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THE FIRING LINE: HARRICK OUSTED AT UCLA | NATIONAL
REACTION

Fraternity of Coaches Is Stunned

College basketball: Haskins, Tarkanian say there must be more to firing than meets the eye.

November 07, 1996|LISA DILLMAN and STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The rule violation that led to the end of Jim Harrick's UCLA coaching career had Dick Vitale scratching his bald head on Wednesday night.

"I do not know that rule," the ESPN college basketball analyst said. "And I'll bet you a lot of coaches don't know that rule. If that's the biggest violation at UCLA, you should put them up for sainthood."

Similar thoughts were articulated by several of Harrick's longtime coaching rivals. There was no mistaking the incredulous tone in Clem Haskins' rising voice, even over the phone line from Minnesota.

"One meal. One violation. If that's it, it doesn't mean you get fired for that," said Haskins, who has been the Gophers' coach since 1986. "There's got to be more. It's not something for a person to resign over. You don't know till you read all the fine print."

Besides having too many of his players at a dinner for recruits, Harrick also got in trouble for lying about it to UCLA officials. Those contacted did not condone Harrick's lack of honesty, but pointed out that it was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless career.

The college basketball fraternity, a tight-knit network of coaches and longtime television announcers, was stunned by the blockbuster move, and expressed sadness for the coach and his family.

For some, the punishment did not seem to fit the violation.

"If he [Harrick] is only guilty of a minor violation, why did they have to open up Devil's Island for him? They could have opened up Alcatraz," said television commentator and former coach Al McGuire. "It's closer. Obviously, I feel a brotherhood with the coaches. Chancellors and athletic directors don't know what coaches go through."

Fresno State Coach Jerry Tarkanian's comments last month during a controversy over a car owned by Harrick being sold to the sister of recruit Baron Davis had angered Harrick. Tarkanian said the NCAA would "get so upset at UCLA, they'll put Northridge on two years' probation."

But Wednesday, he sounded much different.

"I really feel bad for Jim," said Tarkanian, who has been through many investigations. "I don't want to see that happen to anybody, especially the way it happened. He's got a family. It affects a lot of people. I hate to see that happen to anybody. It's more than just Jim Harrick. Everybody in his family suffers.

"I could see if it was the truck incident. But something like this is sad, unless there is more there than meets the eye."

Arizona's Lute Olson, who heard the news late Tuesday night, issued a statement.

"We, like everyone else, are shocked by the news of the firing," Olson said. "Bobbi Olson and I would consider ourselves among Jim and Sally Harrick's friends and our concern at this point is for the Harrick family, knowing that second chances in this profession are difficult to come by."

As for the short-term effect on UCLA's program, Olson said: "Steve Lavin is an outstanding young coach and I'm sure he will carry on with the offensive and defensive schemes already established for this year's UCLA team."

UC Irvine's Rod Baker, who is starting his sixth season, remembered a phone call from Harrick he received after he first moved to Southern California.

"He wanted to welcome me and said that if there was anything I needed to let him know," Baker said.

"It really bothers me because college basketball doesn't need a hit like this right now. No one has looked at the violation and the punishment. When you look at that, there's no equality between the two."

Even before the firing, Harrick's defenders asserted that the coach never quite received his due for winning a national title as well as eight consecutive seasons of 20-plus victories at UCLA. Some wondered why the matter wasn't handled within the athletic department.

Said McGuire: "The chancellor is so high up, he doesn't have the pulse of what's going on. They have a rule book in the NCAA that is thicker than the IRS handbook."

*

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this story.

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