Neuheisel Termination Press Conference Transcript

June 12, 2003

Rick Neuheisel Termination Press Conference
Don James Center, University of Washington

Opening statement from Athletic Director Barbara Hedges: 'It is with deep regret that I am announcing today that I have made an initial determination that just cause exists to terminate Rick Neuheisel's employment as the head football coach at the University of Washington.

'Accordingly, effective immediately I am placing Coach Neuheisel on paid suspension from his duties. I have not arrived at this decision hastily or without due consideration. Nevertheless, Rick's actions have left me little choice and have seriously undermined his ability to continue as the head football coach at the University.

'As provided in the contract, he may respond to this notice in writing or in person. Such response must be provided to my office by June 26, 2003. I will consider any response that he may make and will issue my decision.

'As provided in his contract, he will have a right to appeal my decision to the special assistant to the president.

'The basis for my initial determination is that he has admitted participation in high stakes betting pools on the NCAA basketball tournament, and that he initially denied such participation except as an observer.

'I am aware that he has contended publicly that his participation in the pools was not a violation of NCAA rules, or at least that he did not believe it to be such a violation, and he believes that his position is supported by an internal summary of those rules, that were issued by the ICA assistant director for compliance around the time of this year's tournament.

'I am also aware that the NCAA has taken a position that such gambling is categorically prohibited by its rules, and that he as coach is responsible for knowing and abiding by those rules, regardless of advice that he may have received from others.

'Whether or not the participation in the pools is ultimately determined by the NCAA to be a violation of the letter of its rules, Rick's admitted gambling on college athletics shows poor judgement, particularly in the context of his history of violations of NCAA rules both at this institution and at the University of Colorado, which has led to the imposition of penalties on him and on both institutions.

'Rick's initial false denial of such participation, likewise, must be seen in the context of his untruthfulness earlier this year, with regard to interviews with the San Francisco 49ers, at which time he was clearly told that further acts of dishonesty would not be tolerated by the University of Washington.

'Accordingly, I believe that Rick's conduct, taken as a whole, is grounds for terminating him for cause, under section eight of his employment contract.

'Before I open it up for questions, for those of you who are asking questions regarding who will be the next head football coach at the University, that is the next item on my agenda. I intend over the next day and a half to sit down with all of the assistant coaches in football to discuss with them our football program, and at that point in the next few days a decision will be made about that position.

Hedges on the memo stating that it was okay to be in one of these pools, and what will happen to the person that wrote the memo: 'Let me first address the issue of our compliance program and I want to do that. We have a very very outstanding compliance program at the University of Washington. Dana Richardson, we have four major people in our compliance department, Dana Richardson is the lead person one of her job responsibilities is to make interpretations.

'I have Rob Aronson, who is our faculty of the faculty representatives at the University of Washington who is the person on our campus who is the person responsible for rules compliance, NCAA and Pac-10 rules compliance. At this time I would like Rob to talk about our compliance program.'

Robert Aronson, Faculty Athletic Representative: 'As I'm sure you probably all know, we have a pretty extensive compliance program. We have three lawyers and people with NCAA experience actually in the compliance program day-to-day -- Dana Richardson, Jennifer Henderson, and Merlene Aitken, all of who are outstanding compliance people. I work with them. I am a professor in the law school, but I spend time there working with them. Our main source of compliance. We send out memoranda. We send out opinions. We have meetings. We have programs. We show films. We have rules sessions where we work with student athletes and coaches.

'But our main method of compliance is to tell every coach, every student-athlete, every staff person, to ask the questions. If you have an issue about compliance, if you have a question about whether you can do something or you can't do it, contact us and get a personal interpretation involving your situation. I can say without any question that we have -- if not the best -- one of the best groups of people issuing those interpretations anywhere in the country and I work extensively with the NCAA, the Pac-10, and people around the country. Dana Richardson is one of the best people in the country at interpreting NCAA rules and providing interpretations.

'They get dozens of interpretations a week. And one of the unfortunate things when something like this happens is everyone focuses on one particular memo rather than the thousands of interactions where good information was provided. With respect to this memorandum, this was sent out at the time the rules were looked at and it was Dana Richardson's belief that small wagers or small bets in a pool with friends outside the athletic institution were permissible. We're going to look at the whole situation; we're going to talk to the NCAA. Obviously the NCAA position is that no bets of any kind that involves intercollegiate athletic staff, student-athletes, or coaches are permissible and to the extent that that is true, we will deal with that situation.

Aronson on reports on 2-4 year penalty (for Neuheisel) and what the NCAA process is now on Neuheisel's dismissal and the process on-going: 'The NCAA is working with the Pac-10. There is some issue, normally in the Pac-10 we conduct our own internal investigation, sometimes with the Pac-10, sometimes on our own. This is a little bit unusual because the issue first came to the NCAA, so the NCAA sent its investigators. They're working out with the Pac-10 as to whether or not the Pac-10 is going to work with us, the NCAA is going to work with us, or both at the same time, but some combination of those groups will be interviewing people trying to find out exactly what was happening, how it happened. Then once that's done, we will be issuing a self-report. If we agree that there was a violation and anything else we determine we will report to the Pac-10 and the NCAA, they will then, assuming they do the investigation with us, they will then determine if a hearing is necessary and if so, we would appear at that hearing and issue a decision. So we're still waiting to find out how the process is going to work since it didn't start they way it normally does.'

Aronson on the length of this investigation process: 'It depends on what's involved. Obviously as soon as everybody's convinced that they know the facts, then they can proceed relatively quickly after that.'

Aronson on the department taking steps to rectify the problem: 'We're going to be conducting our own investigation to find out what everybody knows and what everybody's views of the rules have been and what they've been doing. I can say that there certainly isn't anybody in the athletic department who doesn't understand now where they understood it before that no gambling in any way, shape, or form is permitted or tolerated.'

Hedges on Neuheisel repaying the $1.5 million loan: 'I have myself and other people been working on reaching an agreement with Rick over the last three or four days. We went late into the night last night, and we were unable to reach an agreement. As a result, that is the reason today, or last night, that we issued a termination for cause. Under termination for cause Rick will repay the $1.5 million dollar loan.'

Hedges on if she has ever participated in a betting pool: 'I'm sure some place back in my history I've participated in a Final Four one-dollar pool, but I certainly have not done that since the NCAA passed a rule prohibiting any kind of office pools, since I think it was 1997.'

Hedges on if she did not fire Neuheisel, would the NCAA would suspend him for two years: 'Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That has never been in discussion. That question was never asked. All we wanted to do in any discussion with the NCAA was to understand the parameters we were dealing with, because we have never really dealt with a gambling issue. So it's certainly reasonable that we would ask some questions.'

Hedges on when she hired Neuheisel and now having to terminate his contract: 'Well, when I hired Rick I certainly didn't think of putting my career on the line for hiring a football coach. Certainly, ultimately it was my decision. There were a group of people who worked with me and helped me through the search process when we hired Rick Neuheisel. I believe hiring Rick Neuheisel was the right thing for the University of Washington at the time. Rick Neuheisel has done some very terrific things while he has been here at the University of Washington. He's a wonderful coach, incredible with his student-athletes, great in the community. So, it certainly was not a mistake hiring Rick Neuheisel. Unfortunately my job is to make a determination about the employees in this program. If the employees in the program, or an employee is not his or her actions are not actions in the best interests of the University, then I have to make a decision about that. These are very difficult decisions and very painful decisions, but I have to do it.'

Hedges on Neuheisel's current position: 'He is suspended with pay. As I said in my opening remarks, there is a process as outlined in his contract. He has an opportunity to respond to me, I make a decision. He has an opportunity to appeal to the special assistant to the president, at which time it is my understanding is that there would be some kind of hearing and then a final decision would be made.'

Hedges on whether anyone else in athletic department came forward and admitted betting in an NCAA pool: 'My assistant in my office, when she got the memo asked a question about it. No one else has come forth and said that they participated in a betting pool because of a misinterpretation of the memo.'

Hedges on whether Neuheisel has made an appeal: 'He has not. I talked to Coach Neuheisel last night, I have not spoken to him since he received the letter of termination.'

Hedges on whether Coach Neuheisel brought up the Dana Richardson memo when this issue was first discussed: 'We were in a meeting with two people from the NCAA enforcement staff at which time they were talking about some other things. At a certain point in the interview they asked him about this particular situation. At that time I don't recall that he mentioned the memo.'

Hedges on whether Neuheisel was untruthful with Ms. Hedges regarding the San Francisco situation: 'On Thursday [Feb. 6, 2003], he was going to Sun Valley and there had been a lot of speculation about the 49ers job. I point-blank asked Rick if he had any interest in this job. He said that I've been approached by a third party. I told him to go to Sun Valley, think it over, come back, and tell me what you're thinking. Rick did not tell me that he was going to San Francisco. There's no question that Rick was untruthful at that time.'

Hedges on whether the NCAA sees this as a Rick Neuheisel problem or a University of Washington problem, and whether the school will be penalized: 'I can't answer that question. In almost every gambling case so far in the NCAA, there haven't been that many, it is usually the individual that's penalized, not the institution.'

Hedges on whether a settlement could be reached before June 26th: 'There is a process. I've given Rick Neuheisel until June 26th to respond to the letter of termination. I would have to talk to the legal counselor to answer that question.'

Hedges on whether there was proof that Neuheisel participated in this act and whether he reported it on his income tax: 'During the second interview, Rick fully disclosed that he had participated in the betting pool this year and last year. And I don't know about the income tax.'

Hedges on how the entire situation came to light?: 'I received a call from the NCAA about three weeks before Rick was interviewed. At that time the NCAA told me that there is a couple of issues they want to ask about recruiting. The NCAA compliance seminar was being held in Seattle, so I told them that I and Rick would be happy to sit down and talk with them at that time. That was the first time that I became aware of any issues. The gambling issue was not mentioned at first'

Hedges on whether Rick is still proclaiming his innocence: 'I can't speak for Coach Neuheisel. You're going to have to ask him that question.'

Hedges on Neuheisel's reaction when the issue of betting was brought up at the meeting with the NCAA: 'I was certainly not prepared for it and Rick was certainly not prepared for it. When he was shown a picture, he did not recognize it because it was a very blurry picture of a person. His answers at that meeting were not totally true about the betting pools. It's very clear that there is no betting on college sports. There's no question that he was surprised by the question. He was not prepared for the questions that were asked at that meeting.'

Hedges on what has happened the last seven days: 'Has it been seven days? It's just been a difficult period regarding a highly visible employee. An employee that we care a lot about at the university, and we wanted to be very, very careful with the decisions that we made to make sure that we were making the right decision. We were not going to rush and there was a lot of pressure on us to make a decision immediately. We were not going to do that and that is what took the time, to try to do the right thing for the university and the right thing for Rick Neuheisel.'

Hedges on looking at the memo: 'I did not see the memo. It went to all department employees through email and this is a great example. We all use email to disseminate a lot of information and it is probably 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 or whatever.'

Hedges on gambling education: 'We do a lot of gambling education with our student-athletes in rules meetings. It's not a subject that we are not discussing all the time. We don't rely on one email. We do understand in the athletic department that we are not to gamble on college sports.'

Hedges on the first interview with the NCAA staff: 'There was a first interview, there was a second interview. There was a very short second interview and there was the follow up interview in which Rick went through exactly what happened. It was pretty clear to me and Dana Richardson, who was also in the room, and Rob Barker that specific questions were asked of Rick regarding whether or not he bet. It was very clear that he did not answer the questions yes I did.'

Hedges on Neuheisel's honesty and if it could have saved his job: 'That is a difficult question to answer because certainly a serious issue is the participation in the betting on college sports and a serious issue is not being totally honest.'

Hedges on if there has been a similar memo in 2002: 'No, there was no memo sent in 2002. Yes, there was a memo was sent in 1999.'

Hedges on operations in the football office: 'What we have done in the football office is that we are trying to have business as usual. Our assistant football coaches are going through all of their preparations. They are working on summer camps. They are interacting with student-athletes and they are making sure that the student-athletes are feeling as comfortable as they can.'

Hedges on repairing the image of the school: 'These kinds of situations are always difficult for a university and there is a certain amount of damage that will take place. The great thing about the program at the University of Washington is that it is a very, very outstanding athletic program, absolutely terrific student athletes, coaches that are the best in the country. We have a very, very good program. What we will have to do is just work harder to repair the damage that has occurred and just go on from here.'

Hedges on retaining all of the assistant coaches: 'Yes, I have made a commitment to the assistant coaches that they will all be retained.'

Hedges on if Neuheisel was advised to always go to Dana Richardson with questions: 'I have always asked Rick to go to our compliance office -- it could be Rob Aronson, it could be Dana Richardson -- and ask questions. That is the basic principle of our compliance program. I never move forward if I am even remotely not sure, I would pick up the phone and call Rob or Dana or someone else in our compliance office.'

Hedges on whether Dana Richardson, or any other members of the department, have had their jobs threatened by the situation, including Hedges: 'As we always do in cases like this, as it relates to an incident in the department or a personnel issue, we will review everything very carefully. I cannot tell you what action or actions the department will take, but I will simply tell you that we will review the process very carefully as we look at the whole issue.

'As far as me personally, certainly I'm the Director of Athletics at the University of Washington, I'm responsible for the program, I hired Rick Neuheisel. I've also hired almost every coach in the department, and a great percentage of the employees in this department. So that's my responsibility, and I have to be able to defend what I've done and I think I can.

Hedges on what will happen to the assistant coaches: 'We are retaining all of their contracts. Their contracts go from July 1 to June 30, and we're in the process right now of doing those contracts for our assistant football coaches.'

Hedges on whether assistant coach Keith Gilbertson still has a contract: 'He still has a contract. He's under contract until June 30, and prior to June 30, we will have the contracts for the new year, which is typically what we do.'

Aronson on whether the memo sent in 1999 was the same as the one sent in 2003: 'It wasn't the same, but it was similar. There were significant changes made between 1999 and 2003.'

Hedges on whether Rick Neuheisel can be characterized as having a history of violations: 'I didn't characterize it as a history. When Rick Neuheisel was hired at the University of Washington there was no indication of any NCAA rules violations in his background at all. He had a great reputation as a college football coach. The Colorado case emerged after Rick came to the University of Washington, and then we've had some secondary rule violations in our football program. Secondary violations are not unusual because you self-report those all the time. So I certainly didn't characterize it as a history at all. There have been instances recently of conduct which we would conduct which we would characterize as not representing the university's best interest.'

Hedges on why she said on June 4 that Coach Neuheisel had been forthcoming and should be given credit for that: 'Because (it was) in the interview in which he fully divulged everything on the same day. That's exactly why I said that. That he did fully disclose, when we went back into, at our insistence, back into the interview with the NCAA enforcement staff, and at that point he fully disclosed everything.'

Hedges on whether she was surprised and disappointed when Neuheisel produced the memo, knowing that it may put the school in harm's way: 'No, I wasn't. I had seen the memo. I was not surprised at all, because I certainly had seen the memo. But I felt like, even though this was Dana's interpretation, that the NCAA rules prevailed. And the NCAA interpretation would prevail, regardless of an interpretation by a staff member.'

Hedges on Richardson's explanation for her memo: 'I believe that Dana thought that was right -- that one dollar in an outside pool, by an athletic department staff person or coach, was permissible under the rules. That's the way she interpreted it.'

Aronson: 'The only thing I would add is, if you read the rule itself, and particularly if you read the rule as it appeared on the NCAA web site without one crucial sub-section, it is not the epitome of clarity. It seems to suggest that if you accept bets on your institution, that's a violation. If you solicit bets on intercollegiate athletics, that's a violation. And if you engage in organized gambling, that's a violation. It doesn't seem to indicate, by soliciting bets, does that mean some organized activity or whatever? I think there was some confusion as to whether a small one-dollar bet in a pool actually fit within the rule. The provision that was missing on the web site I think clarifies that, and I think that's the reason that the NCAA takes the position that even a one dollar office pool that's done by non-coaching staff, non-student athletes or anybody else, is impermissible. I don't think it was that clear at the time. And again, I think the main error in the memo was that, either that should have been clearly set out, we're not talking about coaches, we're not talking about sums above a minimal amount, and we're not talking about student athletes. But obviously in hindsight it would have been better just to say, regardless of how you interpret the rules, just don't bet at all, period.'

Aronson on whether or not the memo gives Coach Neuheisel the ability to sue the University of Washington: 'We can't really speculate on whether or not he would sue, and if so what his grounds would be. We'd have to look at that. We'd have to look at things like the 2002 bet, that was before the memo was issued, and those kinds of issues. Obviously we can't really speculate on that basis at all. Whether or not there would be some kind of negotiation would be for other people than me to decide.

Aronson on whether the memo exposes the university to some liability: 'Clearly the NCAA will look into that. People issue memos and interpretations all the time, and there's virtually no compliance office in the country, including the NCAA and the Pac-10, that has not issued an erroneous memo in the past. The NCAA rulebook, for those who've looked at it, is similar to trying to speculate on what the internal revenue code means. There's conflicting provisions and there's unclear provisions, and so there are misinterpretations that are done all the time throughout. And there is no violation for a misinterpretation. If because of that misinterpretation violations occurred, then there will be repercussions. The repercussions could be anything from (saying) 'that was a mistake, we're giving you a letter of caution,' which is probably the most minor one, to something more significant. But the fact that you have a misinterpretation, or an interpretation that the NCAA disagrees with is not a basis for any kind of discipline or infraction in itself.'

Hedges on whether Coach Gilbertson is a leading candidate for the head-coaching job: 'I didn't say that I was going to talk to the assistant coaches about the job. I said I was talking to the assistant coaches about the football program. Obviously Keith Gilbertson has been a head coach before. I have guaranteed that we will retain all of our assistant coaches. We are about a month and a half away from fall camp, so it's a difficult time and a very quick decision will need to be made.

Aronson on the fairness of NCAA meetings: 'I have been in more meetings than Barbara, fortunately not too many. I would say that there isn't a set plan often times there is and issue and everybody knows what that issue is, when they come and talk to you about it. But I would also say that it is not uncommon for them to hold some things back, because they want to see what your first reaction is. They don't want to tell you a week in advance so that whoever is involved can talk to people and counsel with people.'

Aronson on other information that is put out on gambling: 'I just want to make sure that people don't think this [an email memo] is the only information that we put out on gambling. We have posters, we show a film of all the evils and people who have had their lives ruined by it. We have a rules session for every single team and we do it in the form of a Jeopardy game to keep interest. Athletes are asked questions and one category is ethical conduct and about 90 percent of the questions deal with gambling.'

Hedges on where NCAA got information on incident: 'They said it was an anonymous tip which had given them information about the betting pool. And as I recall it was at least one or two sources'

Hedges on the possibility of NCAA sanctions coming up: 'I have not heard anything from the NCAA. They did their initial interviews when they were here in Seattle for their compliance seminar. As Rob outlined we will do our own internal investigation. 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 time frame is and any other information.'

Hedges on when the self report will be filed: 'I can't tell you that because certainly we have some internal review to do at this point that certainly Rob Aronson will be the lead person on that.'

Hedges on whether Neuheisel brought up the memo directly after the initial NCAA interview: 'He and I first discussed the memo on Friday. I think you have to realize that this is a very confusing time. Rick had just been hit right between the eyes and he was trying to regroup. We met on that Friday and on that Friday at that time, that was the first time we talked about the memo. We didn't discuss it if your question is did we discuss it before. I couldn't tell you how many times Rick and I talked between the time Wednesday when were with the NCAA enforcement staff and Friday. I could go back and I could probably try to figure it out, but I really couldn't tell you.'

Hedges on the importance of bringing in a coach that will keep the UW clean from here on out: 'Well the program is clean. We are talking about the actions of an individual, so let's make sure that we make that very clear. Rules compliance is one of our highest priorities at the University of Washington. Obviously we want to make sure our student-athletes, our coaches, our staff are doing the right thing. You have all seen the NCAA rulebook and know that it is very thick. You can easily and inadvertently violate a rule and that's why we self report on a regular basis, that's why you have secondary infractions and every institution does that. So I'm going to tell you that's one of our highest priorities and that's what we expect our coaches to do.'

Aronson on the 'Jeopardy' games, and did Richardson see those games or was she involved in producing the material on gambling rules: 'Yes, we conduct the rules sessions where we do the jeopardy games jointly. But keep in mind, there are different rules for different people. Those rules are specifically directed to student-athletes and the rules in the NCAA manual are crystal clear that student-athletes can't bet on anything, anytime, anywhere. So the question whether there are less clear rules dealing with non-student-athletes, staff, and coaches.'

Hedges on hiring a new coach -- is it more important to name a permanent or interim head coach before the season begins: 'I'm sitting down with all the assistant coaches and talking about the football program and in the next few days I'll make that decision.'

Hedges on the 49er job inteview situation in Feb.: 'On that Thursday I said, 'Rick I've heard all these things about the 49er job, do you have any interest?' He said, 'I've been contacted by a third party.' At that time I said to take the weekend and think about it, come back on Monday and tell me what you're thinking. Because I'm not going to prevent Rick Neuheisel from thinking about the 49er job and I wanted him to go to Sun Valley and think about it, come back on Monday and tell me where he was. I did not want to continue the speculation because what I wanted to do is put out a release that said Rick Neuheisel is not interested in the 49er job, so that was my question.

Hedges on her personal relationship with Neuheisel: 'I would just tell you this is extremely painful for me. To have to make these kinds of decisions about people that you truly admire. I had to do that with Bob Bender and now with Rick Neuheisel. It couldn't be more difficult.'

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