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A bum rap for women
Barbara Hedges unfairly targeted
By: Richard Linde, 12 January 2004

The 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 scandal.

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 reserve.

“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 the pool.

That conclusion, of course, is subject to bitter argument among fans, lawyers, and those in the media and within the NCAA.

Hedges 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 recruiting visits.

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 malamute@4malamute.com

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