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Ed Rush, who resigned Thursday as Pac-12 coordinator of officials following comments that he made about Arizona coach Sean Miller during internal meetings with his officials before the league tournament, said that his remarks were "absolutely, 100 percent said in jest" and were said at the "wrong place, wrong time, wrong audience."
Rush, a longtime NBA referee, told The Associated Press his comments were part of an overall "point of emphasis" to curb coaches' sideline misconduct. Rush said that during the meeting he called out officials Michael Greenstein, Tony Padilla and Brett Nansel -- who worked Arizona's 79-69 Pac-12 quarterfinal win over Colorado on March 14 -- for not disciplining Miller and Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle.
"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 told the AP in a phone interview. "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."
Rush's decision to resign came less than a week after CBSSports.com first reported the accusation of a bounty on Miller and creating an atmosphere of fear among his officials.
The report said Rush offered $5,000 or a trip to Mexico for giving Miller a technical, which a number of officials in the room at the time confirmed to ESPN on Thursday.
Rush's comments were seen as a strike at the integrity of officiating and were investigated by the Pac-12. But conference commissioner Larry Scott told ESPN earlier in the week that Rush's comments didn't rise to the level of being a fireable offense and concluded they were made "in jest." Yet Rush lost his job.
"I want to express my appreciation for the great contribution Ed made to basketball officiating for the Conference during his tenure, particularly in the area of training and the cultivation of new officiating talent," Scott said in a release from the conference. "All of us at the Conference thank him for his years of hard work, and we wish him well."
Had Rush not resigned or been fired, there was a good chance a mutiny among Pac-12 officials would have occurred. ESPN spoke with a number of officials from the conference on Thursday who requested anonymity for fear of assignment reprisals or loss of wages. A number of them told ESPN they were worried Rush would hold any comments over them.
"Although u never want someone to lose their job, this is a good step for the Pac-12 in restoring confidence in the bball officiating program," Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted.
There was uniform disgust with tactics Rush employed this season, notably during the Pac-12 tournament. Officials confirmed that Rush made the "joke" twice in a meeting during the Pac-12 tournament and then again that Friday after Arizona played UCLA, during which Miller was given a technical after a member of his team was called for a double-dribble. UCLA beat Arizona by two points.
Miller was then fined $25,000 for his behavior, but Pac-12 officials say it had to do with the coach being warned.
"Ed Rush doesn't joke," one official said. "To say it was a joke is absolutely not true. If he meant it in jest, then he had time to correct it the second day and he didn't. And the only coach he mentioned was Sean Miller."
Officials confirmed that Rush went into the meeting before the UCLA-Arizona game and was banging a chair up and down, demanding the officials perform at a higher level. And then, according to the officials, Rush hurled a boxed lunch against the wall after the game, nearly hitting one of the officials in the head.
"It was absolutely a form of bullying," one official said.
One official said the officials were worried if Rush had stayed on that their credibility would have been called into question because of the perception that he was telling them what to do.
"The integrity of the game was being messed with," one official said. "There is stuff you don't do. There was no joking about it. He was managing by intimidation."
Another official said officiating was hard enough, but their integrity being called into question would make their jobs even more difficult next season.
"To be labeled like this would be the most uncomfortable thing in the world," the official said. "People were already saying the Pac-12 has the worst officials and then you think we're cheating and being compromised? I've never seen anything like this. This has been personal, and for him to bring us into that with him was unfair. It was very difficult."
Another official said the Pac-12 investigator talked to the 10 officials in the room, but not Scott.
"We are a tight-knit group of guys," one official said. "We can't change what happened. A lot of officials didn't want to be in this league if Ed Rush were retained. Some officials have options with other leagues, some don't."
Rush said in the statement earlier Thursday: "I would like to thank the Pac-12 for giving me the opportunity to lead a group of officials who are working so hard to make the Pac-12 the best officiated conference in college basketball. My first and highest concerns have always been the integrity of the game of basketball and the honor of the craft of officiating. While I am proud of what we have accomplished, my decision to resign reflects my strong desire to see the Pac-12 officiating program continue to grow and thrive."
The Pac-12 said it will begin a search for a new coordinator.