A bum rap for women
Barbara Hedges unfairly targeted
By: Richard Linde, 12 January 2004
day before Christmas an editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
suggested that Barbara Hedges step aside as athletic director at the University
of Washington. Two days and a fortnight later, she stepped aside.
Hedges, 66, the only female athletic director at a
football-playing Division I school, stepped aside because certain vituperations
eventually became "real" in the public's perception of her. Using the media as a
conduit, repeated railings against a public figure are certain to
damage irreparably his/her image.
In her case, media and fan criticism, consisting of innuendo
and smear, eventually wore thin with her, and the heat in Truman’s proverbial
kitchen became too hot to stand.
During the last year of Hedges' tenure, the irresponsible
behavior that has been alleged on the part of three of her employees, Dr. William Scheyer, Teresa Wilson, and Rick Neuheisel, led to her premature retirement.
However, fan dissatisfaction began eleven years ago.
Hedges became the athletic director at the UW in 1991, one
year before the fruit-basket scandal ravaged the football program. In 1993, she
and university President William Gerberding accepted sanctions from the Pac-10
that were not proportional, in people’s minds, to the “crimes” committed. The
unfairness of it all led to the exit of the “winningnest” coach in Pac-10
history, Don James. *
James resigned with these words, "I have decided I can
no longer coach in a conference that treats its players and coaches so unfairly.
We have suffered for nearly 10 months from media character assassination. By
looking at the penalties, it appears we are all guilty, based in large part upon
statements of questionable witnesses."
Many fans thought that Gerberding and Hedges were remiss in
accepting penalties that were out-of-synch with the facts, penalties that
prohibited the Huskies from playing in bowl games for two years and that
resulted in a draconian loss of scholarships (20 over two recruiting years, that
is, 15 yearly scholarships instead of 25).
To this day, 11 years later, many fans hold Hedges and
Gerberding responsible for the destruction of a burgeoning football dynasty.
That was whiff one against Hedges, although she was just "a babe in the woods."
Strike two occurred with the hiring of Rick Neuheisel as
football coach in 1999. Boosters and alumni wanted a disciple of Don James to
assume the head coaching job, namely Chris Tormey or Gary Pinkel. During
Neuheisel’s tenure, he was criticized for being too lax with players and for a
program that was backsliding after the victory over Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl
Along with the two whiffaroos, the “Dr. Feelgood” pills’
dispensing scandal was Hedges’ undoing. Despite a lack of hard evidence, many
people felt that Hedges was not vigilant enough as caretaker in her
administration of 177 full-time employees, that somehow she should
have known about Dr. Scheyer’s prescription habits and put a halt to them, even
though, allegedly, he was filling prescriptions using secret accounts outside of
the university’s domain and concomitant surveillance. Scheyer denies that he
dispensed medication improperly.
Presumably, Hedges dismissed softball coach Teresa Wilson
from duty because of her role, which is uncertain at this time, in the pillgate
No hard evidence, however, is lacking for Barbara Hedges’
numerous accomplishments as athletic director at the UW. Alumni, fans and
boosters have much too be proud about, thanks to Hedges.
According to UW media relations, “she is credited with
building the Husky athletic program into one of the best in the nation,
overseeing massive facilities upgrades of more than $100 million, improving the
overall graduation rates for Washington's student-athletes and, despite rising
operating costs, directing the department in the black with a $10 million
“Under Hedges’ watch, the Huskies won five national
championships and 46 conference titles, made 10 bowl game appearances, appeared
in the NCAA basketball tournament two times for the men and on seven occasions
for the women.”
Such successes notwithstanding, the tumultuous year with
Neuheisel was Hedges’ waterloo, the real reason for exile, with two ironies
mudding the waters surrounding St. Helena.
Ironically, if Neuheisel had lost money in the bidding
pools (he won $12K over two years, according to the Post-Intelligencer),
he would still be head coach at Washington and Hedges would be contemplating
retirement in two years. Everyone identifies with the losing of money to March
Madness basketball pools, even critical sportswriters. Losing money, Neuheisel would have been
pitiable instead of lamentable.
If former WSU coach Mike Price had behaved himself in
Pensacola and Tuscaloosa, Neuheisel would still be coach, whether he had won
money or not. Supposedly the snitch who ratted on Neuheisel was a Coug who was
miffed at the Price jokes circulating the web.
And we believe, that as a result of Neuheisel’s firing, the
Huskies, one of the preseason favorites to win the conference title, faired much
worse, 6-6 on the 2003 season, than they otherwise would have, providing
Neuheisel had kept his job.
As we’ve stated, Neuheisel presented Keith Gilbertson
with the keys to a brand new Cadillac; Gilby drove the Caddie into a carwash and
it came out an Edsel--a boy scout's compass replacing the navigation system,
leaving Gilby as rudderless as Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Okay, so we said that jokingly, but there is no question in
our minds that some of Neuheisel’s recruits gave less than an all out effort in
the Nevada, Cal, UCLA, and Arizona games. Neuheisel is a player’s coach;
Gilbertson, 55, is not, and Neuhiesel’s guys didn’t sign up to play for Gilbertson,
who, in comparison with Neuheisel, is more of an authoritarian, a fuddy-duddy
who doesn’t cotton to rock and roll music being played during
practices, something that Neuheisel permitted, in keeping with his persona.
Many fans blame Hedges for this disappointing season
because she hired Rick Neuheisel, even though she had good reason to bring him
in from Colorado.
To wit, she hired Neuheisel because he was known as a
capable recruiter and player’s coach. In her mind, he would
become an unrelenting fundraiser—all of the above proving true. She knew that the
well-educated coach would help raise the graduation rate for football players
at the UW, which is now at 67% and second to Stanford in the Pac-10. In 1991,
the Huskies graduated just 36% of their football players.
If there is any blemish on Hedges’ record, it is for what
we believe to be her complicity in the unjust firing of Rick Neuheisel. In their
lawsuit filed against the UW, Neuheisel’s lawyers make a credible case for an
unfair dismissal, pointing out, for one thing, that the NCAA’s rule on gambling
is ambiguously written. We agree with them, and believe that assistant athletic
director Dana Richardson made a correct interpretation of the rule when she
wrote the memo permitting participation in March Madness pools as long as it was
done outside of athletic department and the participant was not administering
That conclusion, of course, is subject to bitter argument
among fans, lawyers, and those in the media and within the NCAA.
retired prematurely because Neuheisel broke an ambiguous rule and won money in a
sports pool, because Teresa Wilson did something in pillgate nobody outside the
UW knows about, because Richardson wrote a memo that proves the ambiguity of the
rule Neuheisel allegedly violated and because Scheyer allegedly dispensed pills
without properly examining his patients, something he denies. The media contend
that Hedges acted irresponsibly in these matters, for not overseeing their
behavior. If this were true, every parent in the nation would be in jail because
of their adult children's misbehavior.
We hope, however, that the so-called blemishes on Hedges'
record--call them a bum rap--won't prohibit other women from seeking jobs as
athletic directors at major universities.
Ultimately the symbolic marriage of Neuheisel and Hedges
will resonate throughout Husky history as a proper one. Alas, she should have
stood by her man, letting all be well.
* One of the reasons the Pac-10 punished the UW was because
certain Seattle hotels provided prospects with baskets of fruit during their
According to the Pac-10, UCLA’s Terry Donahue is the
winningest coach in Pac-10 history. The conference does not count two
forfeited games that would make James the winningest coach.
On the subject of “questionable witnesses,” former UW
players that had been dismissed from the team and that had eventually lost
lawsuits against the UW lent their names to the articles published in the Los
Angeles Times targeting the Huskies in 1992.
Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at