Irish opportunity seen as golden no more

April 30, 1991|By Joseph Tybor | Joseph Tybor,Chicago Tribune

Like the star-crossed kid rejected by the prom queen and her court, maybe it is time for Notre Dame to look at the girl next door.

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins became the latest in a list of glamour candidates to turn his back on the Golden Dome yesterday, refusing an opportunity to interview for the head basketball job that Digger Phelps left after only his third losing season in 20 years.

Cremins became the fourth known candidate to outrightly reject consideration for the job in the face of direct or indirect contacts by Notre Dame. He was preceded by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Xavier coach Pete Gillen and Kansas coach Roy Williams.

No one really expected Krzyzewski and Williams to leave their highly successful programs at basketball powers, but Gillen's refusal was a shock and Cremins' came as a big surprise, too, according to sources.

After the earlier slights, athletic director Dick Rosenthal wanted a successor named this week. Feelers went out to Cremins and, at the same time, Rosenthal invited SMU coach John Shumate for an interview yesterday.

The Irish couldn't properly go through the motions of selecting a successor without -- on the surface -- considering Shumate as the first black to be a head coach of any sport at Notre Dame. He was one of their most popular players and overcame a potentially fatal blood clot on his lung to become an All-American. He was a former assistant under Phelps and a seven-year pro in the NBA who has made an academically tough program at SMU competitive.

So, the plan was to interview Shumate, one other candidate and Cremins. The choice would be obvious. No one would fault Rosenthal for selecting the Bronx-born-and-raised, Irish Catholic, highly successful Cremins with 16 years' head coaching experience over Shumate.

Shumate has won plaudits from his fellow Southwest Conference coaches for the hard-nosed, over-achieving play of his squads, but he has yet to give SMU a winner in his three years there.

Cremins said he was never formally offered the job, but he telephoned Rosenthal Sunday night with his decision not to accept an interview. He said his feelings for the Georgia Tech family "were too strong for me to pursue any other interests right now." There were other considerations.

Cremins has a package that pays him a reported $400,000 a year at Georgia Tech, including an estimated $150,000 shoe contract with Nike and a basketball camp that gives him about $120,000 a year. In contrast, Notre Dame runs its own camp and has paid Phelps $15,000 for participating each year.

"Notre Dame might have to step back and take a different look at it now," said TV commentator Al McGuire. "They have a little egg on their tie."

McGuire mentioned Shumate as a viable candidate. Shumate, in addition to always having his team ready, recruited next year's Notre Dame seniors, including LaPhonso Ellis, Daimon Sweet and Elmer Bennet. McGuire also mentioned Danny Nee of Nebraska -- another former Phelps assistant -- as a possibility.

Shumate was unavailable for comment yesterday after his interviews. Athletic department spokesmen at Nebraska said Nee has not been contacted by Notre Dame.

Others mentioned as possibilities have been Mike Montgomery, who led Stanford to the NIT championship this past season, and Bruce Parkhill of Penn State. Montgomery was unavailable for comment yesterday and Parkhill said he has not been contacted.

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