It's official: UW fires Neuheisel

Rick Neuheisel entered Gerberding Hall for a meeting with University of Washington officials about 8:30 p.m. last night in his last official act as the Huskies' football coach. He emerged about 15 minutes later, his career at Washington over for good.

Almost immediately after the meeting ended, UW officials released a statement firing Neuheisel. The 30-word statement said, "The administrative process regarding Rick Neuheisel's termination has been concluded. He has been terminated for cause as head football coach and is no longer employed by the University of Washington."

The school has also announced that it will hold a news conference this morning, when Keith Gilbertson is all but certain to be named coach.

Neuheisel attended the meeting with his wife, Susan, and his lawyer, Bob Sulkin. Neuheisel left without talking to reporters. Sulkin said he had not yet decided to file suit but hinted that it will happen soon.

"We're off to the races," Sulkin said. "Rick's a fighter."

Sulkin also charged that the university on Friday sent a student to unlock the door to Neuheisel's office and "go through his things."

The university's statement brought an end to a saga that began June 4 when Neuheisel was first questioned in Seattle by NCAA investigators about his involvement in college basketball betting pools the last two years.

Neuheisel, 42, admitted he had taken part in the pools. But, according to UW athletic director Barbara Hedges, the admission came only after he said he had been there just as an "observer." The school announced on June 11 that it was firing Neuheisel "with cause" for taking part in the pools and for lying about it initially.

Neuheisel appealed the firing, but on July 1 Hedges reaffirmed her decision. Neuheisel had asked for one final appeal hearing with Arkans, but he waived it Thursday. Instead, Sulkin had meetings yesterday with NCAA officials in Indianapolis then returned to Seattle for a meeting last night with Arkans.

Neuheisel's lawyer met yesterday morning with NCAA officials in part to discuss the discrepancy between a UW memo and NCAA rules on gambling.

Neuheisel has said he had the OK to take part in the pools because of a UW memo circulated in the spring of 1999 and again last year that included an incorrect interpretation of NCAA rules on gambling. The interpretation said it was OK for coaches to take part in such pools off campus.

Sulkin said in a statement that the meeting with the NCAA "was productive," but he didn't provide details. Sulkin also charged that UW was firing Neuheisel under pressure from the NCAA.

"The president of the NCAA — acting as self-appointed judge and jury — called for coach Neuheisel's dismissal before all the facts were known. UW's administration, operating out of fear and self-preservation, succumbed to the pressure."

Sulkin also said UW has impeded Neuheisel's attempts to win back his job by not supplying "key documents" and "access to witnesses." Sulkin also said Neuheisel will fight his termination "in hopes of shedding light on an unfair process."

A UW spokesman said the school would not respond to the accusation.

By being fired with cause, Neuheisel is owed no more money in a contract that ran through the 2007 season, and he must repay a $1.5 million loan he received last August.

If he had been fired without cause, Neuheisel would have been owed at least $3.6 million, including the loan.

Other than what happens in court, the big remaining question is whether Gilbertson, the former offensive coordinator, is named interim coach or given a long-term contract.

Ron Crockett, one of Washington's biggest financial boosters and a member of the search committee when Neuheisel was hired, said yesterday that he fully supported making Gilbertson coach on a permanent basis.

"In this situation, more permanency is the correct way to go, at least in my eyes," he said. "The kind of guys I run with are all positive towards Keith."

Crockett, who had not spoken publicly on the investigation, said he would not comment specifically on Neuheisel.

"There are no winners in this situation, and it's not my job to be involved," Crockett said.

Last night's announcement puts an end to Neuheisel's rocky four-year reign at the helm of UW football. Neuheisel was hired on Jan. 9, 1999, to succeed the fired Jim Lambright.

Neuheisel immediately ran into trouble with the NCAA after five assistants made improper visits to recruits. But within two years, he had turned the Huskies around on the field, leading them to an 11-1 record in 2000 and a 34-24 win over Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl.

But the Huskies started to struggle the last two seasons, dipping to records of 8-4 and 7-6. As the losses mounted, so did Neuheisel-related controversy. The NCAA penalized Neuheisel last fall for recruiting violations committed while he was coach at Colorado. In January, he was censured by the American Football Coaches Association after his peers felt he didn't seem remorseful about the Colorado violations. In February, he lied about interviewing with the San Francisco 49ers.

Neuheisel's lawyers have maintained that he recently has focused only on winning back his job as coach at Washington, where he was 33-16. However, there have been rumors that Neuheisel may be looking into working as a college football analyst this fall, possibly with ESPN.

The Huskies, meanwhile, will begin life without Neuheisel when camp opens on Aug. 6.

Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report.

Bob Condotta:

Neuheisel timeline

A look at key events this year involving Rick Neuheisel's coaching career at Washington:

Jan. 9, 2003: Neuheisel is censured by the American Football Coaches Association after that board decides that Neuheisel has shown a lack of remorse for his role in the Colorado violations.

Feb. 12, 2003: Neuheisel finally admits he did have an interview with San Francisco 49ers officials.

June 4, 2003: The NCAA launches an inquiry into Neuheisel betting on college basketball because its rules strictly prohibit coaches from wagering on college sports.

June 11, 2003: UW begins the process of firing Neuheisel with cause.

June 26, 2003: Neuheisel appeals his firing in a meeting with athletic director Barbara Hedges.

July 1, 2003: Hedges announces she has made a final decision to fire Neuheisel with cause.

July 7, 2003: Neuheisel asks for final appeal hearing with UW vice president Norm Arkans.

July 24, 2003: Neuheisel waives the final hearing.

July 28, 2003: Neuheisel is officially fired.