Jim Harris, the Ocean View High School basketball coach who was relieved of his coaching duties less than two months ago, was reinstated to his position as head coach Tuesday.
The unusual decision came after John Myers, Ocean View principal, received a letter from Harris on Tuesday morning stating in part, “After discussions with various CIF officials, it has become apparent to me that I was involved in a violation of CIF rules which would justify the forfeiture of the Ocean View High School boys’ basketball games for the 1984-85 season.”
Myers then met with Harris, reached an agreement on guidelines by which the school’s program would operate, and released a statement that read: " . . . I reconsidered the decision to not re-employ Jim Harris as Ocean View High School’s head basketball coach for the 1985-86 year. Based on conditions which will ensure a close working relationship between Coach Harris and myself and that there will be no future rule violations, I have decided to re-employ him in that coaching position.”
Myers said he acted with the support of Huntington Beach Union High School District officials, who had conducted a three-month investigation into the ethics of the Seahawks’ program.
“Things have been cleared up to my satisfaction,” he said. “I thought it was important that there was an admission of guilt. I feel confident we won’t have any further problems. Jim and I reached an agreement that won’t be publicized.”
Harris was relieved of his duties after the results of the district’s investigation reportedly found Seahawk players Ricky Butler and Desi Hazely ineligible because of “undue influence” by Harris to retain them at the school. The Seahawks had to forfeit their Sunset League championship and their victories 24 victories.
Butler and Hazely have lived at Harris’ home in El Toro for the school year and participated at Ocean View with a district waiver from the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.
For the first time since he was fired, Harris admitted that the violation in question was Article 5, Section 510 of the California Interscholastic Federation By-Laws, which basically states: “The use of undue influence by any person or persons to secure or retain a student or to secure or retain one or both parents or guardians of a student as residents may cause the student to be ineligible for high school athletics for a period of one year and shall jeopardize the standing of the high school in the California Interscholastic Federation.”
Said Harris: “After meeting with Ray Plutko (CIF Southern Section commissioner) last Thursday, I left with the feeling I had been involved unknowingly and to a small degree in violation of the undue influence rule, and I regret that. We could argue this until doomsday, but this is what needs to be done. We’ve reached a conclusion, and now it’s time to get on with our lives.”
Harris refused to call his admittance of guilt a compromise, saying, “You can’t compromise the truth. I know the rules, and I thought I knew the big picture. There was a procedure problem that I was unaware of.”
Harris said he told Butler and Hazely they could move into his home after their original guardian, Laurant Brown, moved out of the district last July.
“I said, ‘Yes,’ when they asked (if they could move in), when I should have been asking (their parents if it was all right) and then said, ‘Yes,’ ” Harris said. “The technical aspect of this particular rule is incredible. I now have a fuller understanding of myself and the administration and our rules.
“I’m not so prideful that I can’t stand up and say that I made a mistake. I’ve come to realize there is a chain of command. In the past, whenever there was a problem, I handled it myself. Next time I see a red flag, I’ll send it above to John Myers and he’ll tell me how to handle it.”
Harris said he will meet with his staff for the next two days to plan the Seahawks’ future. Ocean View is expected to have one of the Southern Section’s best teams. He thinks Butler and Hazely, who transferred from Lynwood, will remain at Huntington Beach.
Butler was a Times’ all-county selection as a sophomore and Hazely was a valuable sixth man for a team that finished second in the Southern Section’s 5-A division playoffs behind Mater Dei.
“We’ll do whatever is best for them,” Harris said. “One consistent attitude has been their desire to stay at Ocean View. I don’t know if they will remain in my home. Some people in the area have come forward and let it be known they could live in their homes.
“I don’t have an qualms about their progress or their future. They’ve both shown they’re academically adjusted.”
Said Butler: “For a while, I was feeling it was all my fault. This is great. Now we can start our program up again.”
Myers said Butler and Hazely would be eligible at Ocean View next season.
In a matter unrelated to Harris, Myers said the school’s investigation into a possible discrepancy with Butler’s grades that occurred during his freshman season has been resolved.
Myers investigated allegations that Butler received a failing grade that did not appear on his transcript after he transferred from a geography class with three weeks remaining in the 18-week semester.
Butler received a passing grade in his new class, but the instructor of the original class claimed she gave Butler an “F” grade.
“All I have to say is that the matter has been resolved,” Myers said. “This whole ordeal has been handled in a business-like manner, and I have no animosity toward Jim Harris whatsoever. I’m just glad this has been resolved to the satisfaction of both of us.”
Harris said the drawn-out process of appealing the team’s forfeitures and his job status weighed heavily in his decision to reconsider possible litigation.
Harris, who had considered taking legal action against the district, said, “Anything that happens beyond this, we have time to decide. I have one attorney who is satisfied and another who is not satisfied.
“The slow process wore on my family and my players and was agonizing for everyone involved,” he said. “The longer it took, the more I thought it might be over . . . that I might never coach again at Ocean View High. After going through a month and a half of no direction, I can’t believe the turn of events. I’m still numb.”
Harris had two avenues to follow after Myers’ relieved him of his coaching duties on March 27. He could appeal the decision to the district’s athletic council or make a formal appeal to the Southern Section office. After long deliberation with his attorneys, Harris chose to appeal to the Southern Section office.
After meeting with Plutko on Thursday Harris saw a change in the situation and formed a different outlook.
“I felt I’d be living a lie knowing what I had just learned,” he said. “I couldn’t sit back and knowingly keep something like this to myself while all these wonderful people around me were still supporting me.
“I ran into (USC Coach) Stan Morrison on Sunday and we had a long talk. He gave me some great advice. I decided to call John Myers on Sunday night and told him I wanted to meet. Then, I got together with my attorneys and drafted the letter.
“John never said at any time that if I did this, or if I did that, I could have my job back. It got to the point where it didn’t matter what anybody else did or said. I thought I was right, and that was all that mattered.”