Southern Cal's Miller criticized for reading foe's letter

March 29, 1994|By Earl Gustkey | Earl Gustkey,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California women's coach Cheryl Miller, already a controversial figure in her field, now has now been accused of purloining mail.

Apparently a scouting report on Miller's team fell into the wrong hands last week -- Miller's.

Here's how it happened:

Debbie Ayres, the women's coach at Cal State Fullerton, was asked by her former boss, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, to scout USC's first two NCAA tournament games in Los Angeles, against Portland and George Washington.

Ayres hand-wrote a five-page report on Miller's team and took it with her to Fayetteville, Ark., site of last week's Mideast NCAA regional tournament.

Apparently believing that Tennessee was staying at the Fayetteville Hilton -- it was really USC's hotel -- Ayres put Summitt's name on an envelope, put her report in it and handed it -- unsealed, the story goes -- to a Hilton desk clerk for delivery to Summitt.

For two days the scouting report lay at the front desk. Finally, a clerk observed that no one named Summitt was registered. Further noting that the envelope was unsealed, the clerk opened it.

Let's see. . . looks like a bunch of basketball stuff. . . SC this, SC that. . . Miller this, Miller that. . . Hmmm.

Must be for Cheryl Miller, the clerk figured and eventually handed it to her.

Miller read it -- with growing interest.

Excerpts:

* "USC does not match up [with Tennessee] personnel-wise or coaching."

* "Cheryl works the crowd and the officials -- the men [USC assistants Fred Williams and Frank Scott] make the adjustments."

* "Anytime [Jody] Anton is in, take it right at her. She cannot defend against penetration and does a poor job in the press."

* "It can be a 20-point difference, Pat. You clearly have the No. 1 team. Go get 'em!"

Well, not quite, as it turned out.

No. 1-ranked Tennessee lost to Louisiana Tech last Thursday, rendering the scouting report unnecessary, even if Ayres had been successful in delivering it to the right coach.

Then Louisiana Tech knocked USC out of the tournament Saturday, 75-66, ending Miller's rookie season as a head coach.

Ayres, who was on Summitt's staff during the 1989-90 season, was asked about the report Sunday.

"That was personal mail and it was unethical for Cheryl to have read it," she said. "I have no other comment."

Miller was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Summitt had plenty to say.

"I'm very disappointed that Cheryl Miller would open a letter addressed to me," Summitt said. "I am upset. Cheryl Miller should be calling Pat Summitt and explaining why she opened my mail. It doesn't matter what was in it. It's called keeping your nose out of other people's business.

"If someone handed me an envelope with Cheryl Miller's name on it, I'd see to it that Cheryl Miller got it. If there'd been a stamp on that envelope, I'd press charges.

"How anyone can justify reading my mail -- it's beyond my imagination."

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