The scorching Texas sun is barely done climbing above the
sprawling plains and already Eddie Oran has two feet planted on
the blacktop. A straight-commission car salesman at Covert
Chevrolet in the town of Bastrop, a dot on the map 35 miles east
of Austin, Oran works under a Texas-sized American flag, trying
to move cars off the mammoth lot. "It can get so hot out here,"
he says, "that the tar starts to bubble and stick to the bottom
of your shoes."
In his last job Oran also spent long and languorous days on the
blacktop, putting to use his disarming charm and powers of
persuasion. Then, he was an assistant basketball coach at Texas,
responsible for recruiting high school standouts and selling them
on spending four years in Austin. He was such an accomplished
salesman, in fact, that in 1992, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED listed him as
one of the nation's 15 best recruiters. After 15 years at Texas
and seven at Ole Miss before that, Oran wasn't a star; but he was
well-liked and well-respected in the business. He worked
dutifully, earned around $100,000 a year and held out hope that
the right head coaching position might open up for him some day.
Today, Oran makes around $50,000 annually, and he works six days
a week to earn it. Too strapped for cash to buy a home closer to
his job, he commutes nearly an hour each way. His office walls
are unadorned save for a few pictures of his 10-year-old son.
There are no basketball photos, no Longhorns trinkets, no
indication that Oran was ever involved in college hoops, much
less that he is only one season removed from coaching in a
prominent program. But make no mistake about it: Oran pines for a
return to the pine. He got his start in coaching at age 22, when
he drove from Harriman, Tenn., to Bloomington, Ind., in 1973 to
work at Bobby Knight's camp for $150 a week. He figured he'd be
in the profession for life. "I wonder all the time how come I'm
not still on the bench," he says. "I could cry just thinking
Oran is among the legion of former college assistant coaches who
have been caught in one of the peculiar traps of the profession.
In today's fiercely Darwinian world of college basketball, the
forces of money and avarice and the industrial-strength pressure
to win have transformed many assistant coaches into fall guys.
The job description now goes far beyond diagramming plays on the
chalkboard and knowing whether the opposing team is in the
penalty. It also entails pouncing on grenades to spare the fate
of the program and, when necessary, offering up your career to
Assistants are expected to take bullets aimed at the head
coach--"It's called sacrificing for the program," says former
Louisville assistant Scooter McCray--and often feel no choice but
to do so. In the old-boy network of coaching, loyalty is what
greases the skids for job opportunities. But at the same time,
running interference for superiors by lying to NCAA investigators
is a sure way to commit career suicide. "Saying that assistants
are caught between a rock and a hard place doesn't begin to
describe it," says Mike Brown, a longtime assistant at Seton Hall
and West Virginia who, having wearied of big-time basketball's
pressure cooker, is now an assistant at Fordham. "It's a war out
there, and assistants are supposed to be the good soldiers."
For the winners the rewards have never been more alluring. Head
coaches are routinely paid hefty six-figure salaries, which can
easily burgeon to more than $1 million a year with shoe
contracts, camps, radio and television deals and other bonuses.
But for assistant coaches, the path to the promised land is
littered with mines. The same scenario has played out time and
again: In the wake of a scandal an esteemed head coach like
Purdue's Gene Keady is unimpeached while an assistant--in Keady's
case, Frank Kendrick--loses his post. Same goes for Auburn's Cliff
Ellis, who goes blissfully on despite having had to jettison two
assistants, Len Gordy at Clemson and Robbie Laing at Auburn,
during NCAA investigations of his programs. Louisville's Denny
Crum is thriving while former underlings McCray and Larry Gay got
canned. And Cincinnati's Bob Huggins is doing fine while
ex-assistant John Loyer suffers. "They talk about the coaching
fraternity," says Mark Coffman, who lost his job at Weber State
during an NCAA investigation while head coach Ron Abegglen stayed
on. "Well, it's gotten to the point where there's a fraternity of
fall guys, there are so many of us. Every story's different, but
in the end, every one's the same. We took the fall so the guy
above us didn't have to."
Consider Oran. A career assistant, he was already ensconced at
Texas when Tom Penders became head coach in 1988. Oran and
Penders weren't exceptionally close, but they shared a solid
working relationship for the better part of a decade, and the
going was good in Austin. The Longhorns consistently put together
20-win seasons and made the NCAA tournament seven times in the
'90s. The success, however, came to a grinding halt in 1997-98,
when the team staggered to a 14-17 record and was racked by
internal dissension. A faction of players met secretly with
athletic director DeLoss Dodds to complain about the coaching
staff, and some of them openly discussed transferring. "It was a
shambles," recalls Oran. "You just knew it was going to get
It did. On March 13, 1998, days after the team's season ended,
freshman guard Luke Axtell, a native of Austin, declared his
intention to transfer. In what Axtell's family believes was petty
retaliation, Penders suspended Axtell from the team four days
later and told the press it was for academic reasons--never mind
that the season was already over and that Axtell's grades did not
According to Dodds, Penders told him that in order to justify the
suspension to the public, he planned to send a copy of Axtell's
academic reports to local media outlets, a blatant violation of
Axtell's privacy rights. "I didn't try and dissuade Tom," says
Dodds. "I flat out told him not to do it." Penders vigorously
denies that such a conversation with Dodds took place.
On March 18, while Penders was vacationing on St. Martin in the
Caribbean, Axtell's academic progress reports were faxed to two
Austin radio stations and read over the air. That led the Axtells
to file a $50,000 lawsuit against Capstar Texas Limited
Partnership, the parent company of radio station KVET, which
aired the report. That, in turn, opened a window on the plight of
According to Oran, Penders, before going on vacation, had
instructed Oran to gather Axtell's records from an academic
counselor, Curt Fludd, and deliver the documents to Leslie Parks,
the secretary in the basketball office. In her deposition Parks
testified that Penders called her twice on March 18 to inquire
whether she had faxed the documents to KVET as he requested. Bill
Schoening, the sports director at KVET (and the radio voice of
Longhorns basketball), testified that he was on the phone with
Penders, in St. Martin, when the faxed academic reports crossed
his desk. Asked whether Penders was aware of the release,
Schoening responded, "There's no doubt."
Impossible, says Penders. As he did at the time, he recently
denied that he had anything to do with the controversy. He says
he never called Parks or Schoening from St. Martin and cites in
his defense that he was unable to make outgoing calls from his
hotel room in the Caribbean. When pressed, however, he later
admitted making calls to the States on his cellular phone.
Furthermore, records obtained by SI indicate that on the days in
question, Oran placed $144.63 worth of calls to St. Martin.
According to two school sources, university administrators urged
Dodds to fire Penders if there was sufficient evidence that he
was responsible for the fax. But the university's investigation
was stymied when Oran, well-schooled in the role of the assistant
coach, took a bullet for Penders. In a meeting with university
counsels Patricia Ohlendorf and W.O. Shultz on March 20, Oran
told them bluntly: "I did it. I'll take the blame. I could have
According to Oran, he went to Penders's house on March 22, where
Penders and his wife, Susie, tried to do some damage control by
helping him draft a statement saying that he was responsible for
the release of Axtell's records. The statement was faxed to media
outlets that night from a nearby Kinko's, and a day later Penders
called a press conference at his house and reiterated that Oran
was the man responsible for the leak and had acted without the
Oran says that his taking the fall for Penders was not rooted in
martyrdom but in a blind adherence to the assistants' unspoken
loyalty oath. "I just felt like if I could save Tom in some way,
I would be saved too," says Oran. "That's the code. On the other
hand, if I told the truth and said that Tom was behind it, if for
some reason they didn't fire Tom, would I have kept my job?
Probably not. Then, knowing that I didn't cover for Tom, would
anyone else in the business hire me?"
Two weeks after Oran took responsibility, Penders ended his
contentious relationship with Dodds and Texas by accepting a
buyout offer from the university worth $900,000, including
retirement funds and lost television and radio revenues. Shortly
thereafter, George Washington athletic director Jack Kvancz hired
Penders, a longtime friend, to coach the Colonials for a deal
reportedly worth $4 million over six years. When the new head
coach announced the staff he'd be bringing with him to George
Washington, there was a conspicuous omission. Penders hired his
26-year-old son, Tom Jr., as a bench coach. As his top assistant
he tapped Rob Wright, who had worked under Penders at Texas for
all of eight months. According to Oran, Penders told him that he
wasn't retained as an assistant because "it would have been a
step down [financially] for you." Penders, however, told SI last
month, "If Eddie Oran had been a loyal assistant, don't you think
he'd still be coaching for me?"
After publicly taking the blame for releasing a player's grades,
Oran wasn't considered a candidate to replace Penders, and when
Rick Barnes was named as the new coach, he arrived with his own
staff. Suddenly, Oran was not only out of a job, but his name was
also besmirched because of his starring role in the sordid and
still murky saga. Oran has applied for numerous jobs over the
past 18 months and has been told thanks, but no thanks. "There's
no question I've been blackballed," he says. "People's thinking
is, Who wants the aggravation of hiring a guy whose name came up
in a scandal?"
Penders has not been called to testify in the Axtells's suit, but
he insists it is nothing more than an effort to humiliate him
publicly. Though a conga line of witnesses has testified in
depositions that Penders orchestrated the release of the records,
he is sticking to his story. "If I had done anything illegal or
wrong, do you think they would have given me $900,000 [to leave
Texas]?" he says. "[The lawsuit] is trumped up and bogus."
Penders maintains that Oran was indeed the man responsible for
Gradegate and that when Oran realized the potential consequences
of his mistake, he called Penders in the Caribbean in a
panic--hence the phone records--and cried to the coach on the
phone. "When Eddie was admitting that he did it," says Penders,
"he was telling the truth."
As for the myriad witnesses who have testified that Penders was
pulling the strings, the coach has a simple explanation: "All the
people who have [testified] have one thing in common. They all
count on DeLoss Dodds for their living." Asked about his feelings
toward Oran, Penders is unencumbered by guilt. "Let's make one
point clear," he says. "Eddie Oran is selling cars because he
wants to sell cars."
Chris Nordquist found himself in a situation similar to Oran's
when he was a restricted earnings coach at New Mexico State in
1992, making $16,000 a year. His duties on the Aggies staff had
little to do with teaching zone traps or drop steps. Nordquist
claims that at the direction of coach Neil McCarthy and assistant
Gar Forman, his main job consisted of guiding potential transfers
through sham correspondence courses at the notorious Southeastern
College of the Assemblies of God (SCAG), in Lakeland, Fla. He
would also forge players' signatures on school paperwork, furnish
test answers and, when necessary, even do homework for the
Plenty of times, Nordquist says, he would show up at the
basketball office at five a.m. to do the players' course work.
"When Neil and Gar got to the office, they'd sort of wink and
say, 'How's it going?'" ("Chris knows that's not true," responds
McCarthy. "If I had known about any of this, it wouldn't have
Nordquist knew full well that his conduct could have dire
consequences. But when you're young and trying to break into
coaching, he says, the lines between right and wrong can be
tinged in gray. "Once I complained [to Forman about the
cheating], and he said, 'We have the names of 70 guys who would
take your job in a heartbeat.' When you're in that position,
there are a lot of psychological [pressures]. I feel like I had a
choice, yet I didn't have a choice.'" (For his part, Forman
denies Nordquist's account. "We have statements from every player
involved, and not a single one implicates Gar in the cheating,"
says Jim Darnell, Forman's lawyer.)
At first, anyway, Nordquist's work paid off for the program,
which came to be regarded as a transfer's best friend. New Mexico
State catapulted into the big time with a roster that included 34
junior college players within one six-year period. Despite little
basketball tradition to speak of, the Aggies won 122 games in
five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in
'92. But in the spring of '95 the NCAA opened an investigation
into New Mexico State's participation in the credit-manufacturing
scam at SCAG. Unaccompanied by a lawyer--"At $16,000 a year, I
couldn't afford one," he says--Nordquist went before the NCAA
Committee on Infractions and, as he puts it, "came clean." He
testified that at his superiors' behest he had forged signatures,
provided answers for exams and done course work for players.
"Basically I did some really screwed up stuff," he says. "But I
told them the truth: that I was following orders."
Nordquist expected to be sanctioned for his role, but he was
shocked when the NCAA revealed its findings in July 1996. New
Mexico State was hit with a three-year probation and Nordquist
received a five-year "show cause" penalty--one of the most severe
sanctions a college coach can incur--meaning that, effectively, no
program could hire him for five years without the NCAA's
approval. Forman got a three-year show-cause penalty for
violating the principles of institutional control. McCarthy, the
head coach, received a letter of reprimand but was otherwise
cleared. "My faith was totally shaken," says Nordquist. "It was
unbelievable that they would try and nail all of this on me."
Forman was similarly incredulous. Stating that the university was
"trying to build a Chinese wall between [McCarthy] and reality,"
his lawyer, Darnell, said that his client was being served up as
New Mexico State's scapegoat. Having moved on to an assistant's
job at Iowa State, where he was at first prohibited from
recruiting off-campus, Forman appealed the ruling. In July 1996
he was cleared when the NCAA agreed with his argument that
assistant coaches cannot be held responsible for exercising
institutional control. "Gar Forman walked away with a clean bill
of health," says Darnell. "His name was removed from the
McCarthy ended up having a bitter split with the university over
the academic performance of his players. Earlier this year he
settled a contract dispute with the school for $835,000. While he
is no longer in coaching, there was no finding from the NCAA that
prevents him from taking another job.
So, in essence, one of the biggest academic fraud scandals in
NCAA history was pinned on Nordquist, then a twentysomething
restricted-earnings lackey who ranked fourth on the team's
hierarchy of coaches. "It's just ludicrous to think I was acting
alone," says Nordquist. "I think when the other coaches went
before the committee, they testified that the entire scheme was
my idea. But you don't have to be familiar with the ins and outs
of college basketball to know that restricted-earnings coaches
just can't go over their superiors' heads like that. There's not
a head coach in the country who doesn't take a strong interest in
the status of his recruiting class and the players' eligibility."
Over and over, head coaches, a species notorious for their
tendency to micromanage, claim that they were oblivious to the
unethical conduct of rogue assistants. Granted, some assistants
can be so besotted with ambition, or so beset with pressure, that
they break the rules on their own. For example, in 1998 former
Alabama assistant Tyrone Beaman was found guilty by the NCAA of
having asked two boosters to send $5,000 to the high school coach
of recruit Antonio Falu, and all evidence from the investigation
indicated that he had indeed acted alone. Beaman received a
four-year show-cause penalty and is now out of basketball.
Invariably, though, when the NCAA investigates a program, the men
supposedly in charge beat a hasty retreat and plead ignorance.
Those on the inside say this lack of knowledge is simply not
plausible. "It's like the chain of command in the Army--everyone's
accountable to somebody," says Kenny (Eggman) Williamson, a
longtime assistant at Florida State who is now a scout for the
New York Knicks. "Unless you're a total renegade, someone else
knows what you're doing. There are too many checks and balances.
Then something happens, and, all of a sudden, nobody recalls
anything. The head coaches say they don't know, but, believe me,
they know. And if they don't, what kind of [institutional]
control do they have over their program?"
Take Denny Crum, Louisville's coach since 1971. Crum is
compensated as if he were the CEO of a multimillion-dollar
operation, which, one could argue, he is. His base salary of
$353,702 is laden with additional incentives, including
guarantees of $25,000 if his recruiting class is ranked in the
Top 25 in the country, $45,000 for reaching the Sweet 16, and
$25,000 if his players simply earn a 2.5 (a solid C) grade point
average. Crum also recently cashed a $1 million annuity that he
earned by completing a 10-year contract. Yet he hardly bears an
executive's burden of accountability. In the past five years the
university has racked up more than $500,000 in legal bills
defending Crum's program from NCAA investigations that twice
resulted in probation. Through all the turmoil the man running
the team has remained blissfully cocooned from the violations,
which included improperly furnishing a vehicle to former center
Samaki Walker and improper assistance to forward Nate Johnson's
father. Last February, when Louisville successfully appealed the
NCAA's "repeat violator" ruling that would have banned the
Cardinals from the postseason, Crum expressed indifference.
"Personally, I was never involved with the violations, nor was I
charged, so I don't feel vindication in that regard."
While Crum escaped unscathed, the hammer fell on three of his
assistants. The first casualty was Jerry Jones, who was
transferred to the school's university-relations division in June
1996 after admitting that he had given Walker an illegal benefit.
In January 1996, assistant coach Larry Gay resigned under
pressure after he committed violations ranging from the placement
of impermissible phone calls to recruits, to failing to report
the free use of a car he had gotten from a booster. After quietly
retreating from the public eye and, like Oran in Texas, selling
cars for three years, Gay returned to coaching last summer when
he accepted a $96,000 a year assistant's job at Nebraska.
Gay's former colleague McCray has not been so fortunate. After
using his own credit card to guarantee payment for a hotel room
being used by Nate Johnson's father for two months, McCray, a
10-year assistant and a member of Crum's 1980 NCAA championship
team, lost his job in June '98 and was transferred within the
athletic department. Last spring the school refused to renew his
contract, and he is currently working part-time for a real estate
company. "I'm going through a rough time," he says. "Basketball
means everything to me, and it kills me not to be in the game."
McCray betrays no bitterness toward Crum, who declined SI's
request to be interviewed for this story. "We're still on good
terms," McCray insists. Instead, he has directed his outrage
toward the NCAA, which he is now suing for "millions of dollars,"
according to the lawsuit, for publishing a "false and defamatory
report" that intentionally "placed him in a false light." Says
McCray, "I was born to coach, and the NCAA has taken that from
McCray is not alone in directing his ire toward the NCAA instead
of his head coach. Dwayne Casey, generally viewed as the
standard-bearer for scapegoat assistants, lost his position at
Kentucky in 1989 when he allegedly sent an overnight-express
envelope to recruit Chris Mills that was stuffed with $1,000 in
cash. While head coach Eddie Sutton immediately went on to
another lucrative job at Oklahoma State, Casey received a
five-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA and ended up coaching
in Japan. More than a decade later he remains friendly with
Sutton but is filled with resentment toward the NCAA. "The NCAA
isn't a court of law, but its decisions are just as binding,"
says Casey, now an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics.
"It can ruin careers with rumor and innuendo, and it isn't
Another criticism leveled at the NCAA is that it treats schools
more leniently when they offer up a sacrificial lamb--usually a
figure other than the head coach--before an investigation. Schools
have the drill down cold. When word of a possible violation
breaks, the school conducts its own investigation and then
transfers or fires an assistant coach. By the time the NCAA
arrives, the school has already punished the culprit fingered in
the internal investigation and asserts that the problem has been
corrected. "It's like dealing with organized crime," says
Fordham's Brown. "The NCAA can't get the guy at the top, and the
schools don't want to get rid of the guy at the top, so they try
to make an example out of the limo driver."
In March 1997, Cincinnati placed top assistant John Loyer on paid
leave after he had admitted to providing point guard Charles
Williams with improper academic assistance. Loyer had enrolled
Williams in a summer school course on the penultimate day of the
'96 term and arranged for Williams to receive one-on-one
instruction that would get him the credits he needed to become
academically eligible for the '96-97 season. (Naturally, head
coach Bob Huggins professed to know nothing about Williams's
During a meeting with university investigators in February 1997,
Loyer initially claimed that Williams had enrolled in the course
himself. The next day he told them that he had misspoken and
that, in fact, he had arranged everything. He spent 1 3/4 years
on leave, during which time the NCAA placed Cincinnati on
probation for two years for numerous violations. Loyer was found
to have breached the NCAA standards for ethical conduct in the
Williams matter and was banned from recruiting off-campus for a
year. He appealed, and when the committee met three months
later, it agreed to drop his penalty because of the amount of
time he'd already spent out of coaching.
Prepared to return to the Cincinnati bench, Loyer met with
Huggins and university president Joseph Steger on Nov. 16, 1998.
Loyer thought the meeting was a mere formality before his
reinstatement, but Steger grilled Loyer about his conduct.
According to Loyer, Huggins sat in stony silence during the
entire meeting. "I was a little disappointed that [Huggins]
didn't stand up and say, 'Hey, my guy didn't do anything wrong.'"
Several days later Loyer received a two-sentence letter from
Steger. It read: "I have determined that it is not in the best
interest of the men's basketball program for you to remain on the
coaching staff. Accordingly, I am terminating your contract
Loyer was devastated. "I never thought I'd work for a school
where you give years of your life, 24 hours a days, pretty much
365 days a year, and they're the ones out to get you," he says.
Why would Loyer be fired, even though he was cleared by the NCAA
to resume coaching? According to Loyer, the school had to exact a
pound of flesh to justify a $250,000 legal bill for the
investigation. "Steger had gone around town saying the basketball
department and John Loyer had done all these things wrong," he
says. "He had to fire someone to save face." Loyer also points
out that Huggins's hefty contract, a deal reportedly worth
$700,000 annually for 10 years, made the head coach an unlikely
candidate for firing. "They have to pick somebody who is valuable
enough to take the heat." (Cincinnati declined to respond to
After an involuntary hiatus from basketball for another year,
Loyer resurfaced last spring when he was named head coach at
Wabash Valley junior college in Mount Carmel, Ill. It's a long
way from being the second-in-command at Cincinnati--and his salary
of $32,200 represents a two-thirds pay cut--but he's grateful for
the reprieve. Nevertheless, he wonders why Huggins didn't lobby
more passionately to save his longtime apparatchik. "He said it
was out of his hands," shrugs Loyer. "I hope that was the case,
but how do you ever know?"
The NCAA denies that member schools offer up scapegoats in hopes
of reducing their penalties. "The NCAA infractions committee
looks at the evidence that it has and renders its decisions based
on the evidence," says NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro. But one
former NCAA official asserts that in his 20 years of serving the
organization he was exceedingly frustrated by how often head
basketball coaches escaped penalty. "There's no doubt in my mind
that every head coach at a top Division I program has committed a
major violation at one time or another," says Bob Minnix, an
associate athletic director at Florida State who was the NCAA
enforcement director from 1984 to '96. "But it's a lot easier to
get rid of an assistant coach--and even, sometimes, the university
president--than a head coach."
Many embattled assistants might have kept their jobs had they not
compounded relatively minor infractions by being less than
forthright with investigators. While he was enforcement director,
Minnix always told beleaguered coaches that when placed in a
bind, it was imperative that they tell the truth. "When you
commit an ethical violation, that's when your career really goes
into a tailspin," he says. "You have to be honest."
It's simple enough advice, but it provokes smirks from those on
the front lines. "It doesn't work like that," says Coffman, who
admits he "didn't tell the entire story" when he went before the
NCAA in the Weber State investigation. "If you tell the truth,
you're going to bring the whole house down."
Still, there are the occasional examples of virtue's prevailing.
Three years ago, then UCLA coach Jim Harrick tried to cover up a
violation by lying on his expense report about how many Bruins
players he had entertained at a $1,085 dinner. He then beseeched
assistant coach Michael Holton to corroborate his fictional
account. It was precisely the type of request that good soldiers
accommodate. Nevertheless, Holton was uneasy. Placed
involuntarily at the intersection of loyalty and lying, Holton
endured a sleepless night. The next morning he approached
athletic director Peter Dalis and told the truth about what had
When the dust settled, Dalis fired Harrick, as much for the
clumsy attempted cover-up as for the original crime. Holton
retained his job and remains a UCLA assistant. He still
communicates with Harrick, now the coach at Georgia, and doesn't
see himself as worthy of canonization. To hear him tell it, he
did nothing extraordinary. "Subordinates in any job, not just
coaching, are put in difficult positions," says Holton. "When
that happens, the issue isn't job security. The issue is personal
Effectively exiled from college basketball at age 30, Nordquist
returned home to Southern California four years ago to earn his
master's degree in education and coach the girls' team at Channel
Islands High in Oxnard. Before the season got under way, school
administrators learned of his involvement in the New Mexico State
scandal and stripped him of his coaching duties. Nordquist was
crushed but stayed on as a volunteer assistant on the boys' team
and eventually won the trust of the school administrators.
In April, he was offered the job of head coach of the boys' team
at his alma mater, Rio Mesa High, in Oxnard. The Spartans won
just three games last season and play their games in front of
only close friends and relatives. No matter. Nordquist loves it.
"It's so pure at this level," he says. "They're good kids, and I
don't have to worry about boosters or make sure they go to class.
I'm finally getting to some of the reasons I got into this
profession in the first place. I feel like I'm doing what I do
Halfway across the country Oran is still working the lot at
Covert Chevrolet. His mind is miles removed from the world of new
cars, as he wonders constantly if he'll get to coach again. As
the rejection letters mount and the calls to head coaches he
thought were friends go unreturned, he gropes for answers. In a
young man's line of work, how much is his age (48) working
against him? What about his involvement in a scandal that,
regardless of his level of culpability, still sullies his name?
How much is he hurt by his frayed relationship with Penders, a
backslapping pledge brother in the coaching fraternity? "Those,"
says Oran, "are questions I ask myself every day."
Oran was home watching television this fall when the phone rang.
Out of the blue Penders had called to check up on his one-time
acolyte. According to Oran, Penders asked him if he was selling
any cars. When Oran responded, "Not really," Penders said he'd do
what he could to help him get back into coaching. "I said
thanks," recalls Oran, "but if I'm the coach at Oklahoma and Tom
Penders calls to recommend this Oran fella, my first thought is,
If he's such a great guy, why didn't you keep him on your staff?"
This would have been the ideal opportunity for Oran to explain
how he feels that a dagger had been plunged into his back. But
Oran figured that giving his former boss an earful of sound and
fury would signify nothing. Instead, he ended the call cordially.
"If I'm serious about getting back in the business, no good can
come from getting on Tom's bad side," he says. "I guess a part of
me still thinks of him as the coach and me the assistant."
Asked what deeper truths he had gleaned from the entire
experience, a look of disappointment and an ironic smile wrestled
on Oran's face. "I've learned that there's not a lot of
commission to be made from selling Blazers," he says. Then his
smile vanishes as he adds, "And I've learned that when you're an
assistant in college basketball, you can't expect loyalty to be a
assistants were ousted.