Former Huskies coach disputes lying to boss

Originally Published: February 15, 2005
Associated Press

KENT, Wash. -- Rick Neuheisel firmly disputed trial testimony by his University of Washington boss, who told jurors two weeks ago the football coach was warned in early 2003 that his lies couldn't be tolerated.

Neuheisel also insisted Tuesday, during his third full day on the stand in his King County Superior Court lawsuit against Washington and the NCAA, that then-athletic director Barbara Hedges knew he had spoken with the San Francisco 49ers in February 2003 about the team's head coaching job.

"In my mind, she knew," Neuheisel said.

He explained that he indicated "in code" to Hedges that he had interviewed for the job by saying, one day after the interview: "Barbara, all you need to know is that I was in San Francisco playing golf."

Neuheisel contends Washington administrators wrongfully fired him in June 2003 under pressure from the NCAA.

He spent the entire day Tuesday under cross-examination by university lawyer Lou Peterson.

Jurors also listened to two radio show interviews, one from Feb. 10, 2003, in which Neuheisel denied interviewing for the 49ers' job, and another from Feb. 13, in which he admitted he had lied and apologized.

School officials maintain Neuheisel was told after the 49ers' incident that more lies wouldn't be tolerated. They said he was fired for gambling on NCAA basketball and for initially lying about the gambling when questioned by NCAA investigators. He told the truth to the investigators later the same day.

Neuheisel is asking jurors to decide who they're going to believe. As the trial's first witness, Hedges said Neuheisel was clearly advised he was facing a serious issue after the 49ers' episode and she couldn't tolerate additional lies.

Yet during his turn on the stand, Neuheisel insisted otherwise.

"I had not lied to Barbara. She knew" about the 49ers' interview, he said.

Neuheisel also flatly rejected Peterson's suggestion that he was advised in mid-February 2003 by then-university president Lee Huntsman that administrators would hold him to a high ethical standard.

"He didn't call me. ... I think I would have remembered a phone call with someone of Lee Huntsman's stature," Neuheisel testified. "I'm very comfortable telling you it did not happen."

The coach also disputed Hedges' testimony that he was told a written warning about his lies would be placed in his personnel file. Such a memo, Hedges testified, wouldn't have to be made public and would help Neuheisel avoid more embarrassment.

"Barbara Hedges never told me about a letter of reprimand. Not one time. Ever," Neuheisel said.

Hedges retired in January 2004.

Late in the day, Peterson grilled Neuheisel on whether he considered his participation in high-stakes NCAA basketball pools to be gambling. The coach won $4,799 in 2002 and $7,324 in 2003, each year picking three of the Final Four teams.

When he entered $3,610 in the 2002 pool, for example, Neuheisel testified that he didn't believe the money was at risk.

"I considered it my contribution to an event where a lot of guys were having fun. It was not money of consequence," said Neuheisel, who earned $1.6 million in salary in his final year as Washington's coach.

Neuheisel didn't believe the auction-style pools were illegal because no money was being retained by a house. Peterson asked Neuheisel if, based on his success in 2002, the coach knew the 2003 event would involve gambling.

"You knew it was possible to wager and win a lot of money?" Peterson asked.

"I knew you could do well," Neuheisel answered.

At one point, they quibbled over a definition of the activity.

"I didn't consider it a bet," Neuheisel said.

"Was it wagering?" Peterson asked.

"Bidding," Neuheisel answered.

Neuheisel said he created a cover story about his visit to San Francisco on Feb. 9 for the 49ers' job interview. He planned to say he had left a family vacation in Idaho to golf with college friends in northern California.

The next day, his tale grew.

Neuheisel issued a university news release denying that he had interviewed, then later told the radio host he was golfing with college friends, adding that he discussed a business opportunity involving an Oregon golf course.

"That was false," Neuheisel testified.

On the second radio interview, Neuheisel can be heard calling the episode "an isolated incident," and insisting, "I will never be in this position again." He also related what he told his players about it.

"If there's a lesson in this, it's definitely to be truthful at all times because these things have a way of coming back to haunt you," Neuheisel said during the radio show.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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