USC Aide Is Ousted, 2 Are Reprimanded in Recruiting Probe

Times Staff Writer

Russ Purnell, a USC assistant football coach, was apparently fired Friday when a joint investigation by the school and the Pacific 10 revealed NCAA recruiting violations.

Two other USC athletic department employees, one believed to be another assistant coach, received letters of reprimand from Athletic Director Mike McGee, and one of them tas been barred from all contacts with recruits for a year.

USC’s football team is already banned from appearing on television this season, the final sanction of lingering penalties that first came down in April 1982.

USC was prohibited from appearing in a bowl game during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, and from appearing on television for two years.

Those infractions stemmed from selling players’ tickets, a violation of NCAA rules, by assistant coach Marv Goux, now with the Rams.


Of the recent violations, McGee said:

“The more significant violations established were making excessive contacts with three recruits, providing two recruits with transportation (by automobile) to USC in order to take entrance examinations, providing a pair of tickets to the Holiday Bowl to two different recruits and their high school coach, contacting two recruits in person prior to the completion of their competitive season, and providing recruits with T-shirts after they signed national letters of intent.

“Investigators reported that in no case were any cash benefits given or offered to any recruits.

“Although in the eyes of some, these violations may not seem significant in influencing the decision of a recruit to attend USC--in fact, several of the recruits involved didn’t even enroll at USC--we consider this to be a very serious matter.”

McGee said that Purnell, who was in charge of the tight ends and the offensive special teams, resigned. But it was believed to have been a forced resignation.

Purnell, a former Edison High School coach in his fourth year on the USC coaching staff, said in a statment made through the school that he apologized for any embarrassment he may have brought to the university.

USC Coach Ted Tollner said he had no immediate plans to replace Purnell and that the coaching staff will just close ranks.

“There were violations, and we have to make a stand,” Tollner said. “It’s very difficult when it’s an individual on your staff who is a good coach and a good person. But he made a mistake. Everything is major now.”

Asked why he hadn’t monitored Purnell’s activities more closely, Tollner said: “You go over the rules and try to stay on top of them, but obviously we fell short here. And there are a ton of rules.”

McGee said he believes that USC has acted quickly and forcibly and has turned all of its information over to conference officials.

Now, it is a question of whether sanctions will be imposed on the USC football program by the Pacific 10.

The procedure is for the conference compliance committee to meet and recommend, or not recommend, any sanctions against USC to the Pacific 10 Council. If penalties are recommended, the presidents and chancellors of the conference will decide whether to implement them.

The compliance committee is not scheduled to meet until December but could be called into a special session. The committee is composed of Jack Friedenthal and Bob Steidel, respective faculty athletic representatives at Stanford and California, and Dick Young, Washington State athletic director.

If the Pacific 10 imposes penalties on USC, the NCAA could approve measures taken, or tack on additional penalties.

But a Pacific 10 spokesman said that in most cases the NCAA is usually satisfied with any decision the conference makes in regard to penalties.

Presidents and chancellors of the nation’s major universities enacted harsh “death penalties” at a meeting in New Orleans last June.

Such penalties went into effect Sept. 1, 1985. If a school is found guilty of two major violations in a five-year period, the sport in question could be suspended for one or two years.

But one of the violations must have occurred after Sept. 1. In USC’s case, its violation took place before that date, according to McGee and conference officials.

“The repeat violation is not in question here,” McGee said.

McGee said it was difficult to predict what action the Pacific 10 will take in regard to USC’s recent improprieties.

“Clearly, the action taken by the institution (USC), both disciplinary and corrective, relates to any future imposition of sanctions,” McGee said. “I think it’s fair to say that we reacted forcibly and decisively, and that has been recognized by the conference office and the NCAA.”

McGee said that the investigation did not reveal any financial rewards or inducements, but he added that the excessive visits to recruits could be construed as a competitive advantage.

The USC athletic director said that his internal investigation began after an athlete, whom he didn’t identify and who is now at another school, had made allegations that were conveyed to the NCAA, which in turn, passed them on to the Pacific 10.

“The clear message is that we will not tolerate these types of activities, although seemingly not having a great influence on the decisions of recruits,” McGee said.

His reference was to the fact that several athletes involved didn’t attend USC. Three others did, but he wouldn’t disclose their identities.

McGee said that the three athletes have limited immunity from the NCAA and that their eligibility is not affected.

McGee also said that the Pacific 10 has interviewed some athletes who were recruited by USC but are now attending other schools.

“The Pac-10 conference regrets the acknowledged violations of NCAA legislation by USC in the conduct of its football program,” said Commissioner Tom Hansen. “While further comment is not possible until the case is concluded by the conference, we do wish to recognize the cooperation afforded the conference by the university during the joint investigation we have conducted.”

USC opened its season last Saturday by beating Illinois, 20-10, at Champaign, Ill. It was regarded as a significant victory since Illinois had been the preseason choice of two magazines to win the national championship.

The Trojans have an open date this weekend before playing Baylor next Saturday night at the Coliseum.

Asked if his team could be adversely affected by the revelation of the NCAA violations, Tollner said: “Negative things come around all the time. We must try to find a way not to let this be a distracting thing in our development as a team.”

McGee said that Purnell had told him that he had been aware that he was breaking NCAA rules.

“But the fact that others may be doing that or everyone is doing that makes not a particle of difference to me,” McGee said.

McGee said he has instigated three programs to prevent similar recruiting violations:

--A quarterly review session with NCAA rules and interpretations for all athletic department coaches and personnel.

--An annual recruiting rules seminar for the football coaches conducted by an NCAA or a Pac-10 staff member to be held before the recruiting contact period.

--A recruiting monitoring system administered by the athletic director and focusing on contacts, campus visits and other recruiting rules.