Coach Rick Neuheisel's next job isn't likely to be in college ranks

Friday, June 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ Rick Neuheisel might have a difficult time persuading another college athletic director to hire him.

Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges announced Thursday that she's firing the football coach for betting on the past two NCAA basketball tournaments and then lying about it.

``Rick's actions have left me little choice and seriously undermined his ability to continue as the head football coach,'' Hedges said.

Neuheisel was suspended with pay and given until June 26 to respond to his notice of termination.

``I am not the guy they're portraying me to be,'' he told KING-TV late Wednesday. ``I'll find new challenges. I will hopefully scale new ladders.''

Neuheisel initially denied the gambling accusation in a meeting last week with NCAA investigators. He later acknowledged that he bet on the tournaments in 2002 and 2003.

The NCAA prohibits gambling on college sports by athletes or athletic department staff.

The 42-year-old Neuheisel, 33-16 in four seasons at Washington, insisted he didn't believe he had broken NCAA rules because it was an informal off-campus pool. He also said a memo from the athletic department's compliance director cleared him to participate.

Neuheisel has plenty of supporters.

``He admitted he messed up,'' said Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Larry Tripplett, a Husky from 1997-2001. ``I think he's a great guy. He's a great coach. He took me to the Rose Bowl. It's just such an unfortunate situation.''

Hedges, however, couldn't tolerate the gambling issue. The university will conduct an internal investigation, then pass the findings to the Pac-10 and NCAA offices.

``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,'' Hedges said.

The move left Washington without a coach six weeks before the beginning of workouts for this season. The Huskies face a season-opening trip Aug. 30 to defending national champion Ohio State.

Hedges said all the assistant coaches will be retained, and she plans to meet with them to discuss where the program stands.

``A very quick decision will need to be made,'' she said.

She wouldn't confirm reports that offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson, a former head coach at California and Idaho, will become interim coach.

``I have no official comment, except that I don't have a boss,'' Gilbertson said Thursday. ``I feel terrible about him.''

Hedges also must determine why the school's compliance director sent the e-mail that misinterpreted the NCAA's ban on gambling.

``There certainly isn't anybody in the athletic department who doesn't understand now that no gambling in any way, shape, or form is permitted or tolerated,'' said Dr. Robert Aronson, the school's NCAA faculty representative.

And what about Neuheisel's next move?

It wouldn't be surprising to see him challenge his firing. Neuheisel has a resilient personality, inspiring the Huskies to 17 fourth-quarter comebacks during his time as coach.

As UCLA's quarterback during the early 1980s, he would fire up teammates if the Bruins trailed in the fourth quarter. If it was a huge deficit, Neuheisel told them it would be their greatest comeback.

``Some people would look at me like I had lost my mind,'' he once recalled. ``You have to think there is a chance, that you're going to find a way. What are your alternatives?''

One alternative for Neuheisel is pro football, an option that landed him in trouble with Hedges after he secretly interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers' then-vacant coaching job in February.

Afterward, Neuheisel issued a news release denying he had met with the 49ers. When confronted by Hedges, he initially told her he traveled to San Francisco to play golf.

``Rick did not tell me he was going to San Francisco,'' Hedges said. ``There's no question that Rick was untruthful.''

Neuheisel was warned after that episode that more lies wouldn't be tolerated. Considering his well-documented history of skirting NCAA rules, he might be better off working in the pro game.

``I don't know if they're not going to let him coach in college for a while,'' said Oakland Raiders reserve quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, who directed the Huskies to the 2001 Rose Bowl title under Neuheisel.

``If that was the case, the next step would be to try to get an NFL job. He's got a relationship with a lot of people.''