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Betting + lying = fired coach

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SEATTLE — Rick Neuheisel couldn't hide from his latest lie. And this time, his deceit went too far for Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges to accept another apology.

Hedges announced Thursday she is firing Neuheisel as Washington's football coach for betting on the past two NCAA basketball tournaments and lying to school officials and NCAA investigators about it.

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

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

Neuheisel, who acknowledged to NCAA investigators he bet on the tournaments, couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

"This is a sad night for me because I've poured a lot of myself into this job — and it was a great job," Neuheisel told KING-TV late Wednesday.

"I am not the guy they're portraying me to be," he said. "I'll find new challenges. I will hopefully scale new ladders."

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

"I guess it was justified," said Warren Moon, a former Washington and NFL quarterback. "He did gamble on college athletics. Even though it was some type of neighborhood pool, it was gambling."

The 42-year-old Neuheisel, who went 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.

Hedges indicated Neuheisel's gambling was the last straw.

"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.

Last fall, the NCAA banned Neuheisel from off-campus recruiting through this spring as punishment for 51 rules violations while he coached at Colorado. The American Football Coaches Association later censured him for showing a lack of remorse.

Then in February, Neuheisel interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers for their then-vacant coaching job but released a statement denying it. He later admitted he had lied to reporters.

That episode turned out to be especially damaging to Neuheisel's career because he also lied to Hedges. His contract required him to tell Hedges if he interviewed for other college or professional coaching jobs.

Hedges said Thursday she knew Neuheisel had been approached "by a third party" about the 49ers vacancy and encouraged him to contemplate his interest during a family ski vacation.

Neuheisel left his family in Idaho during the trip and flew to California for the interview without informing Hedges. When she later confronted him, Neuheisel told her he went 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."

At the time, Hedges told reporters she had accepted Neuheisel's apology and the matter was closed. But privately, the coach was warned that more lies wouldn't be tolerated.

Four months later, NCAA officials were in town for a regularly scheduled compliance seminar and asked to meet with Hedges and Neuheisel. Investigators told Hedges they had learned of Neuheisel's gambling through an anonymous tip.

Hedges said Neuheisel initially denied participating in the neighborhood pools except as "an observer."

"His answers at that meeting were not totally true about the betting pools," Hedges said. "It's very clear that there is no betting on college sports. He was surprised by the question."

In Neuheisel's termination letter, she also disclosed "a small Final Four pool" in the football office.

Later, Neuheisel admitted directly to NCAA investigators he had gambled with neighbors. He also produced the e-mail that he believed gave him permission to participate in off-campus gambling pools.

Hedges disagreed.

"I believe that Rick's conduct, taken as a whole, is grounds for terminating him with cause," she said.

While Neuheisel decides whether to challenge his firing, Hedges has plenty of other pending issues.

First, there's an internal investigation into the e-mail. The memo was circulated by an assistant athletic director, who erroneously interpreted the NCAA's position on gambling.

"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," said Dr. Robert Aronson, the school's NCAA faculty representative.

Then there's the football team, left without a coach only six weeks before the start of fall workouts. The Huskies open Aug. 30 at defending national champion Ohio State.

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

"A very quick decision will need to be made," Hedges said.

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

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

Neuheisel is 66-30 as a head coach, including a 33-14 record in four seasons at Colorado.

He was picked by Colorado at 34 to succeed the retired Bill McCartney, and went 10-2 in each of his first two seasons. He joined Washington for the 1999 season, replacing the fired Jim Lambright.