Since Len Bias’ cocaine-induced death, the University of Maryland athletic program has nearly collapsed, following a trend of hiring successful, respected coaches and athletic directors and bringing out their worst.
Maryland is reeling from another blow to its downward spiraling athletic program Friday, when the NCAA announced it would not lessen severe sanctions levied against the university in May.
The ruling was the most recent episode of a saga that has seen the resignation of two basketball coaches, two athletic directors and a president, and that has left the university with a projected budget deficit of $2.6 million for the upcoming academic year.
Before Bias’ death, Maryland was considered one of the top athletic programs in the country, producing nationally competitive teams and showcasing such athletic talents as Boomer Esiason, Buck Williams, Adrian Branch, John Lucas, Renaldo Nehemiah and Ferrell Edmunds.
Since then, the Terrapins have been a case study in ongoing mismanagement that was brought to a head in March when the university was sanctioned by the NCAA for a lack of institutional control over its athletic program.
A yearlong NCAA investigation into allegations of basketball recruiting violations and other improprieties found the university in violation of 13 NCAA rules, the most serious of which included scalping complimentary Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament tickets, giving greatly discounted clothing to recruits and giving a loan and transportation to a former player who was trying to regain his eligibility.
For that, the NCAA put the basketball program on three years’ probation; prohibited postseason play through the 1991-92 season; prohibited television appearances during the 1990-91 season, effectively eliminating the Terrapins from the ACC tournament; and ordered the forfeiture of $361,000 for their participation in the 1988 NCAA tournament. The NCAA also ordered a reduction in the number of scholarships from 15 to 13 through the 1991-92 season.
“The sanctions went way beyond what they should have been, given our total cooperation, our absence of any violation in the past and the fact that everyone named in the charges had left the institution,” said Maryland President Dr. William Kirwan. “They sent the wrong message.
“In fact, I’ve gotten some calls (from other schools) on that very point. They’ve asked if they should cooperate (in NCAA investigations) to the extent that we did. I can understand why it would give other schools some pause.
“The alternative is to hire an expensive lawyer and cut off communication (with the NCAA) and treat it as a totally adversarial relationship.”
Despite their recent problems, Maryland administrators are saying that last week’s denial of the appeal marks the turning of a page in the school’s history, that the university now can begin to put its problems behind it.
Maryland has pitched the same “new leaf” idea after every hiring or resignation over the last four years.
The NCAA is conducting another investigation of Maryland, this one concerning the report that basketball Coach Gary Williams observed a practice before the official Oct. 15 starting date last season.
The jury is still out on Maryland, and may be for some time.
Charles G. (Lefty) Driesell coached Maryland basketball for 17 years, and in his final seasons at Maryland was able to successfully recruit Len Bias, who went on to become one of college basketball’s great players. Someone said, “Watch Len Bias play once, love him forever.”
At 6-feet-8, Bias was an indomitable ball of energy, capable of carrying a team single-handedly. Drive the lane, slam dunks, double-pump fakes, sink three-pointers--Bias could do it all. His presence alone gave his Terrapins an advantage, since the opposition would surely have to double- or triple-team him.
The 22-year-old Bias was selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 NBA draft, then came to a handshake agreement on a $1.6-million, five-year endorsement contract with Reebok shoes the next morning.
Bias returned to College Park from Boston that night for a private party at his dormitory.
Teammates Terry Long and David Gregg and friend Brian Tribble met Bias at his dormitory on the South side of the campus at about 3 a.m. Shortly afterword, the group began snorting cocaine.
Long and Gregg said later that they warned Bias not to snort too much, but that he didn’t listen.
A few hours later, Bias had a seizure, dropped to the floor, lost consciousness and regained it. Then he had a second seizure and still another. Long tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it didn’t work.
At 6:32 a.m., Tribble called 911, and at 8:50 a.m., on June 19, 1986, Bias was pronounced dead.
An autopsy later determined that cocaine had interrupted the electrical activity to Bias’ brain, ending the flow of signals to the heart and causing it to stop beating.
Police and reporters scrambled to uncover the details of Bias’ death, and bit by bit the story unfolded of the dormitory party and of Bias’ alleged occasional drug use.
The community--at first surprised, and hurt by Bias’ death--became impatient, demanding answers quicker than investigators could find and assemble them.
Within days of Bias’ death, the university and its students were drawn into the investigation, taking questions from community leaders, the police--and even their own parents.
Ted Koppel did his “Nightline” show from the top of Cole Field House and papers all over the country carried pictures of more than 10,000 students and fans mourning during a memorial tribute to Bias. During that memorial at Cole Field House, state flags flew at half staff and Jesse Jackson and others spoke of the tremendous potential Bias had shown.
Five days after his death, things began falling apart for the athletic department. It started with the resignation of an academic counselor for the basketball team, who said she believed education was not Driesell’s top priority.
According to published reports, in the spring semester of 1986, five of Driesell’s 12 players had flunked out of school.
On average, the reports further showed, one in 10 Maryland athletes flunked out every semester, then reapplied for admission, took the classes he had failed over again in summer school and continued to play without interruption.
On July 9, John Smialek, the state medical examiner, announced that Bias had died a “cocaine-induced” death.
Despite all the evidence that had been leading to that conclusion, Smialek’s announcement fell on the Maryland community like a lead weight.
Suddenly, parents were explaining drugs and death to their small children, many of whom had included Bias in their bedtime prayers and had hung his posters on their walls.
A grand jury investigation ensued but no charges were brought, and, on the advice of their attorneys, Driesell, his coaches and the players involved declined to answer reporters’ questions. It was then reported that Bias had rarely attended classes in the spring semester and that he was still 21 credits--seven classes--short of graduation in May.
With that revelation, Maryland’s academic policies came under scrutiny.
In July, Kitty Saylor, a one-time graduate teaching assistant, told the Washington Post that, at the request of Ken Vreeland, an academic counselor, she had changed an an F grade to an incomplete for basketball player Adrian Branch in the summer of 1984.
Obviously, the situation was growing worse. There were far more questions than answers, and adding to the distrust were students, coaches and counselors refusing to speak to anyone.
Then, four months after Bias’ death, athletic director Dick Dull resigned.
Dull said that he had been thinking about leaving for some time but Bias’ death and the mess that followed probably made his decision much easier.
Driesell was next.
He was an icon. Driesell never had a losing season at Maryland, had 16 seasons of 20-plus victories and built a 349-159 record, including one ACC title. Maryland was a conference and national power and it had Driesell to thank.
His swaying walk and slow drawl made him colorful, and his court tantrums and passionate love for the game and the student body gave him charisma. He was brash and outrageous, a joy to root for.
But during the grand jury investigation, there were unproved allegations that Driesell had been part of a cover-up, instructing his players to clean up Bias’ room the morning of his death. That, and the academic problems enveloping the basketball team, all pushed Driesell nearer to the doorstep.
At a news conference on Oct. 29, Driesell, flanked by his wife and two daughters, stood before more than 200 reporters and cameraman, announcing that he was resigning to accept a position as assistant athletic director in charge of promotion and fund raising.
It was a facade and everyone knew it.
In April of ’88, he was hired as coach at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. In two seasons there, Driesell has gone 36-25.
The day after Driesell’s resignation, Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter announced the hiring of Bob Wade as basketball coach.
Maryland was rid of Dull and Driesell--both of whom had been in the spotlight during the lengthy Bias investigation--and the hiring of Wade was welcomed as a breath of fresh air.
“We felt that he had the kind of sensitivity to deal with the needs of the young men in the basketball program,” said Slaughter, now president of Occidental College. “At the time, they’d been a pretty besieged group and they needed someone who had discipline and who in addition had proved he was a solid basketball coach.
“But I failed to put the kind of support network around (Wade) that any coach would have needed.”
Wade was the first black Division I basketball or football coach in the ACC, and, although all his coaching experience was at the high school level, he was a winner.
He had compiled a 341-25 record at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, including five national top-10 and three No. 1 high school rankings, in 1982, ’83, and ’85.
A graduate of Morgan State in Baltimore, he went to the NFL in 1968 and played for four teams as a defensive back, among them the Washington Redskins under Vince Lombardi.
At Dunbar, he was both father and coach to many young men who had had neither before joining Wade’s high school basketball or football teams. By all accounts, Wade was successful, respected and clean.
In the aftermath of Bias’ death and the restructuring of the athletic department, it seemed that he was just what Maryland needed--a strong hand to set the program straight.
In hindsight, however, what Maryland might have needed more was an experienced college coach, not a disciplinarian. Outside the basketball arena, Wade was rough and gruff, quite the opposite of Driesell.
The 1986-87 season was as difficult as expected for the first-year coach. The Terrapins struggled to a 9-17 finish, going winless in 14 ACC games. But the next season, 1987-88, Maryland went 18-13, 6-8 in the ACC and, surprisingly, qualified for the NCAA tournament. After beating UC Santa Barbara in the first round, 92-82, Wade stood before a large group of sportswriters, smugly enjoying a moment some had thought would never come to him.
One of Wade’s biggest coaching assests was his recruiting ability. Among his top recruits were 6-10 center Brian Williams, 6-10 forward Jerrod Mustaf, 6-8 guard Walt Williams and 6-1 guard Rudy Archer. Each was touted as one of the nation’s elite high school--or in Archer’s case, junior college--recruits. But although Wade could get good players, he couldn’t keep them. Williams was the first to go.
In May of 1988, Williams, the ACC’s rookie of the year, said he had had enough of Wade, and in July of of that year announced that he would transfer to Arizona, where he is now a junior.
Williams told The Washington Post in December: “I was fine (at Maryland) as far as the social life. I was fine there as far as the academics. But I said to myself, ‘Where do I want to be in a few years, and what coach do I want to be playing under and in what kind of system?’ I didn’t think I could be there under Bob Wade.”
Perhaps the most telling defection, though, had occurred earlier. On April 1, 1988, Slaughter had announced that he was leaving Maryland for Occidental.
“I told Bob when I left, ‘The only thing I regret, is that I’m leaving you alone,’ ” Slaughter said.
In February of 1989, a Washington Post reporter began uncovering information that Archer, the Terrapins’ former point guard who had been dismissed because of academics, was getting transportation to a nearby junior college from members of Wade’s coaching staff--an NCAA rules violation.
Shortly after the reporter began working on the story, Wade told Athletic Director Lew Perkins that his basketball staff had violated NCAA rules by providing transportation to a recruit.
The university immediately reported the violation to the NCAA and the ACC and left the matter to its legal counsel.
Wade denied prior knowledge of the transportation, and said emphatically that he had had no involvement in giving rides to Archer.
At about the same time, freshman guard Jesse Martin was charged with assault and battery after an alleged altercation with a female student. Maryland basketball just couldn’t stay out of the news, and both athletic department and school administrators seemed satisfied to blame Wade.
But some players believed Wade was sold out.
“I think the university betrayed him,” said Jerrod Mustaf, who was recently drafted by the New York Knicks. “After Rudy (was academically dismissed), he would still come back and shoot around in the gym. Lots of people did. I didn’t think much of it.
“But the athletic director (Lew Perkins) was there. He saw Rudy, and if it was wrong, if it was against the rules, why didn’t he say, ‘Hey Bob, he’s not allowed to be in here.’? I didn’t know about that rule. And Coach Wade was still sort of new to college, maybe he wasn’t aware of the rule. I don’t know. But (Perkins) surely did.
“From the beginning, Coach Wade and the athletic department didn’t get along together and one of them had to leave. And the same thing is happening now, somebody’s going to have to leave again,” said Mustaf, just a month before Perkins resigned to become athletic director at Connecticut.
In his three years at Maryland, Wade’s teams had a 36-50 record overall, went 7-35 in the ACC and made one NCAA tournament appearance.
In May of 1989, Wade resigned under pressure brought about by a nearly three-month investigation of his program.
The NCAA infractions report last March accused Wade of a cover-up, questioning his knowledge about the illegal rides to Archer and said, “The head coach knew, or should have known that the men’s basketball staff was providing such transportation.”
The report also said: “The coach participated in a meeting on Feb. 20, 1989, with other members of the men’s basketball coaching staff for the purpose of providing false and misleading information regarding the transportation of a prospective student-athlete.”
And with that, Maryland’s newest troubles were laid squarely on Wade. Although many of the facts surrounding his regime are still unclear, some think he was simply the most convenient scapegoat.
Soon after Wade resigned, a six-member board offered the coaching job to Ohio State’s Coach Gary Williams, a 1968 Maryland graduate.
Williams accepted the offer on June 13, 1989, fully aware that the program was under investigation, and that he might have to pay for mistakes made during the Wade era.
Williams seemed to be everything the Terrapins were looking for. A very intense person on court, he was squeaky-clean off it, everyone said. A three-year starter as a guard at Maryland, Williams had coached at American University and Boston College before moving on to Ohio State.
In his first season at OSU, 1986-87, he led the Buckeyes to a 20-13 record, 9-9 in the Big Ten and an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
In 1987-88, the Buckeyes went 20-13 again and lost to Connecticut in the final of the National Invitation Tournament. And in 1988-89, they went 19-15 and were ousted from the NIT in the third round.
Overall, Williams was 59-41 at Ohio State and was regarded as one of the nation’s top young coaches.
He was an instant hit at College Park. A handsome man with a warm smile, Williams has a distinctive, bouncing walk that was soon being widely imitated. In a sportscast on a Washington television station, Terrapin players took turns mocking Williams’ walk, and sideline antics for the camera. After three tough years, Maryland basketball was fun again.
Students lined up inside the gym at 6:30 a.m. on the day of a game for student tickets, armed with pillows and doughnuts and an occasional book or two for the long wait.
Williams often met students during the early morning ticket handout. But if that wasn’t possible, he was sure to greet them with high-fives and handshakes before the game.
In the excitement of the new job, however, Williams had seemingly forgotten about a few mistakes of his own.
Ten days after Williams was named as the Terrapins’ new coach, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that he was being investigated by Ohio State officials for possible misuse of telephone privileges. He allegedly had made more that 479 calls to the residence and office of Victoria Chen, who identified herself as Williams’ investment banker.
Williams divorced his wife of 20 years in November of 1989, then became engaged to Chen a few months later. In July of 1989, the Maryland State Ethics Commission began investigating a $90,000 second mortgage, arranged by and for Athletic Director Lew Perkins through the athletic department’s fund raising arm, the Terrapin Club. When the loan was made public, Perkins pulled out of the deal and the investigation was dropped. But the uniting of Maryland and investigation had occurred again.
Last February, Maryland officials told the NCAA that Jeff Adkins, a former assistant basketball coach, had violated NCAA rules by arranging to sell ACC tournament tickets for five Terrapin players.
The university told the NCAA that Adkins’ scalping of ACC tickets wasn’t an isolated incident, and Adkins told the university’s investigators that it had been going on as a matter of course since 1981.
Later in February, Maryland told the NCAA and the ACC that Williams had observed an informal workout--a pick-up game among Maryland players--before the beginning of preseason practice.
Here it was, happening again, even before the NCAA had finished its investigation.
Then in March, the NCAA announced its findings and sanctions in a live television conference shown on three of Washington’s largest television stations.
The sanctions will cost the Terrapin athletic department an estimated $4 million in lost revenues over two years.
In April, Maryland announced a scholarship freeze for all 23 varsity sports and cut financing for several other men’s and women’s sports.
On May 14, Gary Williams was arrested for drunken driving.
Two months later, Athletic Director Perkins announced he was leaving Maryland for Connecticut. His resignation sounded a familiar chord. When Dull and Driesell resigned after Bias’ death, Wade and Perkins had been looked upon as saviors. Now, Williams and a yet-to-be-named athletic director have inherited a similar mess, and Williams has already had problems of his own.
They may very well be wondering at Maryland if there is no end to all of this.
LIST OF NCAA SANCTIONS AGAINST MARYLAND
On March 5, 1990, the NCAA and University of Maryland held a joint news conference in College Park, Md., to announce sanctions against the Terrapin basketball program. After the sanctions were read, Maryland President Dr. William Kirwan announced he would appeal the ruling, which was upheld last week. The sanctions :
1. Banned from postseason play through the 1991-92 season.
2. Placed on three years’ probation.
3. Prohibited from appearing on television for the 1990-91 season, which also bars the school from competing in the televised 1991 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
4. Must return $361,000 to the NCAA from participation in its 1988 tournament.
5. Scholarships reduced from 15 to 13 through the 1992 season.
6. Foreign tours prohibited through the summer of 1992.
7. Games outside the continental U.S. prohibited through the 1992 season.
8. Individual and team records from the 1988 NCAA tournament deleted and the team’s finish in the final standings vacated.
Note: Because of the sanctions, the athletic department has a projected budget deficit of $2.6 million for the upcoming academic year. In the long term, it is expected to cost $4 million.