Texas coach Penders finds dream job is suddenly giving him nightmares

December 22, 1991|By Cathy Harasta | Cathy Harasta,Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN, Texas -- The first sign of the Texas touches in Tom Penders' new home is on the front door. A head of cattle, in the form of a gleaming door knocker shaped like a longhorn, greets the University of Texas basketball coach each time he enters the white stone house.

When the Penders family moved in last February, they were settling in their dream house and, possibly, their retirement home.

But Penders, 46, is carrying more of his job home with him lately. People close to the fourth-year Texas coach said he has suffered some disillusionment because of Texas procedures he has found mystifying in recent weeks. They said he is less confident of his job security, despite his long-term contract.

And they are worried about the way the past month has drained him emotionally. It hasn't helped that the Longhorns have struggled to a 4-4 start punctuated by last Saturday's 17-point loss at home to Connecticut, Penders' alma mater. That marked Penders' worst loss at the Erwin Center.

"You can see it in his face," said Jamie Ciampaglio, a Longhorns basketball assistant who came with Penders from Rhode Island. "He has been less happy than at any time in the five years I've been with him. He has been more frustrated than at any time since he was hired here. I don't think it will ever be the same."

Ciampaglio said he would not be surprised if Penders were to listen to other offers next year.

A month ago, the relationship between the University of Texas and Penders was as solid and resounding as his longhorn-shaped door knocker. A month ago, Penders' wife, Susie, called the offer UT made her husband in 1988 a "godsend."

But Penders said he indeed was troubled by the university's handling of at least three recent situations. Two of them involved assistant coaches hired and supervised by Penders. The third was the forced resignation of football coach David McWilliams.

Penders said he deplored Texas' approach to its concerns about the eligibility of Longhorns star forward Dexter Cambridge, a senior who was averaging 23.5 points and 12 rebounds. The Cambridge revelations came as a result of UT's calling in the NCAA to investigate assistant coach Vic Trilli.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said Trilli still is under investigation. The university alerted the NCAA early in the fall, when it had concerns about Trilli's finances. He reportedly was involved in loans to former players.

Last week ago, the NCAA Eligibility Staff declared Cambridge permanently ineligible. The NCAA Eligibility Committee denied UT's appeal on his behalf Thursday. Cambridge filed a lawsuit based on the violation of his rights to due process.

Last Saturday, he was denied a preliminary injunction that would have allowed him to play until a trial. Cambridge said Monday through a university release that he was returning to his home in the Bahamas and was unsure whether to continue to seek reinstatement.

Penders also said he was surprised and saddened by the forced resignation Dec. 2 of McWilliams, who had four years remaining on his contract. The Penders and McWilliams families were close.

Susie Penders said her husband was deeply disturbed because of his closeness to Cambridge and McWilliams.

"We hadn't had a week like that in years, where Tom's career caused him to bring things home from the office," she said. "It affected him so much that it affected our whole family. In the very emotional stages of those disruptions, he probably would have hopped on a plane the next day."

Penders said he since has talked with Dodds about the university's procedures concerning the basketball program. Penders said he felt he was not informed early in the school's separate probes of Ciampaglio and Trilli.

Ciampaglio reportedly was under fire for the way he allocated players' meal money, distributing the funds differently for home and road games. Dodds said Ciampaglio's situation remains unresolved.

With Cambridge's situation clouding the Longhorns, Ciampaglio said it has been a freakish season.

"As a staff, we have discussed the least basketball since I've been here," Ciampaglio said. "We're floundering in a pool of uncertainty. We talk more about lawyers instead of what type of defense is Connecticut going to play."

Ciampaglio, who played against Penders-coached teams when

Ciampaglio was at Wagner, said Penders has found recent weeks eye-opening.

"I think he has learned a lot about how the university operates," Ciampaglio said. "He has learned it isn't all peaches and cream. It was a joy ride from Day One. But it's not a joy ride now."

Said Dodds: "Most of the time, when we get allegations -- which we get frequently by anonymous letter, etc. -- we resolve those with an internal process and alert the NCAA we are looking at it. We always go to the president when something significant comes along. In the Trilli case, the NCAA said, 'We will investigate. We will come down [to Austin].' "

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