure from the NCAA.
Neuheisel broke down when he recalled the meeting in which his boss, Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges, told him he could resign or be fired. Hedges, who retired in January 2004, testified earlier in the trail that the main reason for the firing was dishonesty.
He also cried while recalling the realization that he wouldn't coach his players any longer -- "My relationship with my players -- that's what I do it for," he said -- and when he described the impact on his family.
"Having people stare at you like you're a zoo animal," he said. "I was used to being seen in public, but this was foreign. ... I was being likened to Pete Rose, this guy who was gambling. It never, ever seemed accurate or fair."
University officials say Neuheisel lied when he denied interviewing for a head coaching vacancy with the San Francisco 49ers in February 2003, and then lied to NCAA investigators about taking part in off-campus basketball pools in 2002 and 2003. He told NCAA investigators the truth later on the same day.
Neuheisel claims he lied about interviewing for the 49ers because he was honoring that team's demand for confidentiality.
Later Monday, UW lawyer Lou Peterson questioned Neuheisel on when he learned about a key piece of evidence: an e-mail by a former Washington compliance officer that mistakenly authorized gambling in the off-campus NCAA basketball pools.
Neuheisel agreed that he never mentioned the memo during his June 4, 2003, interview with NCAA investigators, nor during meetings with Washington administrators as they discussed his fate.
"I didn't recall an e-mail," Neuheisel said. "I just knew in my head it was OK."
Not until Washington sports information director Jim Daves gave him a copy of the e-mail late on June 5 did Neuheisel have a connection, he said, between what he knew he had read somewhere and a written copy to back it up.
"I was holding it like it was the Holy Grail," he said.
Neuheisel also complained about "many, many, many" comments by NCAA officials in newspaper articles during the week after his NCAA interview, when Washington officials were preparing to fire him.
"It gave me no chance," he said.
And he described his difficulties finding work until being hired as quarterbacks coach of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens last month. He will earn $250,000 per year, a huge cut from the $1.6 million he earned in his final year as Washington's coach.
"I made a lot of calls to people I knew. ... Everybody was afraid because of this gambling thing," he testified.
Neuheisel said NCAA investigators didn't tell him they were going to ask about gambling during the interview on June 4, 2003, only about potential recruiting violations.
When those questions came up, he said he lied initially because he was suspicious of a possible link to organized gambling and didn't want to implicate his friends. He also admitted he hoped to buy time until he could talk to a lawyer.
"They had lied to me. I thought they had tried to set me up," Neuheisel said. "They told me they came for this minor thing ... and now they're asking me about organized gambling."
Later that day, Neuheisel admitted his involvement after consulting an attorney. Jurors listened to tape-recorded excerpts from the interviews, where he described the pools as "strictly a buddy-to-buddy type of arrangement."
Investigators also asked for permission to search his bank, home phone and cell phone records, he said. He refused.
While the coach was being questioned in Seattle on June 4, 2003, NCAA gambling director Bill Saum in Indianapolis sent an e-mail to an associate that indicated they should consider advising law enforcement officials.
Neuheisel said repeatedly he never believed he was doing anything wrong, since no money went to a house and no bookies were involved.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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