Husky Dateline – Wednesday 6/11/2003

One thing is certain – Rick Neuheisel is still the Head Coach of the football team at the University of Washington. No one is disputing that, however the rest of the story is still - what was that word Neuheisel used? - tenuous. That is a very accurate description of the tightrope that is being walked by the school and its besieged head coach.

If you look at Rick Neuheisel's contract, it is very detailed in regards to the termination clause. Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times did a nice job of summarizing all of that detail as concisely as possible for those of us that don't have law degrees.

According to Neuheisel's contract, only the athletic director has the authority to fire him, but before Hedges can fire Neuheisel with cause, she has to provide written notice detailing the reasons for the termination, and set forth a reasonable time within which Neuheisel can make his response.

If Neuheisel is suspended or terminated, he may request a review and a hearing with UW's associate vice president for external affairs. That would be Norm Arkans. If, after that hearing, Neuheisel's firing is found to be with just cause, then Neuheisel is not entitled to the payout under the terms of his contract.

If his firing were found "without cause," then the university would owe Neuheisel roughly $3.6 million ($2.1 million of prorated salary and $1.5 million in the form of a forgiven loan).

There could also be a settlement somewhere in between.

In Ted Miller's article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer this morning, as well as his appearance on Fox Sports Northwest last night, he used anonymous sources to report that Neuheisel had, in fact, been notified that he was going to be fired for breaking the NCAA rules on gambling. Although both coach and school are on record as saying that Rick has not been fired, the PI's story could be correct if not for the timing of events. And their main source they are using on this story is someone they are calling absolutely infallible.

So now we know the reason why Washington called the meeting yesterday morning off campus at the University Complaint, Investigation and Resolution Office. The school was notifying Neuheisel, in writing per his contract, that they were going to start proceedings to remove him as head coach. At the meeting the school would likely present their evidence for "termination for just cause."

At the meeting, Neuheisel and his legal representative most likely attempted to stop that process, or at the very least, slow it down long enough to show the school why he should be retained as coach, and where they all should proceed from here. When he was informed that the scope of the meeting wasn't going to address this, and that his attorney had a conflict of interest because he had done some previous work for the school, Neuheisel stopped the proceedings so he could get legal representation and begin his unexpected defense for his job.

That is where we are right now. Coach Neuheisel has not been fired, but he surely has been notified per the language in his contract that the school wishes to fire him.

It's easy to understand why he was so rattled when he came out of the meeting yesterday. I'd bet that he thought he was going into the meeting to tell his side of the story, and to rally the school behind him and build their defense against the NCAA in the interpretation of bylaw 10.3, how it applies to this case, and how he and the school could beat this.

Wrong.

Bob Condotta wrote in the Seattle Times yesterday that the school had attempted to find NCAA rules tests Neuheisel had taken while at UW to determine how he answered questions concerning gambling. That speaks volumes.

Given these facts, it doesn't appear that the school wants to challenge the NCAA on this. They want to get this behind them and move on.

From my chair, the chances of Rick being on the sidelines as the UW coach when the season opens in Columbus seem remote now. Only if something unbelievable happens, but then again, who would've believed it has come to all this??

Instead, yesterday the school appeared to be building their case for a termination with cause against him, thus avoiding a costly buyout. They are now either awaiting, or may have already received, Neuheisel's response. By now he will have, or is in the process of retaining a new attorney that has no conflicts of interest with the school so he can reply with his side of the story.

I have no idea what the timetable for this will be, but if Neuheisel doesn't accept a settlement of some kind from the school and follows through with the entire review process as outlined in his contract, it could take a while before this is resolved.

The longer this drags out, the blacker the eye of the University of Washington gets.

My hunch is that Rick will fight this all the way to the end, because if he's fired, he stands to lose $3.6 million. If he resigns, he'll have settled for something less than $3.6 and have waved all legal rights to pursue legal action against the University of Washington.

One thing is clear – the school wasn't ready to hand him $3.6 million in damages in order to put this behind them yesterday. They could've done this at any time and the entire ordeal would've been finished.

Nope. They are building a case for termination with cause, and unless Neuheisel can convince them otherwise, it could make for a very ugly parting of the ways.

Is there middle ground on this? We'll find out, hopefully sooner rather than later. If it is later and the proceedings continue for a while, Barbara Hedges may have to suspend Neuheisel with pay and install Keith Gilbertson as the interim head coach until the entire issue is resolved.

If Hedges suspends Neuheisel, the entire coaching staff would remain intact and Gilby would likely add one additional coach. If I had to guess, I'd say it would be a former Husky coach with local ties like Scott Pelleur, and he'd likely handle tight ends and special teams, but now I'm putting the cart way before the horse.

My personal and professional dealings with Rick Neuheisel have been enjoyable. He loves his family and openly dotes on his three kids. They, along with his wife Susan, attend his post-game press conferences. Often times he has addressed the media with one of his three sons on his lap. All of his assistants rave about what a great guy he is to work for, and in social settings I have found Rick to be fun, engaging, and someone that makes others around him feel good. As a guest at his house I felt honored and enjoyed my visit immensely. If you've never seen Rick with young kids, you're really missing something. He can connect with them like no one else.

My point in my last rambling paragraph? I'm not sure, other than I still am shaking my head that all of this is really happening. I feel bad for the University of Washington and I feel bad for a nice guy that is really getting hammered from all sides right now. I wish him and his family health and success no matter how this all plays out.

If Neuheisel is ultimately fired with cause, I expect him to come out swinging at both the UW and the NCAA. Say what you want about him, but you cannot call him a quitter. He HATES to lose.

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