Nobody at Baylor told Dave Bliss that framing a dead kid would save his job.
Nobody had to. At least not in so many words.
Smearing Patrick Dennehy was Bliss' idea. So was bringing in one questionable character after another and ignoring the rules about eligibility and team chemistry at every turn. Be clear about that much.
And when it blew up, it was Bliss' idea, too, to have somebody else take the blame for the lawlessness that held sway over the day-to-day conduct of his basketball program. But anybody who thought the coach only began behaving desperately at the end wasn't paying attention at the beginning.
After all, what's one more betrayal to a man who lost count long ago? And how big a leap from suspicion to smear, especially pinning it on a kid who could no longer speak for himself.
''I think the thing we want to do, and you think about this, if there's a way we can create the perception that Pat may have been a dealer,'' Bliss tells one player in a July 31 conversation taped by one of his assistants. ''Even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us.''
Then there is a pause.
''Dennehy,'' Bliss resumed with chilling matter-of-factness, ''is never going to refute what we say.''
But he might be the only one.
On Tuesday, Bliss' cover-up threatened to unravel further. A judge in Maryland decided to keep close Dennehy pal and former Baylor backup Carlton Dotson in jail for up to 60 more days as prosecutors work to extradite him to Texas. Dotson, 21, is charged with killing Dennehy near Waco, Texas.
The same afternoon, athletic director Tom Stanton said he'd had enough. Stanton resigned earlier this month, but was supposed to remain on the job until a replacement was hired.
''These past few months,'' he said in a statement released by the university, ''have been the most difficult period of my life.''
Apparently, he was not alone. Laura Collins-Hays, Bliss' former administrative assistant, went on a radio show the same afternoon and told of standing outside Bliss' office during a meeting between the coach and one of his players. She heard banging and became certain that Bliss was bouncing a senior named Greg Davis against the wall.
When he emerged, Collins-Hays said she went to hug Davis and said, '''Greg, you don't have to take this.'''
But that was precisely the problem. Davis did have to take it; without the aid Baylor was providing and Bliss controlled the purse string Davis couldn't afford school. He had to take whatever the coach was dishing out.
It's easy to take in all the competing version of events and arrive at a single conclusion: that Bliss was willing to do anything to get ahead. More likely, though, the truth is that he was willing to do anything just to hold on.
Before the scandal erupted, Bliss was close to playing out the string. He was an assistant to Bob Knight at Army and Indiana almost 30 years ago, then a head coach at Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico in succession,
He arrived at Baylor in 1999 and inherited a team that had gone winless in the Big 12 the previous season. He more than doubled attendance in the seasons that followed, but never quite matched his success on the court elsewhere. In four seasons at Baylor, his teams never made it to the NCAA Tournament and never won 20 games. Last year, the Bears were 14-14, an even less impressive 5-11 in the conference.
However much pressure Bliss felt to win, it wasn't all self-inflicted. At 59, already a five-time conference coach of the year, his career was trending in the wrong direction. And when even a small school like Baylor (13,000 students) ponies up six figures, it expects the same return on investment its bigger Big 12 brethren get for their money.
Whether anybody at Baylor translated those expectations into wins and losses is anybody's guess. Either way, Bliss got the message. It's the same one Jim Harrick Sr., Larry Eustachy and Jan van Breda Kolff heard from the higher-ups at Georgia, Iowa State and even tiny St. Bonaventure, respectively.
Every school wants to get in the game, which means fewer talented ballplayers to go around and more risk. People who keep saying Bliss' behavior crossed a line no coach ever transgressed need to remember: He had plenty of help.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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