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Secret Deal by Maxson Said Improper : Ethics: CSULB president denies concealing parts of basketball coach's contract while at UNLV.

November 17, 1994|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Nevada Ethics Commission has found that Robert C. Maxson, president of Cal State Long Beach, acted improperly in concealing a supplemental contract for a basketball coach when he was president of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the six-member commission found that Maxson wrongly concealed an arrangement to pay coach Rollie Massimino $375,000 a year in addition to his public salary of $511,000.

Maxson, who became the CSULB president five months ago after 10 years at UNLV, on Wednesday called the finding "the silliest thing I've ever heard." He denied that he had concealed parts of Massimino's contract from state authorities.

He added in a statement that the report was "politics, pure and simple" and a gambit to rid the university of the unpopular Massimino, whose team last year failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

There is no penalty associated with the Ethics Commission's opinion, and Maxson is not accused of having gained personally from any arrangement with Massimino.

During his tenure at UNLV, Maxson was swept up in the bitter controversy surrounding then-basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who was forced to resign after the NCAA placed the school on probation because of recruiting violations.

Tarkanian, a highly popular figure in Las Vegas who led the UNLV basketball team to a national championship in 1990, blamed Maxson for the storm of negative publicity surrounding the school's sports program.

Die-hard fans of Tarkanian, incensed at Maxson's efforts to oust the coach, organized as Citizens for the Removal of Robert Maxson.

The school recently hired Tim Grgurich, Tarkanian's assistant at UNLV for 12 years, to replace Massimino. Grgurich has said that, under his direction, Tarkanian will be a prominent presence in the UNLV basketball program.

After Tarkanian resigned in 1992, Massimino, a highly successful coach in his own right, was hired away from Villanova, where he had coached a national championship team in 1985. As an incentive to relocate to Nevada, he was offered money to perform public relations work for the school.

The supplementary contract--which was not publicized at Massimino's insistence, Maxson says--was to be paid for with private funds raised by school boosters. "In retrospect, I should never have agreed to confidentiality," Maxson said Wednesday.

The Ethics Commission said the arrangement was unethical in that it provided for "the payment to Mr. Massimino of private income . . . for the performance, at least in part, of duties that were already required of him as a public employee."

Maxson said that the arrangement had been studied and approved by the board of regents' own attorney and that it had been presented to the board chairman. He said the board had also been briefed on the contract.

"The ethics issue was used to run Coach Massimino off and to return the old regime to power," Maxson said.

But the commission contended that Maxson and university legal counsel Bradley Booke were "responsible for misinforming" the board chairman that the contract was legal.

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