Neuheisel said he feels vindicated by settlement
KENT, Wash. -- Fired Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel left a King County courtroom with a $4.5 million settlement in his lawsuit against the NCAA and university.
Just as importantly, he claimed victory in his 21-month legal battle and put closure to a dispute that had threatened his coaching career.
"I feel fully vindicated," Neuheisel told reporters Monday. "Obviously, they're going to have their stories, too, but I feel like this is the best scenario. Nobody's nose gets bloodied."
The settlement was announced by Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman after five weeks of testimony, just as jurors --reportedly leaning in Neuheisel's favor -- were set to hear closing statements.
It capped a lengthy and bitter legal fight, starting with Neuheisel's firing in June 2003, that publicly exposed the NCAA and university to embarrassing administrative gaffes and left Washington's once-proud football program in tatters.
"I'm elated that it's over. It's been 21 months and it's been hard," said Neuheisel, who signed autographs for jurors.
Neuheisel will receive cash payments of $2.5 million from the NCAA and $500,000 from the university. Additionally, the university agreed not to seek repayment of a $1.5 million loan.
"The legal system works," Neuheisel said. "The players got together and found an amicable resolution. I'm thrilled to be moving on."
Neuheisel's lawyers put the settlement amount at $4.7 million, saying it included $200,000 in forgiven loan interest. University officials insisted the settlement included no such provision.
Jurors took a straw poll shortly before they were dismissed and the tally favored Neuheisel "60-40," one juror, Nikki Peterson, a commercial insurer in Redmond, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"I thought everyone was at fault to a certain degree," added juror Johanna Brackett, 24, a nurse who graduated from Washington State University last year. She told the newspaper she thought the settlement was reasonable.
A third juror, Joseph Majack, 55, of Enumclaw, said he would have favored a judgment that gave Neuheisel nothing except not having to repay the loan.
"In my mind, (the settlement) was more generous than what would have come from the jury," Majack said, "but there was plenty of fault all around."
The genesis for a settlement was a monumental trial development Feb. 28. NCAA lawyer John Aslin disclosed that the organization failed to provide Neuheisel's legal team with an updated version of its bylaws during discovery.
At issue was whether those questioned by NCAA investigators must be notified of the purpose of the interview. It turned out the NCAA had amended its bylaws to require such notification six weeks before Neuheisel's June 2003 interview.
The finding seemed to bolster Neuheisel's argument that NCAA investigators acted improperly, since they hadn't advised him they would ask about his gambling in an auction-style pool on NCAA basketball games.
NCAA president Myles Brand said in a statement Monday that the organization believes its investigators acted properly. He said when the bylaw was redrafted, it wasn't intended to be interpreted so broadly.
However, Spearman decided last week to leave open the possibility of a mistrial. The judge also ordered restrictions on how the NCAA could present its case during the trial's final week.
Aslin said that made it more difficult to present an adequate defense.
"In light of everything going on, we felt the appropriate thing to do was to resolve the case," Aslin said.
Last fall, the NCAA infractions committee found Neuheisel violated NCAA rules against gambling but didn't sanction him, citing a memo by Washington's former compliance officer that mistakenly authorized gambling in off-campus NCAA basketball pools.
University lawyer Lou Peterson said Washington administrators agreed to the settlement because the school "could settle for less than 10 percent of the amount sought against us."
"I feel we came out a winner," Peterson said. "There was never an opportunity to settle this case at any time before last weekend in any way approaching the settlement that the University of Washington achieved."
Neuheisel starts his new job next week as quarterbacks coach of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. He insisted he bears no resentment toward Washington or the NCAA, and he even expressed hope he might coach college football again.
"I hope I have the opportunity," he said. "But I'm focusing right now on the opportunity to coach Kyle Boller and seeing if the Ravens can't get to the Super Bowl. It's in Detroit next year. I've already checked."
Neuheisel had accused the university of wrongfully terminating his contract and the NCAA of encouraging Washington administrators to fire him.
"I have great respect and admiration for the University of Washington and the NCAA," Neuheisel said. "It was the toughest decision I've ever made in my life, going to court against them.
"I didn't feel the story was fair or right. I had to stand up," he said.
The university argued that Neuheisel's contract allowed him to be fired for acts of dishonesty. School officials said he was fired for gambling on NCAA basketball, and for lying when first questioned by NCAA investigators.
In four seasons with the Huskies, Neuheisel had a 33-16 record, including a Rose Bowl victory in 2001 and a No. 3 national ranking. He was 33-14 at Colorado, his first head coaching job, from 1995-98.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press