The Descent of A Man

Tates Locke was willing to do just about anything to make Clemson a winner, and it almost destroyed him
March 08, 1982

Taylor O. (Tates) Locke was having trouble sleeping at night. One reason was the speed coursing through his veins—"diet pills I got from a friendly Clemson booster," he says. Another was the booze he was downing to mellow out the amphetamine peaks. Finally, there was his personality—he was as high-strung, aggressive and gung-ho over college coaching as anyone has ever been.

There were nights when Locke just forgot to sleep, when he'd find himself wired on a South Carolina blacktop racing back to Clemson from some low-country town like Beaufort or Moncks Corner where he'd gone to raise money for the Clemson University athletic fund, or maybe from Ohio or Kentucky where he'd gone to scout a 17-year-old "franchise"—and he had to be in his office in an hour or so and there were calls to make and a luncheon speech and practice after that and, well.... "There weren't enough hours in a day to accomplish what I wanted." Locke says now.

One other thing was interfering with the coach's slumber. His conscience. He'd gone to Clemson in 1970 after successful head-coaching stints at West Point and Miami of Ohio. At West Point, Bobby Knight had been Locke's assistant. They'd been a wild, inseparable pair, but they'd been clean. At Miami. Locke says, he had worked with a couple of his players during the summer, a minor NCAA rules infraction—no big deal. But at Clemson Locke was frustrated, confused, desperate. From the beginning he'd tried everything he knew to gain ground on the other Atlantic Coast Conference schools, but nothing seemed to work. "If we got better, the whole league seemed to get better," he says. "And we started out five years behind everybody else." And so, to close the gap, Tates Locke cheated. Cheated big, paying money to players and encouraging academic chicanery.

Locke's account of those days at Clemson and his subsequent experiences as head coach at Buffalo in the NBA and at Jacksonville University are the subject of his book. Caught in the Net, scheduled to be published soon by Leisure Press. Oddly, after months of soul-searching and thought-collecting, Locke now isn't sure he wants the book released. "It sounds vindictive," he says, "but that's not how I meant it. The book is for young coaches, to let them know about the personal hell they're in for if they do what I did."

Bobby Knight, still one of Locke's best friends, was set to write the introduction to the book, but has now reneged. "I told Tates he shouldn't publish it," says Knight. "The basic premise that everybody cheats is totally wrong. Some do. Most don't. I don't."

The manuscript, written with former sportswriter Bob Ibach, is remarkably frank, a startling account of one man's descent into the netherworld of Division I coaching. Locke's transgressions forced him to resign in 1975 and got the basketball team put on NCAA probation from the 1975-76 season through the 1977-78 season. But the Clemson experience worked its greatest havoc on Locke's own moral fabric. The NCAA proved 40 violations by the school—most of them attributed directly to him. "I really felt when I took the job at Clemson that coaching was still the most important overall factor in winning and losing," he says early in the book. Later he states, "I really thought I was going to die after Clemson.... Why I didn't commit suicide or have a nervous breakdown I'll never really know."

Now, amid the casino noises at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Tates Locke, still lean and steely-eyed at 45, is hoping for a comeback. He pushes the "draw" button on a five-card poker video machine, gets two useless cards and loses 25¢. Locke is in his first season as a part-time assistant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, thanks to UNLV head coach and friend Jerry Tarkanian, and playing a couple of bucks on the poker machines is one of his game-day rituals. Earlier this season he drew a royal flush, and 600 quarters came clattering out. The UNLV Runnin' Rebels won that night, and Locke, whose own luck has been running thin this last decade, is sticking with a good thing.

At team shooting practice in the Las Vegas Convention Center, Locke talks about getting fired from Buffalo in 1977, after just one year as head coach. It was unfair but understandable, he says; all pro coaches get canned. But his forced resignation from Jacksonville University last spring—that was a shock. Sure, the 1980-81 team went 9-18, but JU was 19-11 and 20-9 in Locke's two previous years and reached the NCAA, and then the NIT tournaments.

Locke is in limbo in Las Vegas. He wants desperately to be a major-College head coach again, but he doesn't know if anybody will give him another chance. His wife, Nancy, and their three children are staying in Florida until the future is settled. He is comfortable financially because he received a substantial settlement on the final 4½ years of his Jacksonville contract, but he isn't at ease. As a part-time coach at UNLV, he isn't allowed to recruit, but, then, he doesn't want to. Recruiting violations were his downfall at Clemson. But if he does become a head coach again, he will have to go out and reenter "that particular arena," as he calls it. And that, he admits, "is a disturbing dilemma."

Everyone agrees that Locke is a fine coach. At Miami of Ohio he was named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 1970. He is even respected by the athletic departments at Clemson and Jacksonville. "We're very appreciative for everything Tates Locke did for us," says Clemson Athletic Director Bill McLellan. Nor has anyone questioned Locke's desire to compete. When Knight first arrived at the West Point gym to start work as Locke's assistant, he couldn't find the head coach anywhere. Finally Knight realized Locke was out on the floor scrimmaging with the team.

"Tates is just a devoted student of the game," says Knight. "All the other crap that means so much to other coaches—image and appearance and all that—means nothing to him." Indeed, Locke's appearance is clean-cut. There's nothing flashy about him—or his rusting old Buick. "But he's too impulsive," continues Knight. "His success didn't come too easily, but it may have come too fast."

And now there is the irony of the outlaw coach trying to be reborn in the outlaw town. Certainly sad-eyed Jerry Tarkanian, whom Locke sometimes calls the "Great Raccoon," is a man whose own checkered coaching past cannot reflect too well on his assistant. As Locke puts it. "I'm sure people are saying. There goes Frank riding with Jesse again.' "

The UNLV players aren't unaware of the curious ambience surrounding their team. A while back Tarkanian and Locke had their pictures taken at courtside with former New Mexico Head Coach Norm Ellenberger, who was fired two years ago because of academic and financial irregularities in his program. UNLV Forward Richard Box stuck his head into the group, looked at the men involved and asked the photographer, "Would you buy a used car from any of these men?"

Tarkanian himself is uncertain about where Locke goes from here. When asked recently about Locke's chances for a head-coaching job somewhere, Tark the Shark shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "What do you think?"

Things used to be less complicated. Locke grew up in Cincinnati, an only child who lived for basketball. He played at Ohio Wesleyan, but it wasn't until he joined the Army in 1960 and was stationed at West Point that he knew for certain he wanted to coach. That's where he met Pfc. Bobby Knight, already a high-grade basketball fanatic. Together they hashed out basketball strategy, ate and partied together, traveled together, played on the same intramural team. The two men liked the game to be played the same way—controlled but fierce, very fierce. Within weeks, Locke remembers, both had been thrown out of their intramural league for "rough play and over-zealousness."

Later, with Knight as his assistant, Locke had a 40-15 record in his two seasons at Army (1963-64, 1964-65). For kicks the two buddies would jump into Bobby's car and drive through the East looking for games to scout or simply watch. Often they'd end up at Madison Square Garden and later at the nearby Manhattan Hotel to listen to legendary basketball coaches shoot the breeze. "All the great ones would stop by—Nat Holman, Honey Russell, Clair Bee, Joe Lap-chick," says Locke. "I'd drink a beer and maybe Bobby'd have a Coke, and we'd sit and listen. One night I turned to Bobby and said, 'Bobby, do you know how many wins are in this room?' "

When Locke went to Clemson, he knew something about winning himself. In his first six years as a head coach he was 96-57 and he had been to four postseason tournaments. But he'd never encountered a challenge like the ACC.

A conference doormat for years, Clemson had a very long way to go to catch its more prestigious brethren. Nevertheless, the school had hired Locke to get Clemson's basketball program on a par with the Tobacco Road powers up north. "I should have walked away right from the start," says Locke. "But I couldn't. I'd never given up on anything in my life."

Instead of quitting, Locke began his dirty work. One of his very first recruits was Bo Hawkins, a 5'10" junior college point guard whom Locke needed to run his stagnant offense. Unfortunately, Locke says, Hawkins didn't have the qualifications to get into Clemson until he got an illegal assist from a Clemson academic adviser.

Hawkins himself claims he wasn't aware of this special attention until after his graduation from Clemson. Although his grades were weak early in his career, Hawkins went on to graduate school at The Citadel and now teaches biology and coaches basketball at Chester (S.C.) High School. "Clemson had gotten its butt beat for so long and people wanted to win very badly," he says. "They had no point guards at the time, so they had to have me, I guess. Little things were always getting taken care of. There are a lot of deceitful people at Clemson."

Though he was aghast at what he'd engineered, Locke felt powerless to stop. "Sneaking Bo Hawkins into Clemson was the worst thing I had ever allowed myself to be party to in my years of college coaching," admits Locke in the book. But the thrill of taking the short road up outweighed any ethical concerns. In his book Locke describes the sensation as being like the real-life opening of Pandora's box, a sinister high akin to drug addiction: "After you get the one kid, you want two. Then you get the second prospect and you want another...and another. It snowballs. By then you've lost control."

Locke states—and a former assistant confirms—that the second academic trick involved Jeff Reisinger, a 6'6" junior college All America. Locke says that in 1973 a Clemson coed agreed to take a correspondence course for Reisinger to help him get in to Clemson. Though Reisinger may not have been aware of all the clandestine help he received, Clemson Assistant Coach Bill Clendinen was. "The basketball staff was responsible for getting that grade," admits Clendinen, now a coach at Winter Park (Fla.) High School. "There were efforts to get Jeff academically eligible; the grade received in that correspondence course was not the work of Jeff Reisinger."

Locke found plenty of other ways to cheat. Another illegal recruit was Wayne Croft, a 6'9" 220-pounder who many people felt was the best high school prospect in South Carolina in 1971. Locke started off by paying Croft's way to the Clemson basketball camp the summer before, a direct violation of NCAA rules. Locke also enlisted Alvin Cooler, a fellow student at Croft's high school, to keep him informed about the player's activity. Nothing illegal there, just smart recruiting.

"We learned early that enticing Croft wasn't going to be an easy job," writes Locke. "A couple dozen schools were sending him groceries, turkeys and other foods. I finally saw we had two choices: Either go in there and do the job illegally or get the hell out and forget about Wayne Croft. There could be no in-between. I told members of the Clemson alumni the Croft family needed help. They agreed with me."

Locke or some Clemson representative began flying to Croft's hometown regularly to talk up the Clemson deal with the youth. At one point Freshman Coach Cliff Malpass took Cooler, Croft and his father on a fishing trip to hide Croft from other recruiters. When Croft finally agreed to attend Clemson, Locke says he was so thrilled he gave Cooler a scholarship to the school as manager of the basketball team.

Today Croft admits he was given "extra spending money" and other favors while at Clemson but says the emotional trade-off involved may not have been worth it. "I'm a little disappointed that somebody at Clemson didn't take charge and clean things up," he says. "I'm not saying we players weren't mature enough to know right from wrong, but we were 18 or 19, and people in the athletic department still had the power to control us."

As Locke continued to cheat, pride at Clemson continued to grow. Locke says that Clemson President Robert C. Edwards sometimes came into the locker room before games to psych up the players. After one big Clemson home victory, Locke looked into the stands and was startled by what he saw. "There was President Edwards, along with the athletic director, Bill McLellan, and a bunch of other administrators, dancing in the aisles," Locke writes.

Clemson's increasing success wasn't entirely a result of Locke's cheating. He had others cheating for him. He knew the importance of having alumni assist him in working illegal "programs" on blue-chip players. One of the most effective of Locke's recruiters at the time was a former Clemson football player by the name of B.C. Inabinet.

Inabinet is a drawling, outspoken, huge man—6'8" tall, 345 pounds—and wealthy enough to make his opinions count around Clemson. He owns Defender Industries of Columbia, S.C., an industrial maintenance company which, according to Inabinet, employs 7,000 people in 28 states. Proud of both his financial and physical stature, Inabinet has joked, "How can you forget a man like me? I went to a Ku Klux Klan rally and a man said, 'I don't know who anybody is under those sheets, but there's ol' B.C. over there!' "

Inabinet used to arrive at Clemson home football games in a custom-built bus equipped with leather and teak bars, a TV set, stereo equipment and a P.A. system. In the back of the bus was a large seat, a "throne," where Inabinet would sit and preside over the festivities, speaking to his entourage through a microphone. Though Inabinet was one of three Clemson boosters ordered by the NCAA in 1975 to disassociate themselves from university recruiting programs, he says he is still "Clemson's official worldwide ambassador appointed by the president of the university."

Though Inabinet doesn't actively recruit for Clemson these days, he's quick to underscore his importance during the Locke years. "Tates Locke couldn't recruit a jackass," says Inabinet. "I was the one who recruited and signed Colon Abraham, Stan Rome, Skip Wise and Tree Rollins," four Clemson stars of the early '70s. Locke agrees with the latter part of Inabinet's statement. "B.C. is an unbelievable salesman for the school," says Locke. "In fact, he's the greatest salesman, period, I've ever met in my life."

Locke realized early on that if Clemson was going to be a basketball power, it had to woo quality black athletes. In the early '70s Clemson had a tiny black enrollment, and many people preferred to keep it that way. Because a congenial environment for blacks didn't exist at Clemson, Locke decided to create one. He calls it "the era of the Phony Black Fraternity."

Taking over an old Quonset hut on campus and converting it into a lounge, Locke created a "fraternity." When he wanted to impress a black recruit, he had people go into surrounding communities and bring back as many black high school students as possible to populate the building. These were the fraternity "members." Locke then hired bands and staged dances. When the recruit came in, he would be surrounded by a facade of minority bliss on campus.

One of Locke's major recruiting goals was a superlative big man who could dominate a game. He found him in 1972—Wayne (Tree) Rollins, a 7'1" high school superstar from Cordele, Ga. With the aid of Inabinet, Locke put his most intensive "program" yet on Rollins and soon had the young man enrolled. One of the most startling sections of Locke's manuscript is the chapter quoting Rollins, now a center for the Atlanta Hawks, on the cash benefits of his college career.

Says Rollins in the book: "This guy B.C. Inabinet was offering me everything. I got my '73 Monte Carlo thanks to him. And B.C. was flying my mom into many of our games the first couple seasons.... Things like that.... If someone asked me to put a figure on what I got from B.C. and the rest of the alums over my career at Clemson [1973-74 to 1976-77], I guess the sum totaled about $60,000. I'd say that figure is very close, 'cause I was gettin' about $14,000 a year. That's counting the money paid for my Monte Carlo, the clothing allowances, gas money and pocket money."

Asked after a recent NBA game if his statements in Locke's book were accurate, Rollins declared, "Everything I said is true." He offered further explanation for his own actions: "You see, I knew whatever college team signed me was going to get investigated. And I didn't go to the highest bidder, either. But if you ask if what I did was morally right, well, when you come from a poor background, you just have to take the money. I looked at basketball as a job. They were making money off me at Clemson. My mother was supporting four kids at home and we needed the money. Here in the pros everybody talks about what they got in college; they just don't tell the press."

Inabinet denies Rollins' charges, saying the only things he can recall doing for Rollins were offering his relatives jobs in one of Inabinet's plants and finding Rollins a tailor at Clemson. As for the money, Inabinet says, "I gave Locke cash and I didn't ask what he did with it, and where he went in my plane, I don't know, because I didn't ask. I was stupid enough to think that bastard was doing a good job. Tates Locke is a notorious liar. He is really sad, a tragedy. He betrayed a great institution."

There is no question that Locke's life became a tragedy. He built a winner at Clemson—his last two teams went 14-12 and 17-11—but at great cost. His pill-popping, drinking and womanizing had devastating consequences for himself and his family. In Caught in the Net, Nancy Locke says that she began taking sleeping pills and was hospitalized for 10 days in January of 1975, the middle of Tates's last season, because of "unrelenting anxiety." Locke himself was in little better shape. Paranoid from the amphetamines, yet 40 pounds overweight from nervous eating and a surfeit of beer and Scotch, he was, in his own words, "a raving madman," prone to violent swings in emotion.

He used to terrorize his players at practice. If a fight broke out, he cleared the floor and let the combatants go until they dropped. He chastised them so relentlessly that sometimes he would retreat to his office and sit with his head in his hands and wonder what was coming over him. "I don't remember a lot of things from those days," says Locke. "I was almost delirious then." While on a friend's houseboat, Locke tried to strangle Assistant Coach Charlie Harrison. "Tates was having a nightmare," recalls Harrison, now an assistant at Iowa State. "But it scared me good."

On another occasion Locke scared himself. He recalls once walking the streets of Clemson until dawn, considering stepping out in front of cars. "I was petrified," he says. "I didn't know where I was." By the time he left Clemson, he claims he had quit everything—pills, booze, cheating—and had begun to run. He ran constantly, pushing his fat body to its limits. He didn't like running; he hated it. But the motion soothed him and the pain cleansed him. "I ran to punish myself," he says.

Locke went to the pros after Clemson, an experience he'd just as soon forget. Nor was he much happier at Jacksonville. Locke didn't cheat there, but he created controversy in other ways. He was too critical of the players in the press. He kept demanding improved facilities and a larger budget and he dated an undergraduate student while he and Nancy were separated. When he joined a team in a three-on-three league he was thrown out for fighting once again. The school ultimately demanded his resignation—"not because he wasn't coaching well," says Jacksonville Journal sports-writer Tom Corneilson, "but because his mouth overloaded his ass."

David Berst, the director of the NCAA's enforcement program, claims, "About 15% of the schools are cheating, and 85% are not." Of course, there are NCAA critics who claim there are as many schools out there cheating as the NCAA cares to investigate, or admits knowing about. Berst denies this, preferring to focus on the reason coaches cheat in the first place. "Cheating points at insecurity, a feeling that there's no other way to get ahead," he says. "Tates knowingly violated the rules. It's unfortunate he thought he had no alternative."

Even so, some people remain sympathetic toward Locke. Bo Hawkins, who chose Tates's first name for his son's middle name, says, "Somebody had to take the fall, and he was the man."

Locke, however, is beginning to see himself less and less as a scapegoat. "Bobby told me if I didn't want to cheat, I wouldn't have," he says. "I've thought about that, and he's right."

And now, at the Landmark Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Locke watches as Tarkanian, his assistants and a couple of visiting coaches celebrate a victory over Long Beach State. As always, Tates is thrilled "his" team won, but the high-roller party scene is still a bit hard for him to take. "In this town you have to be a winner," he says. "It doesn't matter if you're a good person. Being a good person doesn't even come fifth on the list."

The coaches drink and laugh and josh each other, and around them are the sounds of money in transit. But after a couple of beers and a few quarters in the poker machine Locke gets up to leave. "I love being around coaches," he says. "But after a point, I don't know...."

The part-time coach is separated from a lot of things he loves these days. The pain shows in his eyes and in the way he seeks solitude at times like this. When he is alone he can ponder his future and wonder about his past. And when he has the time, which is often, he runs.

PHOTO PHOTOWhile Dad's in Las Vegas, Nancy watches over Mike, Kathy and John in Jacksonville. PHOTOWhen he was at Clemson, money grew on Tree.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)