|Friday, June 13
Updated: June 15, 7:13 PM ET
Lawyers say Neuheisel will fight to save job
MEDINA, Wash. -- Rick Neuheisel maintains he did not break NCAA rules when he gambled on college basketball tournaments and believes he should keep his job as Washington's football coach.
Neuheisel addressed reporters Saturday at his lakeside home, two days after athletic director Barbara Hedges announced her decision to fire him.
"I remain confident that there will be no finding of any major infraction at the NCAA level," said Neuheisel, standing in front of his lakeside home, addressing a row of reporters. "And if the university could see their way to allow me to retain my job, I would guarantee them that if in fact there were a finding of a major infraction, I would resign immediately and ask not for one more penny from the university."
Neuheisel has admitted to gambling on the past two NCAA basketball tournaments, but maintains he didn't realize he was breaking NCAA rules by gambling in a pool with friends and neighbors. In his defense, he cited a department memo that says off-campus pools are acceptable.
Jim Daves, a UW athletic department spokesman, had no comment Saturday afternoon in response to Neuheisel's latest statement.
In a much anticipated decision, athletic director Barbara Hedges announced Thursday that she was firing Neuheisel for gambling on the past two NCAA basketball tournaments and for initially being dishonest with NCAA investigators about his involvement.
His lawyers have disputed both allegations and have characterized NCAA gambling rules as ambiguous.
His legal team includes Jerry Crawford, a specialist at handling cases before the NCAA infractions committee, and Bob Sulkin, described as Neuheisel's lead trial attorney.
Neuheisel has until June 26 to respond to his termination notice.
"I love this job," Neuheisel said Saturday. "I love the kids that I've recruited and brought to the university. And I promised them that I'd do everything I could to retain this job and that's my sole goal and my sole purpose."
No announcement has been made on Neuheisel's replacement, though offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson is considered the leading candidate.
Gilbertson, 55, also has participated in a $3 pool on the Final Four. He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he informed Hedges of his involvement when he met with her on Friday.
Hedges has said university officials are continuing to gather information about the 1999 pool, and that Gilbertson's involvement should not affect his candidacy.
Neuheisel's lawyers said Friday he will fight to save his job, and they asked university officials to meet with them Saturday.
"We believe that it is time for everyone involved to take a deep breath and step back from the edge of the cliff we are poised upon," said Jerry Crawford, one of the nation's most experienced lawyers in dealing with the NCAA's infractions committee.
"Rick Neuheisel loves the University of Washington. He loves his players and staff. He is ready to go back to work and beat Ohio State," Crawford said.
Neuheisel maintains he didn't realize he was breaking NCAA rules by gambling in a pool with friends and neighbors. He referred to an athletic department memo, distributed by compliance director Dana Richardson.
UW athletic department spokesman Jim Daves had no comment on the announcement from Neuheisel's lawyers. A call to the NCAA was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
A March 13 Washington athletic department e-mail that appeared to authorize gambling in off-campus pools -- contradicting the NCAA's position -- is at the center of the university's internal investigation.
Dr. Robert Aronson, the university's faculty athletic representative. said that when Richardson sent the memo, the department probably should have acted to clarify any confusion.
"In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to recall that memo," he said.
The e-mail reads: "The bottom line of these rules is that if you have friends outside of ICA (intercollegiate athletics) that have pools on any of the basketball tournaments, you can participate."
Richardson couldn't be reached for comment. An athletic department publicist said she won't be made available.
Hedges admitted she didn't read Richardson's memo in March, though it was distributed to all department employees.
"We all use e-mail to disseminate a lot of information, " Hedges said. "It's a good lesson to us that when things are as critical as warning your employees about gambling, a regular memo should go out to the staff with highlights."
The situation puts a focus on Hedges, who has been the athletic director since 1991. The NCAA often cites "lack of institutional control " when handing out punishment for rules violations.
"I'm responsible for the program," Hedges said. "I hired Rick Neuheisel. I've also hired almost every coach in the department and a great percentage of the employees. That's my responsibility. I have to be able to defend what I've done, and I think I can."
The NCAA won't comment on active investigations, but high-ranking NCAA officials have said educating member schools about gambling rules has been a top priority over the past five years.
Aronson said the rule, as posted on the NCAA's Web site, didn't definitely explain what is legal. The NCAA says its rules manual is the ultimate guide, and that coaches are expected to know all the rules.
In either case, Aronson agreed the Washington memo should have been more clear that gambling is impermissible.
"It would have been better just to say, regardless of how you interpret the rules, 'Just don't bet at all, period, "' Aronson said.
He also emphasized that Richardson's memo wasn't the only message distributed on campus about gambling issues.
He said Washington puts up posters about gambling rules throughout its athletic department facilities, shows films "of all the evils" to athletes and employees and stages rules sessions for every team.
"We do it in the form of a Jeopardy game to keep interest, " Aronson said. "Athletes are asked questions. One category is ethical conduct, and about 90 percent of the questions deal with gambling."
Hedges said she hasn't heard from the NCAA about the investigation. No timetable was set for issuing the internal report.
"We will do our own investigation," Hedges said. "We will work with the Pac-10 and the NCAA. We will file a self-report, and then we will work with the Pac-10 and NCAA to determine what the timeframe is."
Hedges said officials so far have verified the pool took place for only one year, 1999.
"Each person put in $3,'' Hedges said. "We are continuing to gather information about it.''