Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, our Gannett partner, interviewed Ed Rush, who resigned as the head of the Pac-12 men’s basketball officials Thursday. Here is Haller’s story:
By Doug Haller
Ed Rush admits he made a mistake. The former Pac-12 Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officiating said something in jest at the wrong time in front of the wrong audience. In the end, it cost him his job. On Thursday, amid national criticism, Rush resigned.
“When I finally realized that all this noise was really kind of getting in (Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott’s) way of doing business I said to him, ‘If this ever becomes a situation where it’s very difficult for you to manage … I’ll move on,” Rush told azcentral sports. “We talked about it, and it just seemed like the right time.”
This week, CBSSports reported the Pac-12 had investigated Rush for targeting Arizona coach Sean Miller during the Pac-12 Tournament. According to the report, Rush held a meeting and offered referees $5,000 or a trip to Cancun for giving Miller a technical foul or ejecting him.
The next day referee Michael Irving hit Miller with a technical foul after a controversial play with 4:37 left in a semifinal contest against UCLA. The Wildcats lost by two points. Miller told reporters after the game that all he did was yell, “He touched the ball,” claiming he used no profanity.
Two days later, the Pac-12 reprimanded and fined Miller $25,000 for confronting an official after the game and for “acting inappropriately” toward a conference staff member.
In a telephone interview, Rush, a Phoenix resident, provided his version of events:
*He said he met with “six or seven” referees after Arizona’s quarterfinal tournament win over Colorado, a meeting that lasted no longer than 10 minutes. “It was an extremely difficult game to work,” Rush said. “The guys did a good job, but they did not meet standards as far as bench decorum.”
Rush said the NCAA had emphasized “bench decorum” all season, including leading up to conference tournaments. In the meeting, he told the officials they needed to do a better job in this area, keeping coaches near the bench and not on the court. Tell them directly, he said. “Coach your teams, don’t be on the court.”
“There was a feeling of disappointment, a little bit of what I would call tension in the room,” Rush said. “They’re trying to be at the top of their game during this tournament. They’re thinking about the NCAA Tournament, so in an effort to kind of relieve the tension I made a statement which was rather absurd, but was totally in jest. I said, ‘So guys, what will it take? Would you take like a trip to Cancun or would somebody like $5,000? Then everybody started laughing. … We were bantering. It was just to lighten the mood. Then I was leaving and I said, ‘By the way, my wife is not going to let me spend that kind of money on you guys anyway so you’re going to have to figure it out. Have a good night.’ And I left.”
Asked if he had any doubt the officials knew he was joking, Rush said, “There was no question in my mind.”
In a pregame meeting the next day, before the Arizona-UCLA game, Rush said he reminded the officials one more time: “Take care of the bench situation.”
*Before the technical foul, Rush said both Miller and former UCLA coach Ben Howland had been warned twice to stay off the court – once before the game and once during it. Still, he didn’t think Miller deserved the technical.
First, Rush said the officials made the wrong call. They had whistled senior guard Mark Lyons for a turnover when in fact a UCLA defender had touched the ball, making it a live situation, just as Miller had argued. Secondly, Rush thought the technical foul was whistled too quickly.
“What (Miller) said was correct, but because we had these warnings there was a reaction,” Rush said. “Unfortunately, it was an overreaction and we called a technical foul.”
*Rush said he has nothing against Miller. He thinks Miller’s a “tremendous coach.” Plus, he said they both have similar roots, coming from the East Coast.
He said he never specifically singled out Miller in any meeting, which he claims is consistent with the Pac-12′s investigation. After the Colorado-Arizona contest, he told officials that both Miller and Colorado coach Tad Boyle needed bench warnings, not just Miller. He did, however, point out that the Pac-12 puts together videos each week during the season for education purposes. Each consists of about 15 plays and a recent video featured Miller.
“We had a situation during the year – it happened to be Sean – of a bench situation that was not addressed and it should’ve been,” Rush said. “It was Arizona’s game against Arizona State (in Tempe) and we put that on our Web site as an example. He was very aggressive that game with two of the officials. They eventually warned him, but it cried out for a much earlier warning.”
Asked if he thought Miller got away with too much this season, Rush said no conference coach stood out in one way or another.
*This week, Rush has been accused of creating an “atmosphere of fear” among officials. ESPN.com, quoting unidentified Pac-12 officials, reported he threw a boxed lunch in anger during a Pac-12 Tournament meeting. Rush said he made changes during his time with the Pac-12. The best assignments were given out based on performance rather than seniority, and this rubbed some the wrong way.
As for the boxed lunch? “That is a stone-faced lie,” Rush said, adding that he used the lunch as a visual while trying to demonstrate a rule.
He has one regret.
“From my standpoint, I definitely made a mistake,” Rush said. “I said the wrong thing. It was inappropriate. Even though it was in jest, it was the wrong audience at the wrong time. But I come from an orientation where there’s a code. It’s unwritten but it’s pretty dag-gone strong. I learned way back early in my career that whatever goes on in the locker room amongst men, stays there. And if you have an issue, you take care of it within that group. … I didn’t realize that there was at least one (at the meeting) that didn’t know the code.”