Joking or not, perception proved to be too much for Ed Rush to remain the Pac-12's Conference's coordinator of officials.
Rush resigned Thursday following comments during internal meetings before the league tournament that appeared to target Arizona's Sean Miller, including perceived accusations that he placed a bounty on the Wildcats coach.
"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," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "All of us at the Conference thank him for his years of hard work, and we wish him well."
Scott told The Associated Press a day earlier that Rush's remarks were part of an overall "point of emphasis" to crack down on coach misconduct on the sideline before the Pac-12 tournament semifinal. In the course of that presentation, he said Rush made an "inappropriate joke" that included offers of $5,000 and a trip to Cancun if they called a technical foul on Miller.
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.
"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," Rush said in a statement. "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."
Rush is a former NBA official who also served as the league's director of officiating. He had been a consultant to the Pac-12 since 2007 before becoming conference coordinator of officials last May.
The conference's search for a new lead official will be part of its previously scheduled annual review at the end of the month in Phoenix.
Officials whistled Miller for a technical foul during the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament against UCLA for arguing a late double-dribble call against Wildcats guard Mark Lyons. Arizona lost the game 66-64.
Miller went on a memorable postgame rant about the technical foul, waving his arms while repeating "he touched the ball" five times in a row. Miller was later hit with a $25,000 fine from the Pac-12 for what the conference said was confronting an official on the floor and acting inappropriately toward a staff member in the hallway.
"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 wrote on his Twitter page following Rush's resignation.
Scott had said Arizona officials alerted him to Rush's remarks the night of March 17, a day after the league tournament. He said he launched an investigation into the matter the next day, and he concluded that it was not a "fireable offense," just a bad joke that has stained the Pac-12's official program.
"It had been a point of emphasis during the season, coach behavior on the sideline, for the language that's used, etc.," Scott told the AP. "He was emphasizing it and he was challenging them. He was challenging them and provoking them to be more vigilant in enforcing the rules and the code of behavior.
"And in that context, there was banter initiated by Ed, 'What do I have to do to get you guys to enforce the rules? What do I got to do to get you to step up after appropriate warnings and appropriate warnings, to get you to issue a 'T' (technical)? And in that context we verified that, 'Cancun, $5,000, What do I got to do to get you to do it,' was said. None of the officials took it as we're going to actually get something if they T'd him up. He was making a point, and making a point very vociferously."
Scott had noted before Rush's resignation that he had carried out many of the items the Pac-12 hired him to do. Specifically, Scott noted that officials have allowed more physical play, there has been a heavier emphasis on training and accountability and officials whose performance was deemed unsatisfactory have been replaced.
Scott believes Rush's action might, at least in part, be the reason information was leaked to cast Rush in an unflattering light.
"We asked him to go in and make some aggressive and dramatic improvements. He absolutely ruffled some feathers," Scott said. "I saw some people consider him a bully and other language like that. Some of that doesn't surprise me. He's been very aggressive in seeking improvement for the program and he has made some personnel changes that some people haven't liked."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP