Neuheisel deserves another chance at
coaching college football
The unsolved mysteries of the Neuheisel eraRichard Linde, 27 May 2006
Ostensibly, former UW coach Rick
Neuheisel (1999-2003, 33-16) was fired, in part, for lying about a job
interview with the San Francisco 49ers and for lying about his participation
in two basketball auctions (although he told the truth the same day he was
In my opinion, he was unfairly fired
and would be coaching at Washington today -- after a short suspension,
perhaps -- if the NCAA and media hadn’t overreacted to a story handed to
them by a snitch.
This impulsiveness in firing
Neuheisel led to his “successful” lawsuit against the University of
Washington and the NCAA, the settlement of which collectively cost them $4.7 million.
Neuheisel’s recruiting classes at
Washington were among the best in the nation. Eighteen of his recruits are
headed to NFL training camps this summer. At least thirteen members of this
year’s team, all recruited by Neuheisel, have NFL potential, including expected starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback, who has speed
and athleticism to burn. One of Neuheisel’s most notable recruits, Nate
Robinson, is playing NBA basketball. Robinson was the catalyst for
Washington’s most recent successes in basketball. Kai Ellis is playing in
the CFL and Craig Chambers, who transferred to Montana, has NFL capableness.
Charisma, charm and persuasiveness
lend themselves to Neuheisel's fundraising skills. Among all of Washington’s
past coaches, arguably he was the most charismatic of them all.
I believe that Neuheisel deserves
another shot at a head coaching job in college football, and I hope that the
substance of this article will clarify the issues that have dogged him over
the past few years. These issues concern his motivation for being
untruthful, his participation in two auctions, and the identity of an
informant who most likely had an ax to grind.
In four seasons with the Huskies,
Neuheisel forged a 33-16 record and led the Huskies to four bowl
appearances, including a Rose Bowl victory in 2001 and a No. 3 national
ranking. The miraculous comebacks engineered in the 2000 season will
always be part of his Husky legacy, along with his inspiring speech at the
Curtis Williams memorial and his devotion to Curtis
before he passed away. As a devoted father and players coach, he
should be an inspiration to all young men that play college football.
Currently, Neuheisel is working as
quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens.
An editorialist, an eavesdropper, a snitch and two investigators.
I. The Editorialist and the setup
(December 14, 2002)
Since it was obvious to former AD Barbara Hedges
that the multi-talented Neuheisel would be in high demand, she amended his
contract in September 2002, which in effect tied him to Washington through
2008. It would have cost would-be employers $2.1 million to lure him away
from Washington, as well as bettering or matching an annual salary of $1.8
million (providing all incentives were met).
However Neuheisel’s new contract didn’t stop the
Seattle Times from speculating on his interest in other jobs
After UCLA fired Bob Toledo in December 2002, a
Times editorial, anonymously written, speculated on Neuheisel’s potential
candidacy for the head-coaching vacancy.
The editorialist told the UW to
“find a coach who sees the UW as a milestone not a stepping stone…” while,
“Cougar coach Mike Price is a different matter. His solid reputation and
patient success naturally attracts attention. He has made Washington State
University proud, and he has earned the right to seek new challenges and
other coaching opportunities.”
A few days later, Karl Dorrell
signed a contract with UCLA, reportedly for $600 thousand per year, at least
a couple of bucks short of Neuheisel’s $1.4 million guaranteed salary
contract with Washington.
And a few months later, Price shot
himself in the foot, while seeking another "coaching opportunity," at Alabama
-- this in his dance with Destiny.
The Eavesdropper and the sting
(February 12, 2003)
What are the odds that Neuheisel would plunk himself down in a chair about six feet away from the
chair belonging to a Seattle P-I
reporter in the San Francisco Airport?
The reporter wrote, “Lest
you think I was prowling the airport in the foliage of a Ficus benjamina, I
was reading the Sunday papers in the gate area when Neuheisel plunked
himself down in a chair about 6 feet from mine.”
A few minutes later, the reporter
eavesdropped on a cell phone conversation Neuheisel had with his mother,
telling her that it (the 49ers interview) went well.
Later, in the departure area, the
reporter asked Neuheisel if he had interviewed with the 49ers and he
answered no, saying that he cut short a Sun Valley skiing trip with his
family to play golf in the Bay Area with fraternity buddies. The next day
the coach made a public statement, saying he did not interview with the
49ers. Later in the week, published stories in the Seattle
P-I forced Neuheisel's hand, and
he told the truth about the 49ers interview. Neuheisel said that he lied to
protect a confidentiality agreement he had with 49ers management.
In my opinion, Neuheisel never had
any interest in the 49ers’ job and the 49ers weren’t interested in him
because of the $2.1 million buyout in his contract. Common sense tells me
that Neuheisel interviewed with the 49ers as a favor to his close friend, former UCLA coach Terry Donahue, who was the 49ers general manager at
the time. Good friends do that type of thing, hugging
each other from time to time in reciprocal fashion.
In addition to the confidentiality
agreement, he was given additional motivation to lie – call it a white lie
-- by the double standard the media had set for him in the Seattle area,
even long before the “Rick Hamlet” editorial was written. Successful,
talented people at Washington shouldn’t interview for better jobs goes their
message, this under the umbrella of blind loyalty to the Dub. Tell that one
to Charlie Weis.
Did the paparazzi follow Neuheisel
from Sun Valley to San Francisco and then alert the
P-I reporter? Otherwise, the
“plunking down about six feet away” seems like a million to one shot to me
-- as one P-I columnist has
called it. Other than those odds, there is no real reason to doubt the
reporter’s version of the events.
III. The investigators and the
trap (June 4, 2003)
Who was the snitch who turned Neuheisel in for the participation in
the auctions involving March madness? What was his/her motivation?
As a passive member of a four-man
group, Neuheisel participated in two March Madness basketball auctions, one
in 2002 and another in 2003, his net winnings over the two years being
$11,219, according to the NCAA. A couple dozen of his friends or more
participated in the auctions. His ratio of income to winnings in relation to
a person making $50 thousand per year
translates into winnings of approximately $390, or $195 per year.
Neuheisel pointed to two e-mails
(one in 1999 and another in 2003) circulated by the UW compliance director
that allowed participation in such activities: "The bottom line of these
rules is that if you have friends outside of (the athletic department) that
have pools on any of the basketball tournaments, you can participate …You
cannot place bets with a bookie or organize your own pool inside or outside
of (the athletic department)."
Focusing on organized gambling, the
NCAA rule on gambling does not mention sports pools or auctions.
In its ruling, the NCAA Infractions Committee concluded
that reliance on the e-mails substantially mitigated the nature of the
gambling violation and that his participation in the auctions was not a
violation of NCAA ethical conduct legislation.
Before the ruling, thirteen college coaches wrote letters supporting Neuheisel, saying that they relied heavily on their
compliance offices for rules interpretation. Among them were Joe Paterno,
Jim Tressel, Mike Bellotti, Ron Turner, Lou Holtz, and Tom Cable.
Ironically, if Neuheisel had lost
money in the auctions, the fact he had participated in them most likely
would never have been reported to the Seattle Times and the NCAA. But the
fact remained that he’d won money in the auctions, along with the fact that
Mike Price’s alleged dalliance with a Tuscaloosa babe was in full swing with
the media just before the second e-mail was sent.
In its story, “Diary of a downfall:
the Neuheisel story,” The Seattle Times wrote, “The story actually began
weeks ago, when an anonymous person sent an e-mail to the NCAA and The
Seattle Times alleging that he — or she — had witnessed Neuheisel
participating in an NCAA basketball-tournament auction with a group of
friends and others in his Medina neighborhood…On May 13, (2003) the
anonymous sender circulated another e-mail: ‘Let's just say Rick was up to
his usual tricks again and the NCAA has taken an interest in his
That e-mail was circulated eight
days after I had published the spoof on Price, “Dancing
with Destiny.” Was the anonymous tipster a WSU fan or alum?
Later, rumors circulated the web that the tipster had been angered by what
he was reading on the web concerning Mike Price. This website is hardly that
influential; however, the miasma clouding Price’s reputation did hang over
On June 4, 2003, two NCAA
investigators ambushed Neuheisel in violation of an NCAA bylaw, questioning
him about his auction activities without informing him beforehand of the
true nature of their investigation. As a stunned Neuheisel emerged from the interview
room, he was questioned by a Seattle Times reporter.
Later on, The Times wrote: “Through two independent sources, The Times learned
that the two NCAA investigators were in town and pinpointed a date when
Neuheisel would be called into an interview — Wednesday, June 4, at The
Did one of The Times’ sources have an NCAA connection?
Still, the identity of the tipster
remains a mystery.
According to published reports,
Neuheisel told others, including boosters, people at the golf course and
Seattle business leaders, that he had done well in the 2003 auction. His
willingness to reveal that he’d participated in the auctions is not the
action of a man who knowingly was violating an NCAA Bylaw; however, it
expands the list of would-be snitches into the hundreds, perhaps.
The point is that we may never know
who blew the whistle on Neuheisel. However, a literal interpretation of the
Times’ article, to wit, “that he — or she — had witnessed Neuheisel
participating in an NCAA basketball-tournament auction,” narrows the list of
suspects down to the two dozen or more people who attended the 2003 auction.
Focusing on WSU alums or fans, some embarrassed by Mike Price’s bad press,
narrows that list further.
Contrary evidence is provided by an
article written by
P-I reporter Dan Raley ("Neuheisel leaker remains a
mystery to all"): He writes that the tipster, identifying himself
bogusly as 'Peter Wright,' "
insisted he was a pool participant eight years earlier, then got out of the
pool because the betting had become too rich. Still, the tipster was aware Neuheisel had become an active participant."
Raley quotes the tipster from an
e-mail he wrote to Bill Saum, NCAA investigator: "I just hope that justice
is served. Believe me, I don't want to be responsible for helping a person
potentially get fired from his job but I have a firm ethical stance that
what he did was wrong."
I wonder how the mysterious Peter
Wright feels about his ethical stance now, under the light of the two UW e-mails
okaying Neuheisel's participation in the auctions.
The gigantic seaplane resting on the
shores of Union Bay is spreading its purple wings and ready to rev its engines.
Its destination is uncertain, as it gently rolls from side to side, shrouded
by the fog of a new flight plan
They say time heals all wounds. It's
been three and one half years since Neuheisel has led a college football
team onto the field.
In time, perhaps, the editorialist,
the eavesdropper, the investigators, and Peter Wright will
join our crusade: Rick Neuheisel deserves another chance to coach college football.