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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

February 13, 2008 at 1:07 PM

My response to The Sporting News

I’m admittedly a little hesitant to write about anything on here that involves reexamining the past, understanding the desire of most of you to move on.
But Matt Hayes of The Sporting News left me with little choice with this column penned earlier this week in which he tries to make the case that The Seattle Times has a vendetta against Rick Neuheisel.
I get the reasoning — the Times broke the gambling story in 2003 that eventually led to Neuheisel’s firing, then were viewed as piling-on with the series that ran last month.
I didn’t write or make any of the decisions on the series, which is why I haven’t written much about that in this space, and if Hayes had left it there, I would have, as well. My intent isn’t to get into any of that since that wasn’t my story.
But in his column, Hayes refers to e-mails written by Times staffers years ago in response to a story he wrote about Neuheisel in 2004 as proof of our vendetta.
As the author of one of those e-mails (and a reply or two back), I feel it my right to respond (and yes, I note the irony here given other recent events).
I wrote an e-mail in response to this story he wrote in 2004 that included a timeline that featured the following statement concerning Neuheisel’s 2003 interview with the San Francisco 49ers — ”Terry Donahue, Neuheisel’s coach at UCLA, offers him the 49ers coaching job, which Neuheisel declines.”
I wrote to tell Hayes that we had an on-the-record comment from Donahue denying that Neuheisel was ever offered the job — he cited no sourcing for his contention that Neuheisel was offered the job, and since some saw his story as refuting some of what we had reported, figured I’d point that out.
I got the Donahue comment in the summer of 2003 in the wake of Neuheisel’s firing when the 49ers issue became a key point and we were trying to ascertain exactly what happened.
In his column this week, Hayes writes that we referred to ”NFL sources” — his quotes — as if we had some vague, shadowy contacts for our information.
No, we had Terry Donahue, then the general manager of the 49ers, on the record.
Hayes responded that, well, we only had Donahue through a spokesman and that Donahue wasn’t the one who made the decision and that you can’t really go with what they say on the record anyway.
(We got it through a spokesman because it was a Friday in the summer time and Donahue was on vacation and didn’t want to do a phone interview. Not ideal, but I don’t really know the difference in a yes-or-no question. We relayed the question, a spokesman asked Donahue, and Donahue said no, he wasn’t offered the job.)
And it’s Hayes’ story (or the timeline that goes with it, which I assume he okayed) that said Donahue was the one who made the offer.
Donahue wasn’t our only source for saying Neuheisel didn’t get an offer, however. No one at UW ever believed Neuheisel got an offer — in February of 2003 or now — and another who asserts that, as well, is former Husky quarterback Hugh Millen, now a talk show host in the area.
Millen said at the time and continues to say that Neuheisel was never offered the job.
Millen also provides a lot of specifics to back up his contention, such as that there was a two-tier interview process where Neuheisel first had to meet with Donahue and Bill Walsh and then with owner John York, and that the initial interview went so poorly that Neuheisel didn’t even get to the meeting with York other than a quick meet-and-greet on his way out of the building. Millen has said that he has it on good authority that Walsh said that it was ”evident in the first five minutes that Neuheisel was in over his head.” That’s a lot of detail to just make up out of the blue.
And to make clear, Millen said all this in the days after Neuheisel interviewed for the job in 2003 when the information was freshest and before events happened later that led to a lot of spinning.
So when I wrote to Hayes, it wasn’t vague ”NFL sources” I was citing, but our on-the-record denial from Donahue, plus the comments of Millen, plus many others, like the source who told me Neuheisel asked the UW to delay sending out a statement saying he had never interviewed for the job, apparently so he could wait to see if an offer was coming before issuing his denial that any of it had ever happened at all, which of course proved to be a lie.
And according to a story by Bud Withers of our staff, who covered Neuheisel’s trial in 2005, Neuheisel said on the stand that he was never offered the job.
Hayes also says we said Neuheisel was never offered the job at Notre Dame. I don’t remember making a big deal of that fact. I could point out that Neuheisel said at the time “there was never an offer,” but I’ll concede how worthless such denials can be (especially from Neuheisel). Most around UW do believe Neuheisel had an offer and was parsing words in his denial, but that far from showing loyalty, turned it down mostly because his wife, Susan, had no desire to live in South Bend, Ind.
In one of our e-mails, I pointed out to Hayes that I guess you could call that loyalty, but the truth is also that Neuheisel and the Huskies negotiated a new contract in the wake of the Notre Dame talks.
For the record, Neuheisel got two contract raises and/or extensions during his time at UW, as well as his original contract, which took six months to complete due to haggling over details.
Neuheisel got a raise of almost half-a-million dollars, including incentives, in the fall of 2001 in the wake of the 2000 Rose Bowl season, his second year at UW.
Four months later he interviewed for the Notre Dame job and talks began on yet another contract, the one that would include the infamous $1.5 million loan as well as a six-year extension. So in the first three years and nine months he was UW’s coach, Neuheisel got two raises and one extension, all while going from 11-1 to 8-4 to 7-6.
Call that loyalty if you want, but it’s also unmistakable fact that Neuheisel was getting increasingly well-compensated for staying.
Also a fact is that Neuheisel was reported to be involved in at least five other jobs during his time with the Huskies — Cleveland Browns, Alabama, Notre Dame, UCLA and the 49ers. Notre Dame is generally thought by most to be the only job he was ever offered.
Far from viewing him loyal, many around UW were irked that Neuheisel’s name kept popping up for other jobs with Neuheisel usually responding to the speculation by saying “you can never say never,” or that he planned to stay for the ”foreseeable future” — whatever that meant.
It was beginning to impact recruiting near the end of his tenure, with players such as Johnny DuRocher and Kellen Clemens each saying the fact that they had no idea how long Neuheisel would stay around played into their decisions to go elsewhere.
As for the lying, anyone who thinks that played no part in Neuheisel’s firing wasn’t very close to the situation. The trial obviously showed that mistakes were made by everybody (though it’s often lost that the two sides agreed to a settlement and that the jury never decided anything. Everybody at UW was hoping it would go to a jury but the NCAA mess-ups ultimately forced the settlement).
But to conclude the way the trial ended showed the lying didn’t matter is to miss the role it played in laying the foundation for everything that unfolded.
I’ll grant this much — when it came to Rick Neuheisel’s time at UW, the truth was often as hard to find as a running game.



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