In his podcast, the former Husky basketball star says he turned down a booster's offer to return to the football field. A UW athletic department spokesman says "it does not appear that any NCAA violations occurred."
As a true freshman at Washington, Nate Robinson started the final six games of the 2002 football season at cornerback, coming up with a key fourth-quarter interception in the Huskies’ triple-overtime upset of No. 3 Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Robinson never again put on a UW football jersey after the 2002 season, instead focusing on basketball.
But at least one influential person tried to convince him to return to football, Robinson says.
In his Sports Illustrated podcast, “Holdat,” co-hosted with former NBA player Carlos Boozer, Robinson claimed that a UW booster offered him “$100,000 a year” to play football again for the Huskies.
“When they fired Coach (Rick) Neuheisel my freshman year that made it easy for me to make my decision to quit and go play basketball, which I wanted to do anyway,” Robinson said on the podcast released Tuesday. “For my three years at UW, I had a booster offer me $100,000 a year to come back and play football because they needed Nate Robinson back on the football field because we weren’t winning (any) games. It wasn’t exciting. It was crazy. We went through a dark age at the University of Washington. When Tyrone Willingham was the coach, we didn’t win not one game. It was just crazy.
“But a booster came to me, my mom, sat down and my mom was like, ‘That’s a lot of money.’ And she was looking at me like, ‘What you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘Man, I want to hoop, I don’t want to take money from a booster and not knowing if this handshake is for what? For us to keep this money? Because people don’t do nothing for free.’ And that’s what my mom taught me. What do I owe you after this? My mom was just like, ‘What do you want to do? It’s up you. This is your life, not mine.’ So I told my mom I going to have to kindly say no thank you, but my dream is to play basketball and earn everything that I got.”
A UW athletic department spokesman released a statement about Robinson’s claims Wednesday morning:
“The events described by Nate Robinson had not been reported to our department in any way, and were new information to us this morning. Based on his statements it does not appear that any NCAA violations occurred, but we look forward to following up with Nate and any other relevant parties to learn more about this matter in hopes of continuing to foster a full environment of compliance within all of our athletic programs.”
Robinson, a football, basketball and track star at Rainier Beach High School, initially signed a football letter-of-intent at UW in 2002 when Neuheisel was the Huskies’ coach.
In an interview with the Seattle Times at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where he is working for Sirius XM, Neuheisel said Wednesday he had never heard of any rumors that Robinson was offered money to play football at UW either during his time as coach or afterward.
“Absolutely not,’’ Neuheisel said. “It would be shocking. I don’t know any way you would know it.’’
Neuheisel recalled that he worked out an agreement with then-UW coach Bob Bender for Robinson to play both sports when Robinson signed. Bender was then fired as UW’s basketball coach following the 2001-02 season and replaced by Lorenzo Romar.
Robinson played solely football through the 2002 regular season.
“Lorenzo had asked after his freshman season would I mind if he played between the end of the Washington State game and the El Paso game, the Sun Bowl (against Purdue) and I said no because I had promised Nate he could play, so go ahead,’’ Neuheisel said. “I (told Lorenzo) I want him back so he gets his sea legs back for football and so forth and he said ‘no problem.’ And then I think he had like a tip dunk in his first game (actually, his second game, scoring 19 points at Santa Clara) and lit the world up and so forth.’’
Robinson returned to the football team to play in the 2002 Sun Bowl, a 34-24 loss to Purdue.
As a freshman on the UW basketball team, the 5-foot-9 Robinson led the team in scoring while being named to the all-Pac-12 freshman team.
Robinson then decided in the spring of 2003 to concentrate on basketball and as Neuheisel recalled it, only attended one or two practices during spring football, and was eventually moved to a basketball scholarship.
But Neuheisel said Robinson had expressed interest in continuing to try to play football at some point in his UW career.
“There was never an issue that he was going to come back,’’ Neuheisel said. “And then he started talking about he wanted to play offense and I was going to try to come up with a nickel package where he might play both ways before both-way guys were vogue as they are now. We were talking about that, and then unfortunately June 3rd happened.’’
That’s a reference to Neuheisel finding out he was being investigated by the NCAA taking part in two March Madness betting pools that the NCAA determined were against its rules. Neuheisel was eventually fired in July, replaced by Keith Gilbertson.
“Had I stayed, I think he would have stayed on the football team,’’ Neuheisel said. “I think we had that kind of relationship and I would have found a way to make him valuable on both sides of the ball.
“That was the deal that we had cut and the coaches definitely went on about him playing some role on offense and I was working toward finding a way to do that and the offensive coaches were excited about that, too, because he was multi-dimensional, as we know.’’
Robinson went on to help the UW basketball team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament during his junior year in 2004-05. He declared for the NBA draft after that season and was a first-round draft pick in 2005, then played parts of 15 seasons in the league and won the All-Star dunk contest three times.
He was inducted into the UW Hall of Fame in 2016.
Robinson’s claims come amid a swirl of reports linking dozens of major-college programs to an ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. Last week, former UW basketball stars Markelle Fultz and Dejounte Murray were named in a Yahoo Sports report as having received money from an agent near or during their times at UW.