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Neuheisel tearful during testimony
Seattle Times staff reporter
KENT — Breaking down four times on the witness stand yesterday, Rick Neuheisel continued grinding toward the end of a trial he hopes will win him a decision that could be worth $8 million.
"I want to tell you we've gotten stronger because of it," said the former University of Washington football coach, choking up for the last time as he referred to his family of five. "(But) it's a lousy place to be, for however long it's been."
The breakdowns and tears came as he was being questioned by his attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., about the aftermath of his June 4, 2003, interview with NCAA investigators that resulted in his firing a week later.
Neuheisel spent most of the day recounting events that followed his February, 2003 episode of lying about an interview with the San Francisco 49ers, followed by his recollection of the critical events that June. Then he was cross-examined for 65 minutes by UW defense attorney Lou Peterson, to continue today.
Neuheisel is also suing the NCAA for interference with his contract.
Peterson hammered at Neuheisel as to why, if he was following authorization from compliance officer Dana Richardson that allowed pools by staff members outside the athletic department, he had failed to bring up the e-mail in roughly 27 hours following the NCAA questioning.
But it was Neuheisel's emotional displays that grabbed the full courtroom.
Neuheisel wept once when describing how the firing gave him more time with his children.
"Football can be a selfish profession," he said, choking up. "You're gone a lot. I was able to be there with my kids a great deal more. I was able to take them to school, coach their teams, explain what was going on. My family is closer because of making the best of a bad situation."
Later, when Vance asked what was taken away with the firing, Neuheisel broke down once more and said, "My relationship with my players. Seeing them grow up, learn, go through tough times, and seeing them respond to them."
Before his emotional afternoon, Neuheisel heard audiotapes of his sessions with NCAA interviewers and said he felt ambushed by surprise questions about the auction pools and wanted to get away and see an attorney.
As for the infamous Richardson memos, Neuheisel testified that he "would have seen" the 1999 one if it had reached the hands of his then-administrative assistant Peggy Watson.
Nobody has yet produced evidence that memo was circulated. Richardson generated another one in 2003, a year after Neuheisel first participated in an auction.
In that one, which was a full page, Neuheisel, referring to Richardson's "bottom-line" reference that authorized the outside pools, said, "I would have focused on that."
In the NCAA interviews, investigators had notified Washington they would be talking about a couple of minor recruiting issues. When the subject changed to the pools, Neuheisel said he was "scared," his "mind was racing," and "I wanted out of there" to see an attorney.
"I was trying to buy time," he said, referring to the first two sessions in which he didn't admit to being a participant in the pools. He admitted taking part in the third session.
Asked by Vance if he recalled the Richardson memo during the NCAA questioning, Neuheisel replied, "No. I recall what in my mind was permissible, legal and all that kind of stuff. But I did not have exact recall as to where I'd gotten that information."
That night, he met with Barbara Hedges, then the UW athletic director; Lee Huntsman, then the university president; and president's assistant Norm Arkans at Huntsman's house.
Neuheisel said Huntsman told him he believed Neuheisel wouldn't have been at the auctions if he felt he was doing anything wrong.
The next morning, Neuheisel met briefly with Hedges, then went to Huntsman's office, where he said Huntsman told him, "The wild card is the NCAA. We don't know what the NCAA is going to do."
Neuheisel's side contends it was Hedges' call to NCAA enforcement chief David Price — and a judgment that the NCAA could suspend him for 2-5 years — that dictated the UW actions. Washington argues that Huntsman had decided Neuheisel would be fired by their meeting that morning.
He went back to Hedges' office and said he was told, "It's just not going to work," and that he had to choose between resignation and termination.
Later that evening, sports publicist Jim Daves brought him a copy of Richardson's 2003 memo and, recalls Neuheisel, "I was holding it like the Holy Grail."
Neuheisel then described a fiery June 6 meeting with Hedges in which she gave him a choice of two letters, resignation or termination. The termination letter included the gambling violation and one for violating the NCAA's provision for ethical conduct, which the university claims he breached by lying.
"I became extremely angry," Neuheisel said, saying Hedges had agreed with him that the surprise NCAA questioning had thrown him off-guard.
Producing the Richardson e-mail, Neuheisel said he told Hedges it came from his compliance officer and he followed it.
"It's wrong," Neuheisel alleges Hedges told him. "I said, 'If it's wrong, why didn't you tell me about it?'
"She said, 'You need to take responsibility for this.' "
The next night, Neuheisel said he requested a joint news conference with Hedges to announce the existence of the memo. She declined and he made it public.
It was the San Francisco 49ers episode months earlier that Washington claims established a foundation for the firing. Neuheisel, who admitted lying about contact with the 49ers, recalled a Hawaii conversation with Huntsman in the aftermath of it but didn't characterize it as the no-more-slack ultimatum painted by UW. He also said he was never told of the private reprimand letter UW contends was to go in his file at his June 2003 performance review.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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