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OUT TO DINNER, OUT OF A JOB UCLA FIRED COACH JIM HARRICK FOR LYING ABOUT AN EXPENSE-ACCOUNT MEAL. WAS THAT THE ONLY REASON?

Nov. 18, 1996
Nov. 18, 1996

Table of Contents
Nov. 18, 1996

Faces In The Crowd

OUT TO DINNER, OUT OF A JOB UCLA FIRED COACH JIM HARRICK FOR LYING ABOUT AN EXPENSE-ACCOUNT MEAL. WAS THAT THE ONLY REASON?

Cameron Dollar took a seat on a bench in Pauley Pavilion after
practice last Friday, his head wrapped in a towel. Dollar,
UCLA's senior point guard, was feeling out of sorts, and he
suspected the culprit to be the hot Santa Ana winds that had
kicked up a few days earlier and chased away a bone-chilling
cold front. "Earthquake weather," Dollar said. "Lot of change.
Lot of weirdness going on."

This is an article from the Nov. 18, 1996 issue Original Layout

Dollar and change indeed. On Nov. 6--only 19 months after the
Bruins had won the national championship that seemed finally to
banish the specter of John Wooden and his unmatchable success,
scarcely two weeks before the start of a season in which UCLA
was expected to be a Top 5 team and scant days before the
early-signing period that's so critical to recruiting--school
chancellor Charles Young and athletic director Peter Dalis fired
the Bruins' 58-year-old coach, Jim Harrick. To replace him until
at least the end of the coming season they named assistant Steve
Lavin, 32, who has no head-coaching experience and who only two
seasons ago was a $16,000-a-year part-timer.

UCLA took its extraordinary action in the wake of a dinner three
weeks earlier at which Harrick entertained a dozen people,
including three recruits and five current Bruins. On his expense
report he lied about who had been in attendance, and he
prevailed upon one of his assistants to go along with his false
account. "Yes, I lied," Harrick said after his dismissal. "I
made a mistake in judgment. But to be fired over it? That
outweighs the crime by mountains and miles." Added Harrick
later, "Dalis has been after me for years."

Dalis's riposte: "If that was the case, why would I have
extended his contract [for five seasons, at a reported annual
salary of $400,000] last year?"

"I don't want to overstate it, but I think Watergate is
analogous," said Young. "The breaking into the Democratic
National Committee offices wasn't that big a crime, but what
followed it is what brought down the president of the United
States."

Harrick's undoing probably began in September, after his son,
Glenn, 27, sold a 1991 Chevy Blazer, registered in his father's
name, to Lisa Hodoh, a UCLA food-services employee who also
happens to be the sister of Baron Davis, a 6'2" blue-chip point
guard at Santa Monica's Crossroads High. Hodoh gave the Blazer
to her brother shortly after Sept. 18, the day Davis orally
committed to the Bruins. Investigators from the NCAA and the
Pac-10 would exonerate the Bruins in the matter, ruling that the
$5,000 Hodoh paid for the Blazer, which had 112,960 miles on it,
was fair market value. But Jim Harrick knew of the sale of the
vehicle for two weeks without saying anything about it to Dalis,
who was not pleased to find out about the deal through an
inquiry from a reporter. Exactly how mad was the AD? "On a scale
of one to 10," says one athletic department employee, "he was an
11."

The Blazer imbroglio, Dalis said last week, was not in itself a
factor in Harrick's firing. What the incident seems to have
done, however, was create a climate in which Dalis would subject
Harrick's every move--including that dinner on Oct. 11 at a
Westwood eatery called Monty's Restaurant--to sharper scrutiny.

Harrick's last supper took place the day after Pac-10
investigators looking into Blazergate left campus. The three
recruits in attendance were Jarron and Jason Collins, 6'10"
twins from Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood, and Earl
Watson, a 6'1" guard from Washington High in Kansas City. Three
of the Bruins on hand, Kris Johnson, Jelani McCoy and Bob Myers,
were there properly under NCAA rules, as student-athlete hosts
of the prospects. But also at the meal were Dollar and teammate
Charles O'Bannon. Because the entire tab went on Harrick's
university credit card, Dollar and O'Bannon, who weren't hosts
for the recruits, received what the NCAA calls an improper extra
benefit. To conceal the impropriety, Harrick submitted the
names of two people who weren't at Monty's that night--his wife,
Sally, and LaShell Holton, wife of UCLA assistant Michael
Holton--on his expense report instead of Dollar's and O'Bannon's.

If all Harrick had done was falsify an expense report, he would
probably still be the Bruins' coach. But three times Dalis and
Donald Morrison, UCLA's NCAA faculty representative, queried
Harrick about the meal, and each time he lied about who had been
in attendance. According to sources at the university, during
the school's probe Harrick asked Holton to corroborate his
version of the dinner by telling Dalis that LaShell had indeed
been there that night. Holton did Harrick's bidding--once. But
after a fitful night's sleep, Holton, a former Bruins star and
NBA player who is about to begin his first season of coaching at
his alma mater, told Dalis the truth the following morning. When
Harrick stuck to his original story, his fate was sealed.
(Harrick did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this
article.)

Dalis and Young met with Harrick for 45 minutes in the coach's
office after practice on Nov. 5 and offered him a choice: He
could admit his error and resign by 10 the following morning and
be paid through the balance of the season, or be fired, with no
compensation, for violating the ethical-conduct clause in his
contract. Not much of a choice--but after consulting with his
attorney, Robert Tanenbaum, Harrick opted for the latter.

Why hadn't Harrick told his boss back in September about the
sale of the Blazer? "I was 100 percent sure it wasn't a
violation," Harrick told reporters, although it took gumshoes
from the Pac-10 more than a week to determine that the sale
indeed hadn't been against the rules. And why did he lie to his
boss about the dinner? Harrick says that he wanted to protect
Dollar and O'Bannon. (The players have made restitution for the
cost of the meal and are each performing 20 hours of community
service. Neither will miss any games.)

Harrick's colleagues in the fraternity of coaches and
ex-coaches, including Arizona's Lute Olson, Minnesota's Clem
Haskins and commentators Dick Vitale and Al McGuire, rallied to
his defense, registering variations on the theme "There must be
more to it." It says much about the standards of virtue among
coaches that so many of them regard what Harrick did--lying to
his boss and persuading his assistant to lie--as not
constituting grounds for dismissal.

After having gone through five other Wooden wannabes--Gene
Bartow (too sensitive), Gary Cunningham (too earnest), Larry
Brown (too insecure), Larry Farmer (too genial) and Walt Hazzard
(not genial enough)--UCLA finally seemed to have become
comfortable with Harrick, who came to Westwood in 1988. To be
sure, there were moments when Harrick seemed to go out of his
way to cause grief for himself and the school. Sources have said
that within days of his hiring he made an improper visit to the
Simi Valley home of his first must-have recruit, Don MacLean.
Harrick denied that charge, and a Pac-10 investigation cleared
him of any wrongdoing. In 1992, after regular-season victories
over Olson, Indiana's Bob Knight and Louisville's Denny Crum, he
complained publicly about not being in the same salary bracket
as those three, even though he had yet to win a Pac-10 title and
Knight's Hoosiers would later whup UCLA by 27 in the NCAAs that
spring. A year later, after Michigan eliminated the Bruins from
the tournament on a referee's interpretation of a shot-clock
call, Harrick launched into a postgame we-wuz-robbed rant, only
to have to later concede that the ref had been right. "I thought
I knew the rule," he would say, "and I was very, very close to
knowing the rule."

But for all his occasional oafishness, there was a Gary
Cooper-like humility to this transplanted West Virginian who had
done a decadelong apprenticeship in the high school coaching
ranks. He didn't require the spotlight in Los Angeles, a pro
sports town that wasn't going to afford it to him anyway. He was
the first to acknowledge that luck, in the form of UNLV's 1990
probation, gave him a second chance to recruit Ed O'Bannon, the
forward who essentially willed UCLA to its 1995 NCAA
championship. That crown was so profoundly appreciated that
Bruins fans forgave Harrick for what will now stand as his final
game on the UCLA bench, a stunning first-round NCAA tournament
upset loss last spring to Princeton. He lasted eight years,
twice as long as any of Wooden's other successors, and never
failed to reach the NCAAs.

It's unclear what Harrick's next step will be. After initial
indications that he would sue to recoup the $1.6 million he was
to be paid over the four years remaining on his contract, he
told the school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, "I'm not a 'sue'
guy." With Los Angeles Clippers coach Bill Fitch now 62 and
Clippers owner Donald Sterling a close friend, Harrick could
soon be working an NBA sideline.

The night of Harrick's firing, members of the team came by his
Wilshire Boulevard condominium to pay their respects and boost
his spirits. The evening began with good-natured reminiscing.
But while watching the conclusion of a video chronicling the
Bruins' title run, Harrick made a remark about how "I could get
used to this," and it dawned on everyone present that there
would be no more such moments. The evening turned teary.

The support of Harrick's players, who dedicated the forthcoming
season to him, might have been expected. Less expected was the
outpouring from another quarter. Over his UCLA career Harrick
had been roasted on the spits of dozens of talk-radio
transmitters. Yet during a Friday-morning turn on KABC's The
Michael Jackson Show, he won in the court of public opinion what
he may not even try to win in a court of law. As Harrick again
painted the UCLA decision as grossly unfair, so many listeners
called to register their support that the host said, "I don't
think this guy is going to get through the hour without breaking
up."

A crowd of more than 5,000 people at last Thursday's intrasquad
game made a similar statement by greeting Lavin's introduction
with silence. Lavin is a defensive specialist--the message on
his answering machine ends with the admonition, "Stay in your
stance!" After learning of his appointment, he spoke on the
phone with Wooden. Balance, both physical and emotional, is one
of Wooden's bedrock precepts, and the old coach's advice jibed
smartly with Lavin's defensive credo of equilibrium: Neither
look back at the loss of your boss, Wooden told him, nor forward
to that day when UCLA will decide whether or not to retain you.
"It's what the team deserves," says Lavin, who has been promised
his assistant's job back if he's not kept on as head coach.
"You're responsible for the kids in front of you."

But it will be impossible for Lavin not to throw an occasional
glance at the future. With Dollar and O'Bannon both seniors, and
McCoy, Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson all possibilities to bolt
early for the NBA, the Bruins are banking on the high school
class of 1997 to restock their roster. But last week's events
threw their recruiting plans into chaos. Davis, one of the Top
10 players in the country, now says he won't sign early with
UCLA and will probably continue to take campus visits elsewhere
before deciding where he wants to drive Harrick's old Blazer
next fall. Meanwhile the Collins twins are expected to sign with
Arizona or Stanford, while Watson, who had also orally committed
to UCLA, will join Davis in postponing his decision until April.

Right now, though, "the ship is off the dock," says Dollar, who
like his teammates talks confidently of a championship. "We've
set sail. Coach Harrick has given us all we need, and we're in
good hands to continue the journey. What better place for a
storybook ending than L.A?"

COLOR PHOTO: REED SAXON/APHarrick was sent packing, but Johnson & Co. showed they wouldn't soon forget him. [Jim Harrick]COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [See caption above--Kris Johnson with "COACH HARRICK" written on his collar]COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER After his appointment Lavin consulted Wooden at a practice. [Steve Lavin and John Wooden]