This morning, less than three weeks before the scheduled start of his ninth season at UCLA and 17 months after winning a national title, Jim Harrick's Bruin career will come to a controversial and dramatic close, a source close to the situation said.
According to the source, Harrick said he was called in to meet with UCLA administrators after practice Tuesday, was told there was a problem with an expense report, and he had a choice of either resigning or being fired.
Harrick, 58, whose Bruin teams made the NCAA tournament and won 20 or more games in each of his eight seasons, chose to resign, the source said, and it will be announced this morning.
Assistant coach Steve Lavin will take over the team for the rest of the season, according to another source.
"I understand there's a press conference at UCLA at 10 a.m.," said Harrick's wife, Sally Harrick, late Tuesday night.
When asked if her husband would be leaving the program this morning, Sally Harrick said: "I don't have any idea, talk to him."
Jim Harrick was unavailable because he was in a meeting, Sally Harrick said.
By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the UCLA players, who are scheduled to meet with Harrick and Lavin early today, already had heard the news.
"It floored me when Toby told me tonight," said John Bailey, father of starting guard Toby Bailey. "It's really a shock. I feel bad for him, because he's a good man."
John Bailey said he hadn't heard the exact reason for Harrick's dismissal.
Neither Lavin nor Athletic Director Peter T. Dalis could be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Sports information director Marc Dellins said he could not "confirm or deny" that Harrick would step down today.
"If it's true, they fired a guy that I was pretty close to," said Lorenzo Romar, who is starting his first season as Pepperdine coach after four years as an assistant under Harrick. "You're talking about a guy who gave me my start, made me laugh 100 times. I learned a lot from him. And I was on a staff that won the national championship with him. It hurts."
Romar has long been considered a top candidate to replace Harrick whenever he left, but Tuesday night said he couldn't consider it right now: "It's not good timing."
The timing is particularly wounding to a UCLA program that had been focusing on this upcoming signing period--starting Nov. 13--to restock a roster that could be left thin starting next season if underclassmen Jelani McCoy, Bailey and J.R. Henderson leave school early.
Rumors of the UCLA administration's growing dissatisfaction with Harrick had been growing since last month, when The Times reported that a car owned by Harrick had been sold to the sister of top recruit Baron Davis two days after Davis verbally committed to play for the Bruins.
Though the Pacific 10 Conference cleared Harrick and the program of any wrongdoing, UCLA officials were known to have been upset that Harrick did not alert them to the potential NCAA violation once he heard that his son Glenn had sold the car to Lisa Hodoh.
One source said Dalis had considered suspending Harrick for the opening game of this season--Nov. 20, at Pauley Pavilion, against Tulsa.
Harrick's teams won three Pac-10 titles during his tenure and the national title in 1995. But the Davis matter was not Harrick's first brush with upsetting Dalis and the rest of the administration.
Harrick, Dalis' third or fourth choice to replace Walt Hazzard in 1988--after Jim Valvano, Denny Crum and others were approached--once complained about his salary to a reporter, saying that since his teams had beaten Indiana and Louisville, he should earn as much as Bob Knight and Denny Crum.
After winning the national title, Harrick was voted the Naismith and National Assn. of Basketball Coaches national coach-of-the-year awards and the Pacific-10 coach of the year.
Harrick's contract was extended through the 1999-2000 season.
But last season the Bruins were knocked out of the tournament in the first round by Princeton after going 23-8. His record at UCLA is 191-63.
Lavin, 32, has been on Harrick's staff the past five seasons, but last season was his first as a full-time assistant. He was a graduate assistant at Purdue before coming to UCLA.
Lavin was interviewed for the head coaching opening at the University of San Francisco before the 1995-96 season.
Lavin, a defensive specialist who was instrumental in the Bruins' national championship season in 1994-95, is a 1988 graduate of Chapman.
Times staff writer Greg Sandoval contributed to this story.