The Neuheisel affairwhich was the buzz of the Emerald City since the Seattle Times reported in early June that the Husky coach had participated in two high-stakes gambling pools, and that the NCAA was investigating his actionsleft a bad taste in everyone's mouth. But the hiring of Gilbertson was the most soothing action that Hedges could have taken.The end of Neuheisel's Husky career was an embarrassing situation for the school as well as the 42-year-old coach who was lured from Colorado 4 1/2 years ago to take over the Husky program in 1999.
While the UW had tolerated his earlier recruiting transgressions-which resulted in restricted contact with recruits-Neuheisel got himself in real trouble in January when he publicly denied that he was a candidate for the head coaching job of the San Francisco 49ers. Days later, he admitted that he had, in fact, interviewed for the job. The admission came only after a Seattle newspaper columnist wrote that he overheard Neuheisel talking about the interview on a cell phone call at the San Francisco airport.
But the final straw was when Neuheisel and Hedges met with NCAA investigators at a Seattle hotel on June 4. There, the investigators confronted Neuheisel with information that he had participated in high-stakes gambling pools, a violation of NCAA rules. At first Neuheisel denied taking part, but later admitted that he had participated.
Neuheisel argued that he had not violated either University or NCAA policies by joining the pools with his friends. In his defense, he cited 1999 and 2003 memos from Dana Richardson, the UW's compliance director, that said: "The bottom line of these [NCAA] rules [prohibiting players and coaches from gambling] is that if you have friends outside of ICA [Intercollegiate Athletics] that have pools on any of the basketball pools, you can participate."
The NCAA said the memo was incorrect. And Hedges, considering the deception about the 49er job and to NCAA investigators, said enough was enough. So she terminated Neuheisel.
"I would tell you this is extremely painful for me have to make these kinds of decisions about people you truly admire," Hedges said at the news conference announcing the firing. "I had to do that with Bob Bender and now with Rick Neuheisel. It couldn't be more difficult."
Neuheisel, who coached four seasons at Colorado, ended his Husky career with a 33-16 record. He guided the team to four bowl game appearances, the highlight being a 34-24 victory over Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl. That capped an 11-1 season in which the Huskies finished ranked third in the nation.
Neuheisel was also highly praised for his handling of the tragedy of safety Curtis Williams, who was paralyzed after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Oct. 28, 2000 game at Stanford. Neuheisel remained in the Bay Area the day after the game to visit the hospitalized player, and maintained close touch with Williams until he died in his sleep from complications due to his paralysis on May 6, 2002.
Now, Gilbertson has the burden of stabilizing the football program while trying to get the Huskies back in the elite of college football. "I am familiar with the Washington experience, and I know what the fans and city want," he said. "I understand the expectations. The bar has been set high. And that is exciting."
Jon Marmor, '94, is associate editor of Columns