29 Aug 2003 18:33:28
"Bliss has bottomed out" (TSN)

Bliss has bottomed out
Mike DeCourcy
Sporting News

No coach ever had been in the situation Dave Bliss found himself in this
summer: one player missing and presumed dead, another player the chief suspect
in the case. There was no handbook to educate Bliss on handling such a
situation, no colleague who could explain how he managed a similar jam.

Under the most extreme pressure -- and this certainly qualified -- a person can
reveal much about his or her character. Sometimes, we discover things we'd
rather not have known.

"How badly has Dave Bliss ruined our profession?" a Division I coach asked me
last week. The answer is depressing.

In trying to enlist Baylor players and assistant coaches in a scheme to
misdirect the university's investigation of the basketball program by
manufacturing a slander of the late Patrick Dennehy, Bliss did more to dishonor
his vocation than all the disgraced former coaches combined. Compared with
Bliss, Jerry Tarkanian, Tates Locke, Clem Haskins and Todd Bozeman look like
the faces on Mount Rushmore.

Bliss was in a position to demonstrate the grace and courage that once was
expected from coaches. Had he met that standard, he would have departed Baylor
with dignity -- even if it meant leaving with the stain of NCAA rules
violations on his record.

But that didn't matter much when measured against the death of a 21-year-old
whose promising future was stolen from him by two bullets to the skull. What
mattered was paying respect to the victim, identifying his assailant and -- to
a much smaller degree -- rescuing the future of Baylor basketball.

Bliss had plenty of time after Dennehy's disappearance to consider all that.
The stress upon Bliss was enormous, but it is unfathomable he would react with
a self-preservationist panic that demonstrated no regard for the victim, for
Baylor's players or assistants, for the profession Bliss was a part of for
three decades at various universities or for the truth.

It's no surprise other coaches wonder how this reflects on their profession. It
comes in such proximity to dissimilar scandals involving former Iowa State
coach Larry Eustachy and football's Mike Price and Rick Neuheisel that there is
a natural tendency to generalize about what college coaching has become.

To condemn every coach, however, means commentators also must condemn every
priest, every businessman, every analyst on Wall Street, every politician and,
in light of the Jayson Blair episode at the New York Times, every reporter.

Until Dennehy was murdered, Bliss was free to coach Baylor undisturbed, collect
a salary in excess of $500,000 annually and perhaps shave a few edges off the
NCAA's rule book when it suited him. Nobody really cared. But then Bliss'
peaceful world was disrupted. He was more frustrated by this than he was
despondent over a player's death.

When I spoke with one of Bliss' coaching friends at the Adidas Big Time
Tournament in Las Vegas, he was convinced Bliss, at that very moment, was
devising a plan that would enable him to exit gracefully from what had become
an untenable circumstance. He didn't see this coming. I didn't see it coming.
Who could have anticipated this degree of malevolence from anyone with a

Bliss' conscience, however, had been hollowed out and replaced by greed and
self-interest. It surely was not an instantaneous development, but the extent
to which this cancer had progressed was unimaginable.

As a result, Bliss has created a most distasteful legacy for himself. The
college coaches who remain now can go into players meetings with a simple
admonition: If you want to act like a miscreant, find out where Dave Bliss is
coaching and transfer there. Bliss has become a punch line.

But there's no joke here. Only tragedy.

Senior writer Mike DeCourcy covers college basketball for Sporting News. Email
him at decourcy@sportingnews.com.

"While there's life, there's hope." ~~ John Lennon (12/08/80)
Joseph Lieberman for President http://www.joe2004.com