In 1957 my dad went to the University of San Francisco to play basketball. The Dons were coming off two consecutive National Championships, the last to cap off an undefeated season. USF was the Duke of its era, with a roster of blue-chip recruits from all corners of the country, one that soon found no need for the services of a 6’2” rebounder who would later be best known for making me weed the goddamn backyard. But USF was also a respected Jesuit institution with an academic and moral reputation, so much so that the esteemed basketball program was shut down by the administration in 1982 because of allegations ranging from recruiting improprieties (including star Quintin Dailey) to bogus jobs for players (mostly Quintin Dailey) to an alleged rape (pretty much just Quintin Dailey). That is what makes the school’s current situation all the more perplexing, and that is why the “celebration” marking Eddie Sutton’s 800th win has all the heat of Michael Vick’s next birthday party. Just over 20 years after its self-imposed Death Sentence, the program finds itself with a coach of questionable motivation, replacing one with reprehensible academic standards, orchestrated by an AD with a dubious resume and brokered by a couple of characters who give Sonny Vaccaro the creeps.
That Sutton is the least culpable in this mess speaks more to the moral turpitude of the rest of the cast of characters than to his own decency. Though his initial pronouncement in the press that this is “the least amount of talent I’ve ever had to work with” sounds less like a motivational speech and more like an copout, the players themselves may actually benefit from Sutton’s guidance. Which isn’t saying a great deal, considering that outgoing coach Jessie Evans pulled the rare feat of abhorrent academic standards in the classroom and consistent mediocrity on the court (Apparently he didn’t read the second half of Bob Huggins’ book.) Still, whatever one thinks about Sutton’s presence on the Hill, he undeniably took the job for one reason only (actually two reasons – he was at 798 wins). He’s made it clear that he’s gone after this year, which would be a huge blow to recruiting if USF had been doing that with any amount of success, and frankly the idea of Eddie Sutton in San Francisco makes about as much sense as Dick Cheney in the Castro. Admittedly, though, there is a certain amount of symmetry for a coach with a vagabond reputation ending his career as a three month gun-for-hire.
Orchestrating this transition was USF Athletic Director Debra Gore-Mann. Well, not entirely. It’s pretty apparent that Gore-Mann had a lot of help from the Pump Brothers, who run a sort of executive search business for head coaches, kind of like Robert Half International without the pesky background check. That the AD of a Division I school would rely on the services of the Kelly Girls of college hoops likely has less to do with their success and more with the fact that they also run an AAU program that is a pipeline for DI talent. Apparently the Pump Brothers also have a pipeline for brokering Final Four tickets for coaches, making them the Renaissance men of creepy recruiting gurus.
For her part, Gore-Mann’s decision to make a change, an inevitability given that Evans had led the Dons to the middle of the pack in WCC standings as well as dead solid last in academics, was unquestionably the right one. What somewhat tempers the virtue of the decision, however, is not only the presence of the Pump Brothers, but the fact that she waited until the season started, as well as her own questionable background. Gore-Mann left the Stanford Athletic Department one step ahead of the executioner, where as an Associate AD she was charged with covering up an incident in which players entertained recruits at the New Century strip club in San Francisco. This is disappointing mostly because you would expect a school as well-heeled as Stanford to at least pony up for the O’Farrell Theater, particularly if they’re going to submit receipts (which they actually did before Gore-Mann allegedly destroyed them).
There is a potential silver lining in all of this, and strangely it involves the WCC’s greatest success story on the other side of the Bay and a coach still searching for his first victory. In Moraga, Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett has done an exemplary job putting together a nationally competitive program while still staying in the good graces of the Admissions department. If the presence of Eric Musselman sniffing around at every Gaels’ home game tells us nothing else, however, it is that Bennett will soon be moving on to greener pastures. The most immediate vacancy is in Oregon State, which despite being in Corvallis is still the Pac-10. Hey, it worked for Ralph Miller. Should Bennett take the Beavers job (and yes we’re saying that because we like saying Beavers), that would leave winless interim Beavers (heh heh) head coach Kevin Mouton without a job. Mouton, coincidentally, is a USF alumnus. Mouton has the coaching experience and also seems to have the ethical fortitude. His first order of business after replacing Jay John was to kick C.J. Giles, the Beavers’ best player but biggest head case, off the team. Frankly we’d take him or Musselman over either Sutton or Evans. Musselman’s barking style is more naturally suited to college ball, and his social style is more suited to a city where you can walk home from bars. Whatever decision is ultimately made regarding the permanent head coach, it needs to be done quickly. Until then USF is a program in basketball purgatory.