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Robyn Norwood ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Heartache and Headache

By hiring his son, Harrick probably paved the way for his undoing at Georgia

March 06, 2003|Robyn Norwood

Jim Harrick says he will be vindicated.

These are almost certainly the final days of his college coaching career if he is not.

With word Wednesday that Georgia has fired Harrick's son, assistant Jim Harrick Jr., in the wake of charges of academic fraud and improper payments to a former player, the former UCLA coach seemingly edged closer to his end.

University President Michael F. Adams, a friend from the days when Harrick was coach at Pepperdine and Adams was an administrator there, would not even guarantee Harrick will coach the team in the Southeastern Conference tournament next week, much less the NCAA tournament.

The sordid choice in the Georgia saga is between believing Harrick, a coach who was fired at UCLA for lying, or believing Tony Cole, a former player with a checkered past.

It will take time for the NCAA and Georgia to sort out the charges, though some of them already appear to be corroborated.

But there is no need to wait to convict Harrick for an extraordinary and damning history of lapses in judgment, from repeatedly recruiting players with dicey pasts to twice arranging to hire his son as an assistant coach despite anti-nepotism policies at Rhode Island and Georgia.

UCLA, it appears, made a wise choice in avoiding the same fate.

Pete Dalis, the former UCLA athletic director, said this week Harrick also sought to hire his son in Westwood but was rebuffed because of university policy and Dalis' misgivings.

Harrick Jr. is now is at the center of the controversy that might finally finish his father.

The other key figure is Cole, a former Bulldog player whose recruitment Harrick acknowledged at the Wooden Classic in December was "a mistake."

He might not then have understood how big a mistake.

A player who attended five high schools -- including a stop at Compton Dominguez -- and had ties to five colleges, Cole is now the chief witness against the Harricks.

Kicked off the Georgia team last fall for various offenses -- even though another teammate was allowed to return after charges against the two in a 2002 sexual assault case were dismissed -- Cole has gone public with a long list of accusations.

In an interview with ESPN aired last week, Cole said that Harrick Jr. wired $300 to the mother of a friend to cover Cole's telephone bills, paid three of his hotel bills totaling more than $1,000 and committed academic fraud on his behalf. Cole said Harrick Jr. gave him an A in a Georgia physical education class he didn't attend and also arranged for someone to do correspondence work in his name when he was in junior college.

Among the most incriminating evidence: A Western Union receipt filmed by ESPN that shows $300 was sent from a Jim Harrick -- reportedly Harrick Jr. -- to Eva Davis, the mother of a high school teammate who housed Cole during the summer of 2001.

"I couldn't tell if it was Jr., Sr. or either one of them," Davis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He just said it was, 'Jim Harrick.' I just know it was a voice on the phone line that said the phone bill would be taken care of."

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported a Rhode Island booster, Charlie Tapalian, claims he gave Harrick Jr. the $300 for the phone bill. (Harrick Jr. was an assistant under his father at Rhode Island in 1998-99. Cole signed to play for the Rams in 1999 but was refused admission after Harrick left for Georgia.)

Perhaps most damaging to Harrick: Cole's claim to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he used the personal credit card of the head coach to buy a 28-inch color television.

Harrick called the charge "ludicrous" and said he has provided credit card records to disprove it.

"A vindictive young man," a defiant Harrick called Cole in an interview with ESPN's Dick Vitale Tuesday, shortly before an upset of No. 3 Florida by a 25th-ranked Georgia team poised for what could be Harrick's final run in the NCAA tournament.

In addition to the charges made by Cole -- who reportedly earlier signed a university document indicating he had not received any extra benefits -- Harrick also faces scrutiny related to a sexual harassment case against Rhode Island that named Harrick and included charges of improprieties in the program. The university settled the suit last month for $45,000 and is investigating the claims.

Vitale, pressing Harrick with uncharacteristic force on the details of both cases the day before Harrick's son was fired, finally asked, "Can you look me in the eye, we've been friends for a lot of years.... When this is all said and done, that Jim Harrick and Jim Harrick Jr. will be vindicated of all these charges by Tony Cole?"

Said Harrick, who often seemed to be looking toward the camera in order to appear sincere as he pleaded his case: "Absolutely. I can look you right in the eye.... I've been in this business 30 years. You don't survive by giving people money, by doing people's work for them."

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