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Harrick's Bizarre Behavior

College basketball: A day after accepting job at Georgia, he decides to return to Rhode Island--then changes mind again.

April 02, 1999|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Jim Harrick, the decision to leave Rhode Island to accept the job as Georgia's basketball coach was a "no-brainer."

Or so he said Wednesday.

But on Thursday the former UCLA coach apparently experienced a momentary brain-freeze.

In the morning, he called Georgia President Michael F. Adams, a close friend, and told him that he'd had a change of heart and was returning to Rhode Island.

But by nightfall, Harrick had changed his mind again and decided to take the job at Georgia.

This was after he had arranged to meet with his Rhode Island players at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to tell them that he was returning, and had scheduled a news conference for 7 p.m.

Harrick, 60, never made it to either meeting.

At 6:10 p.m., he called Rhode Island Athletic Director Ron Petro to say he had changed his mind.

"He said he was struggling with the decision," Petro said, "but that he had decided to go back to Georgia."

Georgia took him back after Adams and Athletic Director Vince Dooley, who was touring remote Civil War battlefields in Virginia with his grandson, consulted for an hour by phone.

Dooley said Harrick's indecision was family-related.

"I would not have accepted any other reason than family," Dooley said of Georgia sticking to its original choice to replace Ron Jirsa, who was fired after two seasons. "I believe strongly in that, and I've come to admire Coach Harrick even more because of his deep feeling for his family."

Harrick released a statement expressing his regret.

"This has been an emotional time and it's been all about family," he said. "I had to get back to my family and sort things out. Once I did that, which was late Thursday afternoon, I know now the right thing for me and my family is to be at Georgia. . . . Georgia is where I want to be, it's where I need to be."

Harrick, who made about $350,000 last season, will be paid $550,000 per year at Georgia, plus $100,000 per year if he completes the four-year contract.

But he hesitated before accepting the Georgia job originally because the state's anti-nepotism law prevents him from hiring his son, Jim Jr., as an assistant.

Harrick said Wednesday during a news conference in Athens, Ga., that his son told him he couldn't afford to turn down the Georgia job and reassured him, "I'll be fine. I'm a survivor."

Still, it was a difficult decision for the coach.

"That hurt me more than anything," he said. "That was really the only thing that delayed it."

It was not clear what caused his flip-flop on Thursday, but after meeting for an hour in the morning with Adams and Dick Bestwick, an associate athletic director at Georgia, he told them his decision to return to Rhode Island was final.

He flew back to Rhode Island, where he and his wife, Sally, were met at the airport by Petro, who asked the coach if he was prepared to remain at Rhode Island.

"He said 'Yes,' " Petro said. "His wife was there with him and she said 'Yes.' "

Later, of course, Petro heard a different answer and Harrick was scheduled to fly back to Athens.

"I hope I haven't offended anyone, but if so, I deeply apologize," Harrick said. "I want the Georgia people to know that I'm totally committed to the success of the Georgia basketball program."

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