A North Carolina State University student stopped by the office of basketball coach Jim Valvano last week and gave Valvano a copy of Bear Bryant's 1974 autobiography "Bear, the Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama's Coach Bryant."
The student suggested that Valvano read the part dealing with Bryant's legal battle with The Saturday Evening Post, which Bryant sued for $10.5 million in 1963 after the magazine published a story claiming that Bryant and Wally Butts, Georgia athletic director at the time, had fixed the 1962 Alabama-Georgia football game.
"And the kid had turned down the pages that talked about what happened then," said Valvano, picking up the paperback on his desk the other day. "Bear Bryant says here -- chapter 23, page 223 -- 'How much is a year of a man's life worth? I don't know, but The Saturday Evening Post took 10 years off my life.' Well, I went to Rutgers, and the motto of Rutgers is 'Forever changing, yet eternally the same.' This (the Bryant lawsuit) was -- what? -- 1961, '62, 26 or so years ago. Interesting."
These are hard times in the good life of Jim Valvano. The Wolfpack's stunning climb to the 1983 national championship made Valvano a figure of national prominence, pushing his annual income into the high six figures and giving him enough clout to become North Carolina State's athletic director as well as basketball coach in 1986.
But his empire is under siege, and has been ever since news trickled out that Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books division soon would publish a book charging widespread impropriety in Valvano's program.
The book carries the title "Personal Fouls," and it is the work of Peter Golenbock, a free-lance writer whose previous work has been confined mainly to books about New York baseball. Golenbock's collaboration with Sparky Lyle resulted in "The Bronx Zoo," Lyle's best-selling account of the Yankees' 1978 championship season.
A Simon & Schuster sales representative began offering "Personal Fouls" to North Carolina bookstores three weeks ago, using copies of a proof of the book's cover to generate interest.
The proof indicates that the book focuses on the 1986-87 season and describes corruption in the North Carolina State program: grades fixed by faculty members; money raised by the school's booster organization, the Wolfpack Club, passed on to players by Valvano; positive results of drug tests "kept secret" so players would not be suspended. North Carolina State players suspected that one player, according to the proof, "deliberately lost them an NCAA Tournament game because winning would have meant tough NCAA drug testing and the end of a potential NBA career."
Mimi Riggs, trade book buyer for the North Carolina State bookstore, says she was told by the Simon & Schuster sales representative, Jeffrey Pepper, that the book was due out the second week in February but that it was still under review by the publisher's lawyers.
Riggs declined to place an order for the book. "If it's that negative about the university, I think we want to be sure it's true," she said. Other bookstores in the state, however, reportedly have placed orders in the hundreds.
Valvano said he learned from a friend last summer that somebody, possibly a former team manager, was working on a book about him. Valvano said he didn't give the matter a second thought. "I couldn't imagine anyone writing a book without actually talking to me," he said. "I've never thought of myself in the category of the unauthorized biography concept."
But he's seeing things differently these days. "What's transpired is very disturbing," he said. "It's very discouraging. It's very hurtful."
Little has surfaced to flesh out the advance information since the Raleigh News and Observer first reported on it Jan. 7. Valvano, who was not interviewed for the book, vehemently denies the allegations. Also, it has been learned that a major source for Golenbock was John Simonds Jr., a former North Carolina State student manager, whom Valvano dismissed from the program after the 1986-87 season for what Valvano termed "a certain disloyalty factor."
Valvano believed Simonds influenced sophomore Walker Lambiotte's decision to transfer to Northwestern. Shortly after his dismissal, Simonds apparently began peddling information.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution columnist Dave Kindred wrote in a Jan. 13 column that he was approached by Simonds in November 1987 and asked to write a book about problems in Valvano's program. In his column, Kindred wrote that he dismissed the idea when Simonds told him that players would cooperate only if they were paid and that Simonds himself needed "a couple thousand for a car."
In an interview with NBC aired at halftime of last Saturday's game between North Carolina State and North Carolina, Simonds, now a student at Florida State, called himself "only one voice" among sources that include players and faculty members, but he did not elaborate on the charges.
And yet while the specifics of "Personal Fouls" haven't emerged, the mere prospect of such a book has shaken out serious questions about the academic side of North Carolina State basketball.
Richard Lauffer, who retired as head of the physical education department at North Carolina State last year, did not provide information for the book, but he was angered by a television report the day the story broke in which Valvano denied the charges outlined on the cover.
Lauffer, who lives in Emerald Isle on the North Carolina coast, was angry enough, in fact, to call a Greenville, N.C., television station and offer to go on camera with a statement of his own. He said that in 1985, three failing grades on the transcript of center Chris Washburn, then a freshman, were changed to passing grades and that university chancellor Bruce Poulton knew of the changes.
Lauffer, who headed the physical education department for seven years, said that, in studying a computer printout of Washburn's grades in the spring of '85, he noticed three no-credit marks -- marks equivalent to failing grades, given when a student fails to complete course work.
He said he believed that two of the courses in question were English and speech; he isn't sure of the third. Studying another printout two weeks later, he said, he found that each no-credit had been changed to a D. Because he didn't see how such changes could be legitimate, Lauffer said, he went to see Poulton, who, according to Lauffer, indicated that he didn't want to get involved because of Valvano's wealth and popularity.
Lauffer's charges prompted school officials to request that the National Collegiate Athletic Association look into the matter. David Didion, a part-time NCAA investigator based in Knoxville, Tenn., was on the North Carolina State campus last week studying academic records.
Tuesday, Lauffer met with Didion, Atlantic Coast Conference assistant commissioner David V. Thompson and North Carolina State counsel Becky French for nearly two hours.
French, however, said last week that her own investigation didn't support Lauffer's grade-changing allegation. Citing privacy law, she refused to discuss her findings.
Poulton, whose decision to make Valvano athletic director in '86 was criticized by some members of the faculty, issued a statement in which he denied that the meeting described by Lauffer ever took place. The chancellor, according to his office, is currently refusing interview requests.
Poulton was pulled into the controversy again last week when the News and Observer reported that he was a party to a contract under which an unidentified basketball player was re-admitted to the university in spring 1987, after previously being suspended because of poor grades.
According to the News and Observer, Valvano also was a party to the contract, in which the chancellor agreed that, among other things, the university would "be the liaison" between the player's instructors and the athletic department. The player, as his part of the deal, agreed to attend all classes and tutoring sessions.
The newspaper reported that, while such contracts are not uncommon, the chancellor's involvement was unusual.
Elizabeth Suval, a North Carolina State sociology professor who chairs the school's faculty senate, said she was taken aback when she read about the contract.
"I would admit that some of the stipulations in that contract seem to me to be extraordinary," she said. "Some of the things that the university promised to do seem to me to take so much responsibility away from the student that I have to wonder."
Lauffer told Newsday that, because of what he had seen on Washburn's record, he also monitored the academic record of Charles Shackleford, the center who left North Carolina State for the National Basketball Association last year after his junior season.
"He was so bad," Lauffer said of Shackleford, now with the New Jersey Nets. "He didn't have any interest in trying to get an education. He was a pain, too, never showing up (for class) and still wanting a grade. He should never have been in school."
Citing unidentified sources, NBC named Shackleford as the player whom North Carolina State players suspected of deliberately losing an NCAA Tournament game to avoid NCAA drug testing. Shackleford has refused comment, but his attorney, Salvatore P. DiFazio, has called such allegations "completely crazy."
As for the Washburn matter, Lauffer admits that he no longer has the grade printouts; they were thrown away by his administrative assistant, he said, when Lauffer left the university.
But he isn't backing down. "I looked at those printouts for three years," he said. "I took them to Poulton's office and looked at them for three years afterward. You don't forget that stuff."
Shortly after he went public with his charges, Lauffer said, he received a phone call from Golenbock telling him that he would be vindicated by the book.
Two weeks ago, as rumors circulated that the publication date of "Personal Fouls" had been moved up to Jan. 23, North Carolina attorney general Lacy Thornburg, citing the fact that Golenbock never spoke to Valvano, wrote Simon & Schuster, asking that publication stop and that North Carolina State representatives be given a chance to review the manuscript for accuracy -- a standard prelude to a lawsuit.
John Bender, general counsel for Simon & Schuster, responded with a letter stating that the publisher was continuing to review the manuscript "with care."
North Carolina State sent a similar "cease and desist" letter to Sports Illustrated last week, according to university counsel French, when the school learned "through the grapevine" that the magazine was considering publishing excerpts from the book.
Valvano, meantime, waits. He offers a litany of reasons why, in his view, the charges hyped on the book's cover can't be accurate. But he also believes that the perception of guilt is as damaging as guilt itself.
"We're looking at human nature and society here," he said, "and that's why Bear Bryant in '62 said it took 10 years off his life, and Jim Valvano's telling you in '89: Don't confuse a lot of people with facts. What they read, unfortunately, becomes an element of truth whether it's true or not."