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An emotional Todd McNair testifies that NCAA penalty left him in a state of depression

The banter from a decade-old spring football practice at USC filled Room 500 at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.

The video on the big-screen television at the front of the courtroom Thursday showed Todd McNair bounce around the field, slap players on the back, exchange jokes, shout encouragement. The former USC assistant coach watched from the witness stand, then hung his head and tried to hide tears.

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McNair sniffed, and wiped his face with the right sleeve of his sport coat. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller finally handed over a box of tissues.

Almost seven years after McNair sued the NCAA, the former coach finally told his story during the eighth day of testimony in the defamation trial.

"Have you always followed the rules?" one of McNair's attorneys, Bruce Broillet, said after the video ended.

"Yes," McNair responded.

The tears returned when Broillet asked about McNair's emotions following the video. He tried to collect himself through sobs for about 30 seconds. The jury of nine women and three men, who have at times struggled to appear engaged during the trial, seemed to hang on each second.

During more than five hours on the stand, McNair denied knowing Reggie Bush or his parents received extra benefits from would-be sports agents while Bush played running back for the Trojans. McNair, Bush's position coach, professed shock when media reports in April 2006 detailed the arrangement.

The NCAA's infractions committee eventually punished McNair with a one-year "show cause" penalty in June 2010 — the former coach alleges it essentially ended his career — saying he knew about the extra benefits.

"The worst part was having my name attached to the scandal," McNair said. "People don't really know [what happened]. They just know your name was attached to it. … That stigma is going to stay with me always."

Some of the most compelling testimony revolved around the aftermath of the punishment — previous NCAA-linked witnesses described it as light — and USC's not renewing his contract the same month. McNair said people left trash in the yard of his Glendale home, neighbors shunned him and his children's classmates gave them a hard time about the situation.

McNair stopped going out, spent days on the couch drinking and plunged into depression.

He made ends meet with loans from Bush — the amounts and dates weren't detailed — and other friends and family members. He cashed in his retirement account. He used food stamps. His wife, Lynette, took a job as a parking lot attendant.

A series of attempts to land jobs with college and pro teams didn't work out. The same happened with a potential job at Temple, where he played college football.

"At that point, it's like you just shut down," McNair said. "It's hopelessness if I can't get a job at my alma mater. At that point it was pretty rough."

He spent last fall as an assistant coach at Pasadena High — getting a stipend of $1,100 after making $250,000 in his final season at USC.

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McNair refuted key evidence the infractions committee — and the NCAA's legal team in this case — used to link him to the Bush scandal.

Three phone calls from the former coach to Lloyd Lake, one of the would-be sports agents, on an October night in 2005? Bush told McNair to reach him at the number. The former coach was trying to get an explanation why Bush wasn't spending time with Percy Harvin, then the nation's top recruit, who was visiting USC.

"We didn't sign Percy because of this," McNair said.

That photo of four men from the same night that included McNair and Lake? He has no memory of it and related a story about a lawyer asking him to pose for a photo at the courthouse a few days ago.

"To the best of my knowledge, I've never met Lloyd Lake," McNair said.

The early-morning call from Lake to McNair on Jan. 8, 2006, where the NCAA alleged the former coach learned details of Lake's benefits to Bush? McNair doesn't remember it.

"It would've threatened everything that we worked for," he said. "It would've threatened everything that we were. If I had gotten that call at that time, there's no way I wouldn't have been blowing up the phone."

McNair didn't make any calls for several hours afterward.

The former coach remained calm, even under cross-examination by NCAA attorney Kosta Stojilkovic during the final 30 minutes of the session. The attorney contrasted McNair's testifying that Bush "wasn't a student of the game" with raving about his focus when talking to NCAA investigators 12 years ago.

Stojilkovic, whose voice rose during the back and forth, seemed intent on showing a contradiction. McNair explained the difference between the two terms in an even tone. The jury looked befuddled by the entire exchange.

"I trusted the NCAA," the former coach said before testimony ended for the day. "I trusted they'd make a fair investigation. Now it's a different situation."

Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno

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