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Dalis Era Ends at UCLA

July 01, 2002|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Sometimes they come at 3 in the morning, and typically there is so much angst and anger you wonder about the personalities of the people who send them," he said. "Accusations are made anonymously, and you chase your tail."

Dalis believes much of the recent criticism aimed at Lavin and Toledo is unfair, although he acknowledges the two coaches he hired six years ago have not reached their potential. Neither had previous head coaching experience at the NCAA Division I level.

"Terry Donahue says nobody is born a head coach, and it takes quite a while for them to eventually put it all together," he said. "[Lavin] hasn't gotten there yet. I'm not sure Bob is totally there yet also. There really is a long gestation period."

As for why he did not hire coaches with more experience, Dalis points to the relatively low pay offered by UCLA. Lavin and Toledo each earn $578,000 annually, a figure that includes shoe and apparel endorsement money.

"That was difficult for me," Dalis said. "I have presented plans to secure a coach, but I was limited in what I was able to offer in compensation. I have a sense that may be changing a little bit, but to date, [senior administrators] at this university have not wanted to do that."

Dalis fired three men's basketball coaches--Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard and Jim Harrick--yet exhibited patience with Lavin. He gives both the current basketball coach and Toledo high marks for their commitment to UCLA.

"What people don't see is the influence a head coach has within the athletic department," he said. "We need to win games, obviously, but there is another context to what a head coach represents. If they are good human beings and they represent the values of the institution, that creates cohesiveness in the department. That percolates up to other people.

"Good people who want to be here and represent this institution and its values are important."

Dalis' own loyalty was a key reason he was hired in 1983 by then-chancellor Charles Young. Dalis had been director of recreational services and was the leading force behind building the popular Wooden Center, a 95,000 square-foot recreation complex serving all students.

But Young saw more in Dalis, believing he could be trusted to rein in an athletic department the chancellor believed had become autonomous.

"There was a feeling that the era of J.D. Morgan was gone," Dalis said. "The chancellor saw a need to mainstream the athletic department with the rest of the university."

The beginning of Dalis' tenure coincided with schools gaining the right to negotiate their own television contracts. Fees paid by networks and cable decreased as the number of televised games increased, resulting in a revenue shortfall for schools.

Consequently, the UCLA athletic department budget was in the red for years, and the deficit grew to $3.2 million by 1990. Dalis balanced the budget by streamlining his staff, cutting men's swimming and gymnastics and by launching an endowed scholarship program.

A portion of about 180 of UCLA's 273 grant-in-aids are offset by the endowed scholarships funded by the interest from individual donations of $100,000.

"It's a very attractive program, and I'm surprised how many people have come forward we didn't even know," said Dalis, who credits associate athletic director Rick Purdy for overseeing the program. "It creates a really sound base."

In recent years, Dalis became an elder statesman among Pac-10 athletic directors and in 1997 negotiated the conference television contract with Fox. He also advocated a revenue-sharing plan generous to conference schools in the Northwest even though UCLA games often are the most lucrative.

"I characterize Pete as smart, fair and effective," said Tom Hansen, the Pac-10 commissioner. "He has an overarching sense of balance and fairness. His wisdom and advice usually carried the day.

"One of his fine qualities is he was able to look beyond UCLA's interest in the most immediate sense and realize it was in UCLA's long-term interest to have a strong conference with good competition."

Few programs nationwide were as competitive across the board as UCLA's under Dalis, excelling in women's and Olympic sports as well as enjoying triumphant moments in men's basketball and football.

As Dalis moves into retirement, it is the anticipation of those moments he will miss.

"Athletics is a field that represents the world of possibility," he said. "It's a wonderful thing in this line of work that doesn't exist in a lot of the other areas. Even when you don't win. There is hope and renewal every year, like the changing of the seasons."

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