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CONTROVERSY IS BREWING AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE : Book Puts Jim Valvano Under Siege

January 29, 1989|DANNY ROBBINS | Newsday

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina State University student stopped by the office of basketball coach Jim Valvano last week and gave Valvano a copy of Bear Bryant's 1974 autobiography "Bear, the Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama's Coach Bryant."

The student suggested that Valvano read the part dealing with Bryant's legal battle with The Saturday Evening Post, which Bryant sued for $10.5 million in 1963 after the magazine published a story claiming that Bryant and Wally Butts, Georgia athletic director at the time, had fixed the 1962 Alabama-Georgia football game.

"And the kid had turned down the pages that talked about what happened then," said Valvano, picking up the paperback on his desk the other day. "Bear Bryant says here -- chapter 23, page 223 -- 'How much is a year of a man's life worth? I don't know, but The Saturday Evening Post took 10 years off my life.' Well, I went to Rutgers, and the motto of Rutgers is 'Forever changing, yet eternally the same.' This (the Bryant lawsuit) was -- what? -- 1961, '62, 26 or so years ago. Interesting."

These are hard times in the good life of Jim Valvano. The Wolfpack's stunning climb to the 1983 national championship made Valvano a figure of national prominence, pushing his annual income into the high six figures and giving him enough clout to become North Carolina State's athletic director as well as basketball coach in 1986.

But his empire is under siege, and has been ever since news trickled out that Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books division soon would publish a book charging widespread impropriety in Valvano's program.

The book carries the title "Personal Fouls," and it is the work of Peter Golenbock, a free-lance writer whose previous work has been confined mainly to books about New York baseball. Golenbock's collaboration with Sparky Lyle resulted in "The Bronx Zoo," Lyle's best-selling account of the Yankees' 1978 championship season.

A Simon & Schuster sales representative began offering "Personal Fouls" to North Carolina bookstores three weeks ago, using copies of a proof of the book's cover to generate interest.

The proof indicates that the book focuses on the 1986-87 season and describes corruption in the North Carolina State program: grades fixed by faculty members; money raised by the school's booster organization, the Wolfpack Club, passed on to players by Valvano; positive results of drug tests "kept secret" so players would not be suspended. North Carolina State players suspected that one player, according to the proof, "deliberately lost them an NCAA Tournament game because winning would have meant tough NCAA drug testing and the end of a potential NBA career."

Mimi Riggs, trade book buyer for the North Carolina State bookstore, says she was told by the Simon & Schuster sales representative, Jeffrey Pepper, that the book was due out the second week in February but that it was still under review by the publisher's lawyers.

Riggs declined to place an order for the book. "If it's that negative about the university, I think we want to be sure it's true," she said. Other bookstores in the state, however, reportedly have placed orders in the hundreds.

Valvano said he learned from a friend last summer that somebody, possibly a former team manager, was working on a book about him. Valvano said he didn't give the matter a second thought. "I couldn't imagine anyone writing a book without actually talking to me," he said. "I've never thought of myself in the category of the unauthorized biography concept."

But he's seeing things differently these days. "What's transpired is very disturbing," he said. "It's very discouraging. It's very hurtful."

Little has surfaced to flesh out the advance information since the Raleigh News and Observer first reported on it Jan. 7. Valvano, who was not interviewed for the book, vehemently denies the allegations. Also, it has been learned that a major source for Golenbock was John Simonds Jr., a former North Carolina State student manager, whom Valvano dismissed from the program after the 1986-87 season for what Valvano termed "a certain disloyalty factor."

Valvano believed Simonds influenced sophomore Walker Lambiotte's decision to transfer to Northwestern. Shortly after his dismissal, Simonds apparently began peddling information.

Atlanta Journal and Constitution columnist Dave Kindred wrote in a Jan. 13 column that he was approached by Simonds in November 1987 and asked to write a book about problems in Valvano's program. In his column, Kindred wrote that he dismissed the idea when Simonds told him that players would cooperate only if they were paid and that Simonds himself needed "a couple thousand for a car."

In an interview with NBC aired at halftime of last Saturday's game between North Carolina State and North Carolina, Simonds, now a student at Florida State, called himself "only one voice" among sources that include players and faculty members, but he did not elaborate on the charges.

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