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Outside the Lines: When coaches leave players behind.

Outside the Lines: Should NCAA Players and Recruits be Restricted by Transfer Rules While Their Coaches Walk Away From Contracts to Pursue Their Ambitions?

Announcer: July 9, 2000.


Roy Williams, Head basketball coach, Kansas Jayhawks: I'm staying.


Mark Schwarz, Guest Host: Three days ago, Kansas Coach Roy Williams' decision to turn down the North Carolina job, to snub his alma mater, was as unexpected as it was unconventional.


Williams: I made the decision based on the most important thing, my players. I could not leave them.


Schwarz: And while Williams chose his dream over his dream, Bill Self , Perry Clark , Leonard Hamilton, and Lon Kruger recently opted to leave their players behind.


Brett Melton, Signed letter-of-intent to play at Univ. of Illinois: I wake up some mornings being upset. I didn't know who my coach was. I felt almost abandoned.


Schwarz: But just as schools fire those who fail, coaches who succeed have every reason to try to capitalize upon their success.


Gene Smith, Athletic Director, Iowa State University: I don't think coaches say, "I promise you I'm going to be here for these four years." I think that the thing that I try to do is make sure they understand that my intention is to be here.


Schwarz: Should players and recruits be restricted by NCAA transfer rules while their coaches walk away from contracts to pursue their ambitions? Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES.

Announcer: OUTSIDE THE LINES is presented by 1-800-CALLATT.

Joining us from ESPN studios and sitting in for Bob Ley, Mark Schwarz.

Schwarz: During the last five years alone, there have been a dizzying 256 coaching changes in Division I basketball. As a result, the list of players whose college careers have been disrupted numbers in the thousands. And while Roy Williams' decision maintained the continuity of Kansas, each time a coach swaps programs, it sets off an inevitable chain reaction in which movement begets movement and ultimately instability.

What accountability do coaches have to the players they recruit? Coaches straddle a delicate tightrope between loyalty and ambition. And too often, it's their players who are the ones without the safety net.

Kelly Neal has our report.


Kelly Neal, ESPN Correspondent (voice-over): For Brett Melton, it was a dream come true. The Illinois native signed a letter of intent with the University of Illinois after being recruited by head coach Lon Kruger.

Melton: He was just talking about how he was going to really like working with me for the next four years. And one morning, somebody called and asked me what I thought about him leaving. And I didn't really know about it. So I was kind of shocked.

I was really confused. I mean, I didn't know whether to be mad or upset.

Neal: Kruger is now the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. But most college coaches, like Kruger's replacement Bill Self, leave for other college jobs.

High school players who sign letters of intent hope that the coach who recruited them will be the same one coaching them when they arrive on campus. Of the 318 Division One basketball schools, 43 have changed coaches since January.

Gary Williams, Head Basketball Coach, University of Maryland: A lot of times a recruit will ask you if you're going to stay for four years that he'll be at the school. So when you change your mind and leave the position, it's very difficult on the players.

Neal: Before coming to Maryland, Gary Williams had been the coach at three other Division One programs.

Williams: There's probably some players at the places I left that weren't real happy that I left. But it's one of those things. It's part of the job. You might not be proud of that particular thing. But at the same time, I've felt wherever I've been, wherever I've coached, I've given everything I have.

Neal: Six years ago, Kelvin Sampson left Washington State for Oklahoma.

Kelvin Sampson, Head Basketball Coach, Oklahoma University: The coaches that are in it for the right reasons always think about the kids. And it's not callous. It's not something that's easy to do. But at some point, you have to look at yourself and look at what's best for you and your family and say, "Is this something I want to do?"

Neal: Rashid Dunbar signed his letter of intent with Miami. The incoming college freshman says he is disillusioned now that the coach who recruited him, Leonard Hamilton, left to coach the Washington Wizards.

(on camera): Instead of being excited about your freshman year, are you a little scared now?

Rashid Dunbar, Signed letter of intent to play basketball at University of Miami: Yeah. Yeah. A little scared. A little scared and a little excited. I'm scared because I don't know the coach. I don't know nothing about him. He don't know anything about me.

Neal (voice-over): Dunbar's new coach at Miami was named on Thursday, Perry Clark from Tulane. Now Dunbar wishes he had signed elsewhere.

Dunbar: It leaves me stranded. You know, I had somebody that I went to Miami to go play for, and he's not there anymore. So now it's like I'm there by myself.

Neal: Although schools do offer a scholarship athlete a free education, for the most part, students pick their college based on their relationship with its coaching staff.

Scoonie Penn, Ohio State basketball player: Kids they go to school for a certain reason. To go to school, yes. To play basketball, yes. And you have this type of bond and relationship with your coach. And this person leaves for ever what reason, it kind of leaves you out there not knowing what to do.

Neal: So what are the options for players who suddenly find themselves with a new head coach? When Scoonie Penn's head coach at Boston College, Jim O'Brien, left for Ohio State after Penn's sophomore year, he transferred to follow his coach and sat out a season.

A player can apply to the NCAA for a transfer and sit out a year. But if a player is an incoming freshman or hasn't yet completed his freshman year, there is the possibility of transferring without sitting out.

(on camera): That's made possible by the National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee. It receives about 45 letters a year from incoming basketball recruits and college freshmen to be released from their letter of intent or scholarship. About 80 percent of the time, the committee helps the university and student mutually agree to dissolve the scholarship contract without a penalty.

But in the rest of the cases, when the school contests the athlete's appeal, the committee will let the athlete out of their commitment about half the time. That means four or five players a year get to transfer and play right away.

Would you consider transferring from Miami and appeal to the National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee?

Dunbar: Yeah. First I've got to see if I can get along with the coach or anything like that. But if not, if I can't, then yes I'm going to leave.

Neal: Are you going to look into that?

Dunbar: Yes.

Neal: How long are you going to give Perry Clark?

Dunbar: It's kind of hard to say right now. But I'm going to give him some time.

Neal: A month or a couple of weeks?

Dunbar: Oh, I'll give him like a month or something, yeah.

Neal (voice-over): But one member of the NCAA's 34 member management council thinks a student athlete should accept that life is full of unexpected changes and should look upon having a new coach as an opportunity for growth.

Smith: The reality is this. Once people get into a particular profession, certain things happen in their lives. They're going to move on. They're going to leave.

We need to take that experience that they're going through, use it as a teachable moment, help them understand that life itself will have situations. All the way through their life they'll have that type of situation occur. So it's important that you take it and you use it as a teachable moment.

Neal: Whether an athlete decides to stay at the school or transfer, most do understand why their coach leaves.

Melton: I told him I was upset that he left. But I understand that it was a great opportunity for him. And that's what he's wanted to do his whole life.

Dunbar: It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to take this job. And he said that he's going to do it because he has to feed his family and things like that. And at the time, I was kind of upset. But then I had to look into it like if that was myself, I'd do the same thing.

Neal: All players, though, hate to see their once-in-a-lifetime college experience affected because their coach bettered his lot somewhere else. And while Dunbar says he will transfer from Miami if he doesn't like Clark, Tulane forward Trello Galloway says Clark was one of the main reasons he went to Tulane. He says no matter who the school hires as a head coach, he's 99 percent sure he's going to transfer, and he doesn't care if he has to sit out the year.

Trello Galloway, Forward, Tulane University: I feel like I just want it bad enough. And a year won't hurt. I don't want to go back to Tulane. I'm going to have to go somewhere and sit out a year. I mean, it's almost just like the process of taking scores.

Neal: Galloway would like to follow Clark to Miami. But even if he doesn't, he says this whole process has taught him a hard lesson.

Galloway: When coaches left, I guess I'll ask if they're going to be there for three years and see what's what. But if not, then I don't think I want to make that my decision or my decision based on if the coach is going to be there or not, because this time I'm going to go to school because I want to go to school and play basketball and get my academics together, not because of a coach.


Schwarz: OUTSIDE THE LINES attempted to contact the four coaches who recently changed jobs. Neither Perry Clark nor Lon Kruger returned calls. Leonard Hamilton declined to participate in this program, as did Bill Self, Kruger's spokesman.

When we continue, we will explore the ramifications when coaches change jobs and leave players behind with a coach who has elevated an obscure program to the ranks of the elite after exiting as head coach from two Midwestern schools, and a former player who knows firsthand that you cannot always believe a coach when he tells you he'll be around for the long haul.


Schwarz: Our topic, commitment in college basketball, a coach's commitment to honor his contract, and the player's commitment to honor a national letter of intent.

Joining us from Portland, Oregon, where he's recruiting a man who's name is mentioned the instant any major college or NBA job becomes available, the man who took Utah to the final four two years ago, Rick Majerus. And from Charlotte, North Carolina, a lawyer and ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas, also a four-year starter at Duke.

Rick, you left Marquette. You left Ball State. When you left, what did you say to your players that came to those schools to play for you?

Rick Majerus, Head basketball coach, University of Utah: Well, when I left Marquette, I thought that I may want to go to the NBA. And that was an unbelievable opportunity to work with I think the best NBA Coach Don Nelson. I stayed in the same city.

And I told the players, "Look, I don't know if I'd like the NBA, but I'll never know if I don't go." And I thought that it would be a career change. I was a little bit frustrated with recruiting and some things on the college scene.

So I try to tell the players that life is about seizing opportunities and moments. And if you never make changes, you're always living in that would-have-could-have-should-have world.

You know, I hadn't at the time anticipated the NBA. I thought, well, this would be a nice move. And maybe I'm an NBA coach. And then when I got to the NBA, I realized that I liked collegiate ball better.

Leaving the Ball State situation, it was a case of we were what they call a mid-major school. And Utah was a major school. And I thought that it would be a real challenge. And I thought that we could play out at Utah for things that we weren't able to play for at Ball State. And that was the reason that that move was made.

And I sat down with all the players. Now I've been at Utah 11 years. And I haven't made a move subsequent to that, although I have been offered on many occasions opportunities to do that.

But sometimes it's not unlike your profession where people make moves because of not so much of a money factor. If money entered into it, I'd be a professional coach right now. But an opportunity to coach at a different level, you can only take a program like Tulsa so far.

Tulsa will always be, for example, a stepping stone program. No less than four or five very good coaches have applied their trade there, done a good job, because it has a ceiling to it. And I feel that that was much the case at Ball State.

Schwarz: But Jay, let's go to you. Take a look at some of the long-term contracts that have been signed recently. Leonard Hamilton walked away from a seven-year contract that he had signed 10 weeks before with Miami and left for the NBA. Bill Self signed to Tulsa through 2006 leaves for Illinois. Lon Kruger, four years left, goes pro. Perry Clark, five years remaining, gone.

If you're a recruit, don't you expect a coach with those contracts to stick around for a while?

Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst: Well, you do, Mark. And you expect that what they tell you will be accurate and they'll stand behind it.

But the reason those coaches have those long-term contracts, one, it's for security. They know that they may move, but they want the long-term contract in case they don't get a better job and they can't move along.

But the second reason they have it, and why coaches often have those rollover contracts, is for recruiting. Coaches like to have contracts that are four or five years long so they can walk into a recruit's home and at least have the inference that they're going to be there for those whole four years.

And you're talking about guys who are dealing with 17- and 18-year-old kids and oftentimes their parents who have never been through this process before. And although they should know that there is an opportunity for these coaches to move along, they oftentimes will believe because it's important to them what those coaches say.

And the players have no freedom of movement. While a coach may go to a stepping stone program and they can move along to a better job like Rick did from Ball State to Utah, if a kid has to go to Ball State because maybe his skills coming out of high school don't dictate that he's able to go any higher, if his skills may improve in his freshman or sophomore year, there's no way he can use that as a stepping stone to a better college or university without paying the price of having to sit out at least year, sometimes two if he transfers within a conference if he's at a bigger school.

Schwarz: And we'll discuss that a little bit...

Majerus: Let me say this if I...

Schwarz: ... Go ahead, Rick.

Majerus: ... If I could, there's two sides of this. When I was hired at Utah, I was hired by a wonderful president, Chase Peterson. And I asked him how long he would be there, and he said, "I plan to stay in this capacity for at least 10 to 15 years." I have been at Utah 11 years, and I'm on my fifth or sixth president now.

And also, athletic directors change. For example, my athletic director was involved in the Arizona State job about two or three months ago.

So a lot of times, all of those variables change in life. And sometimes when the president changes or the athletic director changes, the philosophy of the program changes relative to admissions, conference, commitment by that university to its athletic program. Any myriad of reasons have to be addressed there.

So a lot of times just with anything in life, there are situations on both sides. And why coaches have long-term contracts is the other side of that coin.

How many coaches like Don Danaher, the great Dayton coach that got fired unjustly, how about spending 25 years at your university, graduating fully 95 percent of your players, and appearing in 18 post-season tournaments. And then in a year in which his son dies, he's fired after 25 years at the university.

So there's - like every issue in life, there's both sides of that coin that have to be examined.

Schwarz: Jay, given the fact that coaches move so much, aren't kids naive to go to a college simply because of a basketball coach?

Bilas: Well, they may be naive. But again, we're dealing with kids. And they want to believe what they're told. And they make a commitment to the coach.

And when you look face to face with that coach and the coach says that, "I'm making a commitment to you by bringing you into this university and playing for me, and I'm going to take care of you, I value you, I value your skills, and this is how we're going to use you here at this particular school," that means something to you.

And I had a situation when I was coming out of high school in 1981, I was consensus top 40 recruit. And I came down to my final choices of Duke, Iowa, and Syracuse. And one of the primary factors for me was a coach. I had played for three coaches in four years in high school. And I expected and wanted stability.

And when I was on my official visit to Iowa, Lute Olson was the coach and a guy that I just absolutely loved and would have loved to have played for. And Coach Olson showed me the blueprint for the for the Carver Hawkeye Arena at Iowa that was being built, and he also told me that he had a 10-year contract and that he would be there my whole four years.

Now I ultimately wound up going to Duke. But what would have been my freshman year if I had gone to Iowa, Lute Olson left that program and went to the University of Arizona. Now I would have had to either stay at Iowa and take my chances with a coach that perhaps wouldn't have valued me, may have played me at a different position, and maybe I wouldn't have liked.

And then I would have been faced of the decision of do I stay here under this new regime, or do I leave, have to sit out a year, and be unsure of whether it will work out at the next place because you don't have the kind of time or the options when you're a transfer player.

Schwarz: Jay, obviously you made the correct decision as it's turned out.

When we continue, what's fair to the student athlete? Should they too be able to just up and leave? Some solutions to this problem are next on OUTSIDE THE LINES.


Schwarz: We continue with our discussion of commitment in college basketball with our guests Jay Bilas, ESPN basketball analyst who played in the national championship game in 1986, and Rick Majerus, the University of Utah coach who has been named national coach of the year by several publications and has never had a losing season.

Is there a solution to the dilemma facing players whose coach exits before they've stepped foot on campus? Here's what Oklahoma Head Coach Kelvin Sampson proposes.


Sampson: I think that that kid should be bound to that letter of intent until after the next coach is hired and make sure that that new staff has every opportunity to get to know the kid, to get to know his parents, and continue to sell him on the positives and the advantages of going to that particular school.

Now after a comfortable amount of time, maybe a month or so, and the kid still chooses that I don't want to be here, I don't think anybody wants someone if they don't want to be there.


Schwarz: Jay, as a student athlete, you served on the NCAA's long-range planning committee where you argued this very point about a recruit's right to leave if his coach does. What was your proposal then? And what do you think of Sampson's suggestion?

Bilas: Well, I like his suggestion. My proposal at the time back in the mid-'80s was for a student athlete to be able to leave if his coach leaves before he's matriculated to the school. I thought that was the most reasonable solution and the one most likely to be adopted.

And it was shot down out of hand. The NCAA, basically their position was that if you agree to go to a school and sign a letter of intent, what you do is agree to a marriage with the school. And the coach is not a major part of that equation.

So if the coach leaves, you're still with that school. I thought that that was not unreasonable, but I thought a little naive with the practical realities of the way things work.

I mean, the most fair thing to do if a coach leaves, let the players go ahead and seek out a better place for them. But the players are looked upon as important assets of these universities. And if player movement is allowed in that way if a coach leaves, then a school is going to have no players when that new coach comes in. So that would put them in an untenable position from a competitive balance standpoint.

Schwarz: Rick, how do you feel about this issue?

Majerus: Well, the coach is the most important aspect in the two most important collegiate endeavors. One is the academic direction your education takes. And two is the style of play and how you fit in and how your career will develop in that season.

So I can see players wanting to transfer. Therefore, I propose three things.

Number one is anyone who hasn't signed any incoming freshman be allowed to transfer immediately with no kind of recrimination at all. Number two is I would like to see a first-year player be able to transfer by sitting out only one semester. And beyond that, everyone has to sit out a year.

And I think that would be fair and equitable to everyone involved. The coaches - players do come in a large part for the coach because he sets the style of play, where you play, how the game will be played, what direction your athletic career will take. And each coach sees players in a different vein and context. And each coach plays a different way.

Some teams that play over 94 feet and have players like that, those players are not good if a new coach comes in and he's a power guy and a half-court set, and for example, you are a trapping, pressing guard.

Schwarz: Gentlemen, I thank you both for your suggestions. That is all the time we have this morning. I want to thank you both for getting up with us.

Rick Majerus, whose Utes haven't lost a home game since '96, and a Jay Bilas, a man who played out a position at Duke who has finally found his niche at ESPN.

We'll look at viewer mail when OUTSIDE THE LINES continues.


Schwarz: Last Sunday, we examined the issue of how young is too young, focusing on the story of 17-year-old professional soccer player Bobby Convey. Our guest was Donna de Varona who was an Olympian at the age of 13. And these were some of your thoughts from our e-mail inbox.

From Raleigh, North Carolina: "It is interesting to me that some of us have a problem with 18-year-olds playing professional basketball when we don't have problems with 5-year-old actors or actresses. We don't have a problem with prodigies in music, science, art or math. But if an 18-year-old basketball prodigy wants to make himself millions of dollars through his talent, he is cutting corners."

A viewer from Georgia writes: "I'm a rising high school junior that plays baseball. I hope to be drafted out of high school. If I am drafted, I'll go on and sign. I think it's all right for a high school kid to sign if they go back and get their education. I don't think kids that are still in high school should be playing pro sports. I guess anyone who hasn't graduated from high school is too young."

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I'm Mark Schwarz. We'll see you next Sunday 10:30 Eastern OUTSIDE THE LINES.

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 Guest host Mark Schwarz analyzes the NCAA basketball coaching carousel.
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