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MIRROR IMAGE? : Hazzard Struggles to Build Program of Wooden Blocks

March 22, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

At UCLA, in its shrine of college basketball called Pauley Pavilion, there is an enduring image of a basketball coach.

He should sit on the bench with one leg crossed over the other and look like a mild-mannered schoolteacher.

He should speak softly and carry a rolled up program. He should be like John Wooden.

"I am not John Wooden," said Walt Hazzard, who is UCLA's basketball coach nevertheless. And when he returns next fall for the fourth and final year of his current contract, Hazzard will reach a milestone in the post-Wooden era at Westwood.

Since Wooden retired in 1975, none of his successors has lasted as long as Hazzard will have. Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham and Larry Brown coached at UCLA for two years each, and Larry Farmer spent three seasons there.

There will be an important meeting on campus Thursday when negotiations begin to renegotiate and extend Hazzard's contact beyond next season, negotiations that are already becoming controversial.

Hazzard, who wants to continue coaching at UCLA in his own manner, said he also wants to project his own image.

"I am not a criminal," Hazzard said. "I think I have an understanding of the game and our team was 25-7. Now, the dust has settled."

But some more dust may just be getting kicked up. Hazzard's image and that of his team have drawn increasing criticism and may very well become part of the discussion about a new contract.

Do all these images connect? There is the image of UCLA players such as Greg Foster and Dave Immel scowling when they come out of the lineup. There is the image of Reggie Miller putting his sneaker in his mouth every other time he says something.

There is the image of UCLA players getting into fights on the court. There is the image of an NCAA inquiry. And there is the image of Hazzard, one that took quite a beating this year.

"Obviously there have been some image problems," Athletic Director Pete Dalis said. "These are the kinds of things we are working with Walt on. But I don't think it serves anyone's interest to discuss personality behavior in the newspapers."

Hazzard's coaching record was probably underrated this season. But he was chosen the Pacific-10 Coach of the Year for taking a UCLA team that was picked to finish fourth to the conference championship, a Pac-10 tournament victory and UCLA's first NCAA tournament appearance in four years.

Along the way, though, Hazzard ran into problems:

--The NCAA and Pac-10 are investigating UCLA's recruitment of prep star Sean Higgins.

--The Bruins got into three fights in a five-game span. Hazzard had roles in two of them, stepping in front of game officials and pushing a Louisville player and a California player out of the way to break up fights.

--Then after UCLA was eliminated by Wyoming in a second-round game, Hazzard kicked a ladder and broke a mirror near the UCLA locker room.

What else was broken? Did Hazzard also shatter, once and for all, his chances for a better public image?

"I was just very upset," he said. "You have to learn to live with these things. I was just disappointed. I did withdraw a little bit, but there were a million things happening, all kinds of allegations flying in the air over the Sean Higgins deal.

"I'm learning," he said. "I've learned some already."

But now that it's all over, have you mellowed?

"I am not mellow," Hazzard said.

Wooden, to whom all UCLA coaches will forever be compared, did not want to discuss at length Hazzard or his image. Wooden did say, however, that he is opposed to the type of contract negotiations that Hazzard intends to conduct.

"I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't tell you," Wooden said. "I'm very much against doing anything until a contract is fulfilled. When people want to renegotiate their contracts, I'm very much against it."

Attorney Jerry Roth, who represents Hazzard, said he would like to see a long-term agreement with UCLA.

"I would think that three years would be appropriate," Roth said.

Dalis would not comment on whether three years would be appropriate or not.

Hazzard's original three-year deal was extended for one year after his first season at UCLA. According to the UCLA athletic department budget, Hazzard's base salary is $50,000, plus $13,500 in appearance fees.

The only other income Hazzard makes from his association with UCLA is through his contract with Reebok, which provides sneakers for the Bruin players.

"I think it's in everyone's best interest to extend his contract," Roth said.

Although UCLA was cleared of any wrongdoing when Higgins was released from his letter of intent, the NCAA infractions committee could still come down on the school next month if it were found in violation of accepted recruiting practices. Both Roth and Hazzard said they are not pushing for a contract extension in advance of any action by the infractions committee.

"I don't think we're going to hear from the NCAA anyway," Hazzard said. "I'm confident they won't find anything."

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