A week before Christmas, Tosh Lupoi was eating dinner with his girlfriend at a Seattle restaurant. It was an exciting time for the 32-year-old Washington D-line coach. The Huskies were preparing to play BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Lupoi also knew an interesting decision loomed on the horizon. Steve Sarkisian, his former boss at UW, had just taken the head coaching job at USC. Lupoi was well aware that several of his colleagues were headed to join the Trojans staff after the bowl, and that USC's former D-line coach was paid a reported $1 million a year. Lupoi, though, loved Washington and loved living in Seattle. He was intrigued by the prospect of working with the Huskies' new head coach Chris Petersen, who was coming from Boise State, where he had a 92-12 record. He knew he had some very good options in front of him.
Then, Lupoi glanced down at his phone and got an alert regarding a story on Twitter about himself. It was a Los Angeles Times report about a man alleging Lupoi had paid him $4,500 for tutoring services and online classes for a former Washington signee (who had never qualified.)
"I sat there looking at it in total disbelief," Lupoi told CBS on Monday. "I knew it was obviously false, but I also knew a lot of people were going to read it and it was gonna be out there in a national forum."
Before Lupoi could leave the restaurant, he was barraged by calls and texts from family and friends and just about anyone else whom he had ever given his number to. The story became national news within the hour.
Here was Lupoi, the 2010 National Recruiter of the Year, one of the more high-profile position coaches in the country, a guy who had coached his D-line to lead the conference in sacks three times at the center of a very juicy story that detailed money delivered in a brown paper bag. Beyond that, the story had a USC angle since most figured Lupoi would follow Sarkisian to Los Angeles, and, of course, the Trojans are still dealing with the effects of hefty NCAA sanctions from the Reggie Bush investigation.
Lupoi says he immediately volunteered to speak with the University of Washington compliance staff and the NCAA to answer any questions they had about his involvement. He went in without any legal representation.
The next day, he denied the allegations publicly via his Twitter account: "I won't let these sorts of untrue attacks break my focus! I look forward to an honest & thorough investigation. It hurts to read these sorts of things, despite their suspicious motives, but I have faith in the process."
That faith was rewarded this week when Lupoi was notified by the NCAA through the school that he and Washington had been cleared in the matter, he said. The case has formally been closed and that no penalties would be handed down. Unfortunately for Lupoi, the news comes after a six-week nightmare and he's now left hoping his reputation has been not wrecked.
The vacancies on USC's coaching staff have all been filled. So have Washington's.
Lupoi, who last month agreed with UW to a mutual separation that paid him $300,000, declined to provide details of the NCAA's questioning to CBS, stating that he was not at liberty to share any information out of respect to the NCAA's process.
"The allegations in itself were pretty unique," he said. "This wasn't to lure a kid to sign with you. This was regarding a kid that had already signed. No matter what, it's negativity towards your name, which you obviously never want."
With the timing as it is, with all the coaching turnover that has already happened, it's a stretch to think Lupoi will land a college job this winter although he's optimistic now that's the NCAA has cleared him. A job in the NFL is also another avenue he would be intrigued by.
"I'm excited to take the next step in life," Lupoi said. "I'm blessed to have been around so many exceptional leaders and so many amazing people in my career. My time at the UW was greatly valuable, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity to have worked at such a wonderful institution. This recent adversity has only strengthened me as a man and as a coach. My passion for the game, making a difference in young men's lives will never be deterred.
"I've viewed this time as an opportunity to get better as I've reviewed our past season's film and challenged myself to see what I could've done better and how I could've better prepared our young defensive line. I've fine-tuned my drills, meetings approach and studied schematics. When my next opportunity arises, I want to hit it full-throttle. As long as I'm in an environment where I can compete to better myself, the surrounding people and the organization I represent, I will be as happy and thankful as can be."