UCLA fires Harrick coach cites witch hunt

Legendary Wooden to be mentor to interim coach

November 07, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES -- A dinner, an expense report, a lie, then a coverup led to the firing of UCLA basketball coach Jim Harrick yesterday. Nineteen months ago, he was winning a national championship, but yesterday he was accusing his employers of a witch hunt.

"I just feel the punishment is way, way out of line," he said.

He and school officials held separate news conferences, and although Harrick admitted he was culpable for some unethical behavior, he intimated that UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis was out to get him.

"Dalis has been after me for years," said Harrick, 58.

"If that was the case," Dalis said, "why would I have extended his contract last year?"

Steve Lavin, 32, a protege of Purdue's Gene Keady who was earning only $16,000 two years ago as a UCLA assistant, will be interim coach and will have John Wooden as an intermittent "mentor." Lavin has all five starters returning from a team that won last year's Pac-10 conference.

Larry Brown of the Indiana Pacers and a former UCLA coach is an apparent candidate.

At the core of Harrick's dismissal is a recruiting dinner with an All-America set of twins, and the question of who sat at the dining table with them. Jason and Jarron Collins -- identical twins and high school forwards from North Hollywood, Calif. -- and a Kansas City guard Earl Watson ate a meal on Oct. 11 with Harrick and five current members of the UCLA team: Jelani McCoy, Bob Myers, Kris Johnson, Cameron Dollar and Charles O'Bannon. But only McCoy, Myers and Johnson were official hosts and allowed to be present under NCAA rules.

Harrick, according to UCLA officials, then filed an exorbitant expense report that raised a red flag in the athletic department. "It was significantly higher than any expense report we've ever processed in my 14 years here; that's all I'll say," Dalis said.

After inquiries, UCLA said Harrick not only "repeatedly misrepresented significant facts," but encouraged another member of the basketball program to help with a coverup. Harrick was offered a chance to resign and be paid $400,000. He declined and will sue for $1.6 million, the remainder of the contract.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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