Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend
On Williams’ great but imperfect legacy and close calls in the world of coaching
The time has come, the memory man said, to talk of many things — but, unlike the walrus, there will be no cabbages or kings … just a bunch of shortterm as well as long-term items covering opinions and facts and other assorted yapping designed to inform, entertain and … provide another segment of The Readers Write. This is Volume
50: “It’s Giving Me Heartburn.”
Roy Williams, who retired as North Carolina-Chapel Hill basketball coach recently, has a deserved reputation for being one of the good guys. Nevertheless, his long-time legacy of success was tarnished somewhat by an in-house academic scandal that was being investigated before one of Williams’ star players, Rashad McCants (2002-05), blew the whistle on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2014.
McCants talked about bogus classes and tutors who did his homework for him. He also said Williams knew about it. Williams and other members of the team disputed McCants’ allegations, which included getting straight A’s in courses he never attended.
A couple of investigations into academic fraud at Carolina led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to put the school on probation for a year. However, the findings did not implicate any coach, and — despite what was described as massive cheating — the NCAA said the school had not broken any of its rules. Carry on.
This was the second of two inquiries into academic irregularities by UNC athletes over the space of two years. The first led to the dismissal of football coach Butch Davis and sanctions by the NCAA, which was particularly upset by special benefits given to players by sports agents.
Williams escaped with his reputation intact, but it was on his watch that it all happened, so he had to share some of the blame. Too often coaches say they knew nothing, saw nothing. But most of them are micromanagers, especially basketball where you have only 13 players. Ask any coach about Player X — his favorite desert, type of music, etc. — and it’s downright unusual if he doesn’t know.
Hubert Davis, who was Williams’ immediate successor after serving as a Tar Heel assistant for nine years, is among a handful in the ACC to be hired without previous head coaching experience. Virginia’s Jeff Jones was among them, although, unlike others including Davis, he wasn’t the first choice. Or second, or third … possibly more, for that matter.
Pay close attention because keeping up with this can be hard to do! First, longtime coach Terry Holland tried to get athletic director Jim Copeland to commit to assistant Dave Odom to be his successor should he leave — as rumored. When Copeland refused, Odom left for a successful run as Wake Forest, and Holland followed a year later, becoming athletic director at alma mater Davidson.
Copeland narrowed the search for Holland’s replacement to
Rick Barnes of Providence and Stanford’s Mike Montgomery. The nod went to Barnes, and he and Copeland flew out of Charlottesville bound for Storrs, Conn., to introduce him as the 8th coach in Cavaliers’ hoops history to John Casteen, the University of Connecticut president
recently named to the same job at Mr. Jefferson’s University. En route, they stopped in Rhode Island so Barnes could first tell Providence in person of his decision to move on.
Copeland waited at the airport … and waited ... but Barnes never returned. According to Copeland, former Friars’ AD Dave Gavitt persuaded Barnes to stay, saying he would cause the program irreparable harm should he leave. (It should be noted here, when the above appeared in your friendly, local morning paper, Barnes went off, insisting it wasn’t true. There even was mention of a lawsuit.)
Meanwhile, Copeland called Montgomery, who — Copeland said later — didn’t like being the No. 2 choice and turned down a job he clearly wanted earlier. Now what? There was a rumor Copeland next turned to University of Minnesota coach Clem Haskins, who had a sister living in Richmond. When Haskins said no, Copeland finally opted for Jones, who had been the best choice all along.
A playmaking point guard for UVA during the (Ralph) Sampson Years, Jones joined Holland’s staff on graduation and spent eight years as an assistant (1982-90). He had great success the first five years in charge of the program, winning the 1992 NIT and going to four NCAA tournaments (five in all). The Cavaliers reached the Elite 8 in 1995, beating No. 1 Kansas, coached by Williams … in Kansas City.
Things went a bit sideways Jones’ last three (of eight) seasons for a number of reasons, not all basketball related. He resigned after the 1997-98 campaign, turning in his whistle to Holland, who returned as AD in 1994 when the late Copeland moved to SMU. Jones, 60, has been Old Dominion coach for the past eight years.
Talk about lucking out, not once but twice at Virginia, the quintessential example of: sometimes it’s not who you hire but who you don’t. First, there was Haskins, who became involved in a cheating scandal at Minnesota, was fired in 1999 and hasn’t coached since. Then there was Jerry Sandusky, yes, that J. Sandusky, who currently calls the Laurel Highlands State Correctional Institution in Somerset County, Pa., home. The long-time Penn State football assistant was a leading candidate to replace George Welsh
in 2000 and, I’m told, started to round up a staff before the Cavaliers — and AD Holland — changed their minds.
Haskins, 77, had considerable success at Minnesota, including a 31-win season and trip to the Final Four in 1997. Then an academic counselor alleged she was paid $3,500 by the coach to write papers, do homework and take at-home tests for 18 of the players from 1994 through 1999. Haskins also was accused of telling the players to lie to an NCAA investigator.
As a result, all Gopher regular-season games during those five years were vacated — and a number of sanctions imposed on the program. Haskins finally admitted his guilt and was handed a seven-year “show cause” penalty, effectively ending his college coaching career.
Sandusky played at Penn
State and was an assistant there under Joe Paterno for 30 years until his retirement in 1999. In 1977, he founded a nonprofit charity, The Second Mile, that served underprivileged and atrisk youth and was run out of the athletic office. Virginia came calling after Florida State assistant Mark Richt, the Cavs’ first choice, opted for the top job at the University of Georgia.
Apparently, Holland and associates cooled on Sandusky over his charity, coming to the conclusion he wouldn’t be totally committed to football. In the end, New York Jets coach Al Groh, a UVA alumnus who had been serving the search as a consultant, accepted the position.
Sandusky was convicted of 48 counts of child molestation in 2012 and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. A judge rejected his appeal two years ago. Sandusky, 77, will not be eligible for parole until 2042 which means he probably will die behind bars.
His arrest and subsequent charges led to the firing of the legendary Paterno, and the university has paid out more than $100 million to people who said they were abused by Sandusky. Paterno was dismissed Nov, 9, 2011, and he died 74 days later from lung cancer at age 85.
Forced to retire by Virginia (bad mistake), Welsh expressed interest in becoming Old Dominion’s first coach (2009). Like his onetime boss Paterno, Welsh also was 85 when he died Jan. 2, 2019.
Just a thought: The more the NCAA opens the doors to paying college athletes — above board, that is — and allowing them to move around schoolto-school almost at will and be instantly eligible, what’s to keep some institutions that really care about going to class from saying the heck with it and going nonscholarship D-III? I ran that by a friend who said, “Never happen … The alumni won’t allow it.”
Yeah, but … did you see where a basketball player returned to Iowa State after spending a season at UNLV? At this rate, colleges will be able to put athletes (forget the student sham) on waivers, trade them or even fine them for a variety of reasons. Conduct unbecoming? Never happen.
So, do you think the NCAA will apologize for Arizona women’s coach Adia Barnes refusing to say I’m sorry for firing off an fbomb and flashing a double bird (middle fingers) after stunning perennial power Connecticut? ESPN captured it all as Barnes’ young players huddled around her for some final words — and bleep-you gestures, presumably meant for everyone who didn’t give the team the respect she felt it deserved.
Actually, it was a difficult week all around for Arizona, which kissed men’s basketball coach Sean Miller goodbye — and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Miller was caught on tape by the FBI in its investigation into cheating — among other things — more than three years ago. So was former VCU coach Will Wade, now in charge at LSU.
Will Will be the next to go? Given the snail’s pace of factfinding, not only by the FBI but also by the NCAA (even slower), there’s an excellent chance Wade will not be penalized until it no longer matters.
Readers write: From Dick Sessoms, who wrote, “News of Elgin Baylor’s passing reminded me of a small plaque that used to hang in the Doremus/Warner Center basketball complex at Washington & Lee.” (The plaque honored 10 players named to the Helms All-American team in 1958.) “Three of the biggest names in the sports then, and now, were listed: Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Baylor … plus (seven) more stars including a guy named Dom Flora of W&L, who was Southern Conference player of the year.
“That plaque occupied a remote location on the wall, somewhat lost midst countless trophies in display cases, old footballs proclaiming scores of ancient victories over UVA, Cy Twombly’s putter, Secretariat’s old blue and white silks, etc., etc., etc. But it was the little plaque I always pointed out to any visitor who questioned whether W&L once competed at the highest level of college athletics. It still gives pause to think of the company Flora rightfully kept in 1958 … Wilt the Stilt, the Big O and Elgin Baylor.”
A former sports information director at VMI, Sessoms, 86, worked at W&L for 24 years in alumni affairs until retiring in 2004. Secretariat owner Christopher Chenery, father of Penny Tweedy who oversaw the horse’s domination of the 1973 Triple Crown, was W&L, Class of 1909.
Take me out to the ball game … I think not. Here’s hoping the Flying Squirrels, in all their young, AA innocence, can get it right. Major league runs, hits and errors was supposed to be rejuvenated this season, when they would emphasize a complete game played in a reasonable time frame. So what are we getting? Games upwards of three hours are still the norm. And each at bat, it’s still all-or-nothing, usually the latter.
Check the MLB box scores any day and the biggest individual statistic is seldom under R or H but K. For teams to combine for 20 strikeouts in nine innings is not unusual. The other day two teams had 27 punchouts between them — and only one home run. Ridiculous!
I know, I know … no sport is over-statisticed more than baseball … but maybe they should add one more: HRSO — the ratio of home runs to strikeouts, which would be excellent proof of what the game has become. Heck, based on network ratings a year ago, all that bat-flipping, look-at-me garbage already has become a turnoff.
Listen to Eddie Robinson, MLB’s 100 year old man, on what they used to do when an opponent tried to rub it in. “There was no showboating, flipping bats,” Robinson, who played 13 years in the bigs, told a reporter late last year. “If you did that, the next time you came up, somebody would bore you in the ribs with a fastball.”
Like Diogenes, looking for an honest man, we’ve been trying to find an honest-to-a-fault onair sports analyst who, instead of shilling for the home side and looking the other way when things aren’t going well, steps up with a tell-it-like-it-is criticism. Just when we thought we finally found our man … whamo! Knock it off — or else. Boooo!
Our man is Scott Brand, president and general manager of the Columbus, Ga., RiverDragons of the Federal Prospects Hockey League. He also joins play by play announcer Zak Debeaussaert (whew!) as color commentator on RiverDragons’ radio which serves as the words to televised pictures of games seen live on YouTube.
Until now, Brand has been a pull-no-punches kind of guy. When the RiverDragons are good, he gives them credit. When they’re bad, he says so, too. Brand doesn’t hesitate to question strategy, like asking why the goaltender wasn’t pulled sooner for an extra skater and the RD’s trailing. He said it at the time, after the loss and on the next night’s broadcast.
Last week, after the team fell out of first with a lackluster loss, Brand said, “There’s a lot of soul-searching to do … I don’t like to be negative but …”
As you might imagine, Brand’s comments haven’t taken kindly in the dressing room. “It’s starting to be a problem … with the players … and the league,” said franchise owner Jeff Croop, who has lived in Richmond since his year and a half (2003-04) as general manager of the defunct RiverDogs of the defunct United Hockey League. “And it’s giving me heartburn.”
What has the league upset is Brand running the game officials — even if they deserve it. Last week one of the referees ostensibly signaled a delayed penalty against the other team. The Columbus goaltender dutifully skated to the bench for another skater. But, when the RiverDogs lost the puck, which normally leads to a whistle, stopping play, the visitors scored into the empty net — and the goal was upheld. Brand went ballistic. “If I get written up [fined], I don’t care,” he said, having calmed down — sort of.
Until next time ...