CSULB Officials' Meeting With Pepperdine Assistant, Friend at Issue : Conflicting Tales Entangle Coaching Candidate

Times Staff Writer

With the retirement of John Gonsalves, Cal State Long Beach needs a new baseball coach, and 49er officials say Pepperdine assistant coach Jim Gattis is among the candidates.

Gattis has applied for the job, which became open April 12, but said last week that he fears he will be "eliminated from consideration . . . because of rumors" about the way his name was brought to the attention of university officials.

The Anaheim Bulletin reported last week that a "prominent booster placed $100,000 at the disposal of the 49er baseball program, provided (the school) find another coach." It went on to speculate that Gattis would be the "best bet" to get the job.

No Favoritism in Job Competition

Athletic Director Corey Johnson told The Times this week that Gonsalves was not forced from his job of 19 years, that Gattis has no edge in the competition for the coaching position and that no one directly offered any $100,000 contribution.

But Johnson acknowledged that he met Gattis in January, almost three months before Gonsalves decided to retire, at a breakfast meeting at Hof's Hut restaurant in Bellflower.

Johnson and the three other men who attended, however, sharply dispute the nature of their discussions about money.

Johnson and Joe Saucedo, president of the 49er Athletic Foundation, were there to meet Richard Knopf, a Santa Ana businessman whom Johnson said had expressed interest in donating to the 49er baseball scholarship fund. Knopf, an enthusiastic supporter of youth baseball in Orange County, brought along Gattis.

"If a person is a potential donor, I'll meet with him anytime," said Johnson, who in the year since he was hired has been attempting to pull the 49er athletic department out of serious financial difficulties.

At the breakfast meeting, Johnson said, "Mr. Knopf told me (about) his background and introduced me to Mr. Gattis, saying (Gattis) had all the makings of a fine head coach in college."

Johnson also said that Gattis told him that he would be "interested if a head coaching position opened up."

Most of the discussion at the meeting, Johnson said, centered on the 49er baseball program. "We said (to Knopf) that to be fully funded would take $65,000, (which would pay) for 13 full scholarships," Johnson said. He added that he also mentioned needing money for a second full-time assistant coach, "putting (the total amount) in the range of $100,000."

Knopf confirmed that money was discussed.

But in a letter to The Times this week, Knopf elaborated: "I never made an offer to donate $100,000 to CSULB, since I am not in a position to do so, and would make no such offer even if I were financially able."

Knopf, 47, is president of Total Control Information, a computer software company headquartered in Santa Ana.

Funding Suggestions Made

Knopf also said in the letter that he attended the breakfast meeting "to convey my high regard of Jim Gattis as a person and coach." Knopf added that he and Gattis made fund-raising suggestions at the meeting.

In his letter to The Times, Knopf pointed out that he raised $100,000 for a new baseball facility at Tustin High School in Orange County.

Saucedo, the 49er Athletic Foundation president and also president of Long Beach's Queen City Bank, agreed in an interview that Knopf "didn't put an out-and-out offer on the table.

"But," Saucedo continued, "he phrased it in a way that he could probably bring in $100,000; he indicated he could bring in $100,000."

Saucedo said he believed that Knopf would donate money only if Gattis was hired as a 49er assistant coach.

"I didn't like (Knopf's) approach; in my opinion, he was trying to buy his way in and I didn't like it," Saucedo said. "He was trying to buy that young guy (Gattis) a job. I told Corey it (angered me) that (Knopf) came in here and put us in this position. It was too ridiculous. The guy (Gattis) was too brazen."

Johnson also said "there was no (specific) offer" made by Knopf.

"He was stating his fund-raising expertise," Johnson said, "and I think he was saying he could do those things for our program if . . .

"I think you can read the if . That's why it didn't go any further. I just don't believe in that anticipatory approach. I'm not going to sell out a program for a person . . . so it wasn't pursued.

"There are no strings to donations on this campus, and there are no strings to any coaching position."

In a telephone interview, Knopf agreed that fund-raising was discussed. But he said Johnson's interpretation is "totally speculative on his part. And I would see no basis for such speculation based on what transpired at the meeting."

In his letter to The Times, Knopf also said that "the need to have a major, national contender at a Division I-A school was discussed, including scholarships, an assistant coach, etc. (Saucedo) was briefly introduced, and he spoke to me about our company purchasing an outfield advertising sign. Jim (Gattis) made several suggestions about fund-raising based on his past experience, and I described in detail our fund-raising efforts at Tustin High." But Knopf stressed that he never made an offer to donate money.

Johnson also said the men discussed the possibility of Knopf purchasing advertising space for two signs on the outfield fence at the campus baseball field for $1,000 each. But he said Knopf has not made any such purchase.

Gattis, 35, said he and Knopf never suggested that money would be donated on the condition of Gattis' hiring. "That's not true, it's not even close," said Gattis, who is in his fourth season at Pepperdine University as the pitching and third-base coach.

"I feel I'm qualified for the (Long Beach) job," Gattis said. "I have the ability to fund raise wherever I go through (connections in) pro ball. I have friends who are celebrities or wealthy."

Gattis was a player at UC Santa Barbara and in professional baseball's minor leagues. He managed minor league teams in Utica, N.Y., and Salt Lake City to championships.

Gattis said that among his friends is comedian Bill Murray, part-owner of the Utica and Salt Lake City teams.

"I'm concerned," Gattis said, "because it's possible I'm not going to be considered (for the Cal State Long Beach job) because of rumors."

10 Candidates for Job

Robert Donlan, senior associate athletic director at CSULB, said Gattis is one of 10 people who have applied for the head baseball coaching job, which will be advertised nationally. A new coach is expected to be named in mid-May.

Gattis acknowledged that Knopf "is my friend." He said they met when Gattis coached the Salt Lake City Trappers in 1985. Knopf is now on the team's board of directors.

Knopf is also a former junior varsity coach at Tustin High School, and he continues to coach a Tustin team in a winter Palomino League for high school juniors and seniors.

"I've helped 20 boys get baseball scholarships," Knopf said.

At one point during the breakfast meeting, Johnson said, Knopf handed him a videotape. Johnson said this week that he never viewed the tape because he thought it dealt with Knopf's past fund-raising activities.

Tape of Game Action

But Knopf said this week that the tape contains highlights of the Tustin Palomino team playing a double header last winter against a Phoenix all-star squad. To the John Fogerty tune, "Center Field," the video shows every player on the team, Knopf said. One of the shortstops is Knopf's son, Andy, a senior at Foothill High School in Orange County.

Knopf said he gave Johnson the tape "because as a person who loves sports, I thought he would find it an inspirational film. The same film was sent to over 100 colleges and every major league director of scouting to give maximum exposure to all 40 boys on the film."

Gonsalves, the retiring Cal State Long Beach coach, said that last December Knopf's son also sent him a videotape of himself playing shortstop.

Knopf said a copy of the same tape and a similar letter were sent to baseball recruiting officials at about 65 colleges. "Most of which were requested by major Division I-A schools," Knopf said.

Accompanying the video was a letter, which Gonsalves read to The Times. In it, the youth wrote: "Coach Jim Gattis, assistant coach at Pepperdine, has invited me to play on his '88 summer team in the excellent Alaskan Collegiate League after I graduate from high school in June, 1988, and this should certainly help me get ready to play at the Division I level.

"Of course," the youth's letter continued, "I met all NCAA course requirements for Division I-A play. If you feel my ability, desire and other attributes would help your program, I would look forward to hearing from you and the possibility of continuing my academic and baseball career at your fine school."

Knopf said his son at one time was interested in playing baseball for Cal State Long Beach but now plans to go to college outside of California. "My son is not going to Long Beach State," he said.

Gonsalves said that after he viewed the tape, he sent the youth a form letter to acquaint him with the 49er baseball program. But the letter made no scholarship offer.

Gattis, who has previously coached an Alaska team called the North Pole Nicks, said that "Andy was going to come with me as a non-roster player and work out." However, Gattis said he does not plan to coach that team this year.

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