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Relieved Neuheisel walks away with his head held high despite naysayers

Tim Korte Associated Press

SEATTLE – Rick Neuheisel already hears the whispers.

The former University of Washington football coach knows critics will say he lied to NCAA investigators after gambling on college basketball, yet walked with a $4.5 million lawsuit settlement from the university and NCAA.

“Those people who don’t want to spend the time to find out more about this, I wish them well,” he said Monday, hours after the agreement was reached in a King County courtroom.

“I’m concerned with those who do know what happened, who do know me, and I’m comfortable with that.”

Neuheisel is focused on restarting his career. He begins work next week as quarterbacks coach of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, eager to probe the minds of head coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel.

“I’m going to learn from two of the NFL’s best,” he said. “I’m just going to be a blank tablet and learn, learn, learn.”

Neuheisel clearly was relieved but weary during a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press at his lawyer’s office. He was fired in June 2003, amid an NCAA investigation into his participation in NCAA basketball pools.

He admitted lying when first questioned by NCAA investigators, but repeated his position that he was misled about the purpose of the interview and initially believed he had been linked to illegal gambling.

He also maintained he had permission to take part in the pools, citing an e-mail by Washington’s former compliance officer that administrators had mistakenly authorized such participation.

“Did I get away with one? Let me say this: I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anybody,” he said. “It was 21 months of going through this, with no assurances of how it was going to turn out.

“It was the all-or-nothing round, with respect to my resources. But I had to stand up for what I knew was right, and I was fortunate to have a family who believed it was the right thing to do.”

Neuheisel said his law degree didn’t help.

“I realized there’s a lot more you need besides a law degree to be an attorney,” he said. “I don’t think you’d know that until you get into it and live it.”

It also was frustrating for Neuheisel to wait months for the trial, unable to explain his side of things amid news reports that he felt were unfair or inaccurate.

“You couldn’t say anything that didn’t sound totally defensive. You just had to wait,” he said. “My dad and my wife pushed me. They said to be strong, be tough. That was important.”

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