They say cheaters never win. But I’m pretty sure they mean that figuratively, because, literally speaking, cheaters win all the time.
Just look at John Calipari. Last night his Kentucky Wildcats beat the Kansas Jayhawks to win the 2012 NCAA Basketball Championship. But Coach Calipari got where he is today—winning a national championship with one of the most storied programs in college sports—by breaking just about every recruiting rule in the book at UMass and Memphis. So, clearly, cheaters do win. Even if those wins are later vacated.
Today, in “celebration” of Kentucky’s victory last night, I present you a list of 9 dirty college basketball coaches. Of course, pretty much every college basketball coach breaks the rules, but these guys do it more and have the tendency to get caught red-handed. The “clean” coaches are more classy when they cheat.
What did former Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl do that was so bad? He invited recruits to his home for barbecue. Outrageous, right?
Yeah, not really. But it is against the rules, and when the NCAA questioned Pearl about it, he made it worse: he lied. “What? Barbecues? Me? No way. Not a chance. Hate the smell of grilled meat.”
But of course, there were photographs of Pearl hosting said barbecues attended by recruits, as well as record of tons of illegal phone calls to recruits, agents, and coaches. So no more $2 million a year to coach basketball. Now the guy is working for a marketing firm until his NCAA suspension is up in 2014.
Even though Pearl’s discretions weren’t that terrible, I chose him for the #9 slot to prove a point: in college basketball, almost everybody breaks the rules; the biggest sleezeball is just the latest guy to get caught.
9. Bruce Pearl
At least current UTEP and former USC basketball coach Tim Floyd can say he cheated the honest, old-fashioned way: by giving a player a brown paper bag full of $1000.
Well, actually, he didn’t give the cash directly to the player (O.J. Mayo); he gave it to a go-between by the name of Rodney Guillory. And I have no idea whether it was in a brown paper bag; that’s just an assumption. But it is a fact that Coach Floyd flat out paid cash to Mayo his services, and that is definitely old-school. (These days, coaches are usually smart and realize that they can’t do something that blatant without getting caught.)
Luckily for Floyd, the University of Texas at El Paso doesn’t have a problem with coaches who paid cash to former players.
8 Tim Floyd
What? A second-year head coach somehow recruits what would become the most famous starting lineup in the history of basketball? How did he do that without a reputation and tradition of success?
Oh, right. Money.
It turns out that Chris Webber and the rest of Michigan’s famous “Fab Five” got a lot of “support” from a Michigan booster named Ed Martin. And by “support” I mean money. Webber got at least $280,000, and three other players got a total of $336,000—that we know of.
But Fisher obviously didn’t know aaaaanything about that. He just gave basketball tickets to Mr. Martin out of the kindness of his heart.
The Michigan scandal and his subsequent dismissal didn’t end his career, though. He was an assistant for the Sacramento Kings for a little while before moving on to San Diego State and turning that program around.
7. Steve Fisher
Last year, Calhoun was sanctioned by the NCAA for a “failure to create an atmosphere of compliance” within the basketball program at UConn.
Translation: this guy is just a dirty coach.
So what did the sanction cost UConn? Scholarship reductions, recruiting restrictions, permanent dissociation from booster Josh Nochimson, and a possible ban from the 2013 postseason (specifically for the academic failures of Calhoun’s players). The trigger for all these punishments was the illegal recruitment of Nate Miles; but obviously, they hit them for a lot more than that.
6. Jim Calhoun
Coach Tarkanian was the basketball equivalent of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the move Catch Me If You Can: constantly under investigation, able to stay just ahead of the law for years, but finally caught and hammered with big penalties.
Basically, after Tarkanian left Long Beach State for UNLV in the mid-70s, the NCAA discovered a host of illegal recruiting activities at Tark the Shark’s former school. While they imposed penalties on LBS, they didn’t hurt Tark over at UNLV.
So what did the NCAA do? Before the 1976-77 season, they caught the UNLV Runnin Rebels on some violations dating back to 1971. Then they basically used these violations to extort UNLV into suspending Tarkanian for two years, even though he wasn’t the coach when the UNLV violations occurred. Nice, right?
Tarkanian eventually escaped that suspension with the help of a court order saying the penalty violated his right to due process. But a decade later, the NCAA was finally able to catch Tark the Shark in the act and make punishments stick. After a Tarkanian recruit by the name of Lloyd Daniels was arrested for trying to buy crack from an undercover cop, a big investigation revealed that a number of UNLV players had ties to a mob bookie named Richard Perry. Oops.
The 1991 National Champion Running Rebels were initially banned from the 1992 postseason. But of course, the NCAA reconsidered their penalty when someone pointed out that suspending the defending champs would cost them money. So they pushed the postseason ban back to 1993, thus making possible UNLV’s upset at the hands of Christian Laettner and Duke in the championship game.
5. Jerry Tarkanian
At #4 we have the guy who is no longer considered the best coach never to win a national championship: John Calipari.
So what makes him so dirty?
Basically, the dude stays at one school until his recruiting violations pile up so high that the NCAA is bound to take notice. Then, as soon as he gets wind of an investigation, he bolts for a new program, leaving the old one to deal with his mess. He did it at UMass (which had to vacate their Final Four appearance), then at Memphis (which had to vacate their 2nd place tourney finish because Derrick Rose was too lazy to take the SATs), and he’ll probably do it at Kentucky.
And for this “rich tradition,” Kentucky pays the man $4 million a year.
Enjoy your championship before it’s vacated, Wildcats!
College basketball genius savants will recognize right off the bat that Robert Wickenheiser was not actually a coach. He was the president of St. Bonaventure during the 2002-03 season who was personally responsible for one of the stupidest and most tragic recruiting scandals in the history of the NCAA.
That year, an assistant coach for the Bonnies named Kort Wickenheiser—yes, the son of the president...how’d he get that job?—recruited a junior college transfer by the name of Jamil Terrell. However, despite the fact that Terrell only had a welding certificate and not an associates degree, and despite the fact that Athletic Director Gothard Lane explained this to Wickenheiser, the school’s president nevertheless declared him an eligible transfer.
Now, usually it takes the NCAA several years to investigate recruiting fraud and smoke all the guilty parties out of their holes. But since this one was so obvious, they figured it out before the season was even over and suspended the Bonnies from postseason play. The school then fired everybody, including head coach Jan van Breda Kolff (what is it with St. Bonaventure and people with weird names?), who was actually the only person involved in the scandal that was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Now for the depressing part. After the scandal broke, the school’s board of trustees had to step in and clean house. The unsavory task was headed up by a guy who lived and breathed St. Bonaventure and everything the Franciscan school stood for: Bill Swan. Unfortunately, many members of the St. Bonaventure community started laying blame on Swan and the board for not stepping in sooner to prevent this whole mess.
All the pressure got to the poor guy. He hung himself in his basement in 2003, leaving a note that read:
I am so sorry for the pain I have caused St. Bonaventure University, my family, friends, my colleagues at First Niagara and my beloved wife, Ann.
3. Robert Wickenheiser
The lesson coaches should learn from Jim Harrick: when you hire your son as your assistant coach, people are going to suspect you’re a dirty coach. And let’s face it—they’ll probably be right.
After being fired from a top coaching job at UCLA for lying about a $1000 expense report, Harrick found himself at Rhode Island, and then Georgia. It was there, with the Bulldogs, that Harrick really got into trouble.
You see, it turns out he had his son, Jim Jr., do all his dirty work—like giving cash to players, paying for their phone bills and, oh yeah, committing academic fraud. (Apparently several players were taking a for-credit “basketball strategy” class taught by Harrick Jr., and the coach’s son just gave them all As even though they never attended.)
2. Jim Harrick
Our #1 dirtiest college basketball coach is Dana Kirk. Why? Because he’s the only guy on the list to spend time in prison for basketball-related violations.
First the guy was indicted by a grand jury for tax evasion, filing false income tax returns, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice. Then, at his trial, witnesses testified that the former Memphis coach personally scalped tickets, took money from boosters to give to players, and solicited kickbacks from tournament officials. All of this resulted in him actually spending 4 months in prison.
But hey, Kirk’s team was damn good. And that’s what really matters, right?
1. Dana Kirk
cheating, college Basketball, Jim Calhoun, John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats, March Madness,