KENT, Wash. – Former Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel told a jury Monday he was less than forthcoming when NCAA investigators asked if he had ever bet on men’s college basketball tournaments, then cried discussing the impact his firing had on his family.
“It was devastating to my family. It was devastating to me professionally,” he said. “Everybody out there was writing stories that I was this gambler. … I was being likened to Pete Rose.”
He testified that NCAA investigators didn’t tell him they were going to ask about gambling during a meeting in June 2003 – only about potential recruiting violations. When they did, he said, he lied because he didn’t want to implicate his friends in illegal gambling and because he wanted to buy time until he could talk to an attorney.
“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.”
Investigators also asked for permission to search his bank, home phone and cell phone records, he said. He refused.
Neuheisel is suing the university and the NCAA in King County Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly fired from his job as football coach that summer. He claims Washington administrators acted under pressure from the NCAA.
Former athletic director Barbara Hedges, who retired in January 2004, testified earlier in the trial that the main reason for the firing was dishonesty.
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 the basketball pools in 2002 and 2003.
Neuheisel claims he lied about interviewing for the 49ers because he was honoring that team’s demand for confidentiality. He says he participated in the gambling pools because a memo from Washington’s compliance director said such gambling was allowed – even though the organization expressly prohibits it.
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 – a trial exhibit – that indicated they should consider advising law enforcement officials.
Jurors also heard tape recordings of Neuheisel’s interview, in which he initially denied involvement. They heard him saying later he had taken part, when Neuheisel says the pool is “strictly a buddy-to-buddy type of arrangement.”
Neuheisel broke down when he recalled the meeting in which Hedges told him he’d be fired, and when he discussed the shame it brought to himself and his family.
“Having people stare at you like you’re a zoo animal – I was used to being seen in public, but this was foreign,” he said.
In four seasons at UW, Neuheisel compiled a 33-16 record, including a Rose Bowl victory in 2001. He spent the past two seasons as a volunteer coach at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, but has since been hired as quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
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