SAN FRANCISCO — Former Pac-12 Conference coordinator of officials Ed Rush says he was just trying to "lighten the mood" in a tense locker room when he "jokingly" made offers of $5,000 or a trip to Mexico for any referee who called a technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller during the league tournament.
In his first interview since reports surfaced of the incident that forced his resignation, Rush told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the comments were "absolutely, 100 percent said in jest." He believes the remarks were leaked out by officials who were unhappy with his overall handling of the Pac-12 program and wanted to tarnish his reputation.
Rush said his remarks were part of an overall "point of emphasis" to crack down on coach misconduct on the sideline after Arizona's win over Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinal. In the course of that presentation, Rush said he cracked down on the officials who worked the game — Verne Harris, Michael Reed and Rodrick Dixon — for not disciplining either Miller or Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle for their behavior.
"I said, 'The game cried out for a bench warning. It would have been very simple to take care of that. It cried out for bench warnings,'" Rush said in a phone interview with the AP. "Another crew was waiting in there, getting ready for the next game. I would say there was a level of tension in the locker room, just because the disappointment that they worked this game but they didn't take care of something that was a point of emphasis.
"So in an effort just to lighten the mood, I said to them, 'Hey, guys. What's it going to take? Do you think we could give you a trip to Cancun or maybe $5,000? Or who wants what? And now they're all laughing, which is basically what I wanted to do. So I said, 'I know you guys, you probably want $5,000, you want the money, you won't take the trip to Cancun. So I'm going around, 'What would you take?' At that point, I said, 'By the way, you know my wife's not going to go for this. I'm going to have to pull this off the table.' They all laughed, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, bud.' That was it, and I walked out."
An investigation done by the Pac-12's head of enforcement, Ron Barker, found that every official interviewed confirmed "nobody thought they were getting a reward," Scott said. But Rush couldn't survive the constant swarm of criticism from fans and media this week once the comments became public in a CBSSports.com report.
The 70-year-old Rush, a longtime NBA referee and the league's former director of officiating, had been a consultant to the Pac-12 since 2007 before becoming conference coordinator of officials last May. He said he offered his resignation to Scott by phone Thursday afternoon once it became clear it was going to be "difficult to rebuild trust" of coaches, players and the public.
ESPN.com, citing anonymous sources, also reported officials did not believe Rush was joking. In response, Rush told the AP some officials were unhappy with his overhaul of the official program, especially when he told veterans that assignments in the league tournament would be based on merit instead of seniority.
"That was wrong place, wrong time, wrong audience," Rush said. "See, where I come from, in the NBA, there's a code that you definitely follow. You never, ever take the conversations in that locker room outside. I learned that code in 1966. Mendy Rudolph taught me that. You talk to the NBA officials, they all follow the code.
"There's a few guys (in the Pac-12) who didn't follow that code. They missed that part, and that's a shame. That's a very important part of the bond and the profession. Shame on me for not knowing that, but I used poor judgment. So that's my regret. Other than that, we got after it. We spent a lot of time. We definitely made some inroads in the right direction."