Former coach has a history of trouble

When he was a quarterback at UCLA and later with the USFL's San Antonio Gunslingers, Rick Neuheisel was considered a smart quarterback. He had decent talent, but had the mind to guide his teams to big wins. Now that he is a coach, he sure does play dumb a lot. Time after time Neuheisel makes a mistake, then claims he didn't know he did anything wrong. Well this time it appears his "ignorance" cost him his job.

A Seattle television station and at least one Seattle area newspaper is reporting that the embattled coach has been fired for his participation in a high stakes NCAA Tournament pool. According to reports, Neuheisel and a few friends participated in a pool where the participants bid on teams. Neuheisel apparently bid $5,000 on Maryland before the 2002 NCAA Tournament and won nearly $20,000 when the Terrapins cut down the nets.

Neuheisel has claimed he had no knowledge that he was doing anything wrong. He said the participants were all neighbors and golfing buddies. He thought that it would only have been wrong had he used a bookie. It isn't the first time he did not know the rules, even though they are very clear.

"The gambling rule is not vague,'' said Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling and amateur activities told ESPN. "It is clear and direct against participation in pools and it has been clearly interpreted that way over the years."

NCAA bylaw 10.3 prohibits athletic department staff members and student-athletes from gambling. The rule's main emphasis is on placing or taking bets involving an athlete's or coach's own team. However, there is a subsection that clearly bans coaches, athletic department staff or athletes from participating "in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate athletics or professional athletics, through a bookmaker, a parlay card or any other method employed by organized gambling.''

While the rest of America is running pools, those in collegiate athletics are not. Several Wildcat basketball players said they fill out brackets for fun, but do not compare them with their teammates since no prize for a winner can be given. They said that they can't even buy dinner or a hat for the winner and that it is clearly spelled out. The athletic department can't even collect $1.00 for a pool.

Prior to every season, the FBI and the NCAA speaks with players and coaches about the dangers of gambling. They make it perfectly clear what is and is not allowed. Looking at the rules they seem to err on the side of safety. Most $1.00 pools are fine, but they don't want that innocent pool to turn into a $5 bet and have that spiral into a problem.

If all Neuheisel had done was participate in a pool or two, it wouldn't be a huge problem. At least in my eyes. We all make mistakes. He could merely donate the winnings to charity, maybe Gamblers Anonymous or some other such organization. The problem here is that Neuheisel has a history of not knowing the rules. For a coach who has been billed as an offensive genius, he sure does fail to read the rulebook.

He committed a number of minor recruiting violations while at Colorado and left the football program with scholarship limitations. According to an NCAA report, Neuheisel's staff committed between 40 and 50 violations during his three years as head coach of the Buffaloes.

"If errors were made they were inadvertent, and I apologize for that," Neuheisel stated in a letter he wrote to the NCAA.

Those weren't the only problems. Neuheisel had problems after becoming the head coach at Washington. He was accused by Gary Barnett, his replacement at Colorado, of calling Buff recruits the evening before National Signing Day. Barnett claims Neuheisel was trying to steal recruits who had committed to the Colorado program. Neuheisel claims he was just saying "hello." Even worse was the charge that he called players on the Colorado roster. At least one player, quarterback Taylor Barton, transferred to Washington.

At that same time the Huskies were in violation of NCAA recruiting guidelines by having too many coaches on the road recruiting. The Huskies self-reported the infraction, only after reportedly being pressured by outside forces, and again pleaded ignorance.

"Rules do change but that's not an excuse," Washington athletic department spokesman Jim Daves said at the time. "I don't think anyone would send five coaches knowing they were in violation of the rule."

If that was the only recruiting violation at Washington you could excuse it, but it was not. He made contact with recruits during the quiet period a time when no contact can be made. He also shot hoops with a recruit, a violation because you are not allowed to ascertain athletic ability on those visits.

At times it seems as if he is just thumbing his nose at the NCAA and its rules. One minute he claims he misinterpreted the rules, then he turns around and quotes NCAA by-laws word for word. One incident had Neuheisel calling a recruit from a car across the street. Neuheisel was not allowed to make "face-to-face" contact with the player, but had him look out the window and actually flashed his headlights to let the player know it was indeed him. When this incident was brought up he said that the NCAA rules state that he cannot speak face-to-face with a recruit, but said the rules did not say that he couldn't park across the street and speak on the phone.

He is also an infamous "bumper". That is, he conveniently bumps into players during periods of no contact. In one case he was speaking with a high school coach, but spoke loud enough that a recruit could hear him across the room. Other incidents of bumping were part of the violations at Colorado.

Ironically enough, Neuheisel has been at the forefront of accusing Pac-10 schools of negative recruiting, yet he has been accused of much of the same tactics. He claims that former UCLA coach all but said that he was next in line for the Bruin job, yet it was Neuheisel himself who first told the recruit that Toledo could be fired.

His integrity has been called into question regarding coaching vacancies. He was rumored to have told people that he interviewed for the Notre Dame job, but the Irish claim he was never a real candidate. He denied that he interviewed for the 49er job, but it was later revealed that he did indeed speak with the NFL club. To his credit, it does appear that the reason for denying the San Francisco interview was due to a confidentiality agreement with the Niners.

One or two of these problems would be forgivable, but there seems to be a clear pattern of minor abuses. Neuheisel is an offensive mastermind, but can't seem to recall basic rules. However, at other times he can quote NCAA rules word for word.

Whether or not he deserved to lose his job is debatable. He hasn't paid players. He didn't bet on Husky football games. He didn't drink with students or embarrass the school at a strip club. However, he has been at the center of controversy everywhere he has gone. To make maters worse, he has shown almost no contrition. In fact, in January 2003 the American Football Coaches Association ethics committee censured him saying, "(Neuheisel) is not willing to take responsibility for some of the infractions."

It is somewhat of a surprise that Neuheisel has been fired for his actions. He has shown the remarkable ability to weather firestorm after firestorm. "Slick Rick" wore out his welcome at Colorado. A number of boosters wanted him gone when he left for Washington, and apparently a number of Husky boosters feel the same way.

Now that it appears that he has been fired, you know he'll have a good excuse.

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