Pepperdine's Harrick, USC's McGee Meet

Times Staff Writer

USC's hunt for a basketball coach got closer to home Tuesday night when Athletic Director Mike McGee reportedly met with Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick.

Harrick, whose Waves were recently knocked out of the NCAA West Regional tournament in Long Beach by Maryland, most likely would accept the job if it was offered to him.

Those close to him say that he has taken Pepperdine about as far as the school can go. In seven seasons under him, the Waves have won five West Coast Athletic Conference championships and have gone to the NCAA tournament four times.

McGee is interviewing at least a candidate a day. Gene Bartow, Alabama Birmingham coach, was on campus Sunday, and Dave Bliss, Southern Methodist coach, is also reportedly a prospect for the job.

McGee has said that he will not comment on the search for a replacement for Stan Morrison, who resigned last week to become an associate athletic director at the school.

"We're just in the process of developing information on the candidates," McGee said, adding that there is no timetable.

Navy Coach Paul Evans is regarded as a prospect. McGee reportedly visited with Evans last weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where the Midshipmen beat Tulsa and stunned favored Syracuse on its home court in NCAA East Regional games.

Evans is reportedly interested in the USC job but doesn't want to be distracted by coaching rumors while his team is still alive in the NCAA tournament.

Bliss, 42, a disciple of Indiana's Bob Knight, was in Colorado visiting relatives Tuesday and was not available for comment.

His team finished fourth in the Southwest Conference this season--three teams tied for first--with a 10-6 record. The Mustangs were 18-11 overall.

SMU was eliminated by BYU in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last week, 67-63.

Bliss is reportedly frustrated by the lack of interest in his basketball program at SMU, where the average attendance is about 4,000 at Moody Arena.

That figure is comparable, though, to USC's average attendance of 4,072 for 14 homes games this season, including the UCLA game.

Bliss, a former successful coach at Oklahoma, was hired at SMU by Dr. James H. Zumberge, the school's president at the time. Zumberge became USC's president in 1980.

Bliss played for Knight at Army and later became an assistant coach at the military academy.

Although the Pacific 10 has lost stature nationally since UCLA's dominating teams in the 1960s and '70s, the Southwest Conference has an even worse image in basketball, which reportedly disturbs Bliss. Only one Southwest school, Texas Tech, got an NCAA bid this season.

Bliss just concluded his sixth season at SMU and has an overall record of 88-81. He took over a lagging program, however, and after two losing seasons, his teams had records of 19-11, 25-8, and 23-10.

Last year's team was 16-1 at one point and was ranked second in the country before faltering.

Bartow said Tuesday that he didn't want to comment on the USC coaching job, and sources say that he hasn't been offered the job.

It's believed, though, that he would consider the job if USC came up with a satisfactory financial package.

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