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No denying VBK's dirty deeds

By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The College Basketball Coaching Rehab Tour stopped at Mickey Mantle's Restaurant on Tuesday, leaving Jan van Breda Kolff to start a guest lecture circuit that also could star Larry Eustachy and Jim Harrick before it's done.

Van Breda Kolff brought a lawyer, a swarm of public relations suits and a thick packet of irrelevant and irrational materials that didn't prove his innocence, just his arrogant belief that people are as stupid as he is morally bankrupt.

Breda Kolff
Jan van Breda Kolff did his best Tuesday to distance himself from any wrong-doings at St. Bonaventure.
Deny, deny, deny: If only Van Breda Kolff's porous St. Bonaventure basketball teams employed such a suffocating defense.

When van Breda Kolff could've used his press briefings in New York and Buffalo as a chance to confess to his complicity with the recruitment of Jamil Terrell, a junior college player whose greatest academic achievement was earning a welding certificate, and the ensuing Bonnies boycott that turned this scandal into a national phenomenon, he blamed everyone at St. Bonaventure but Bob Lanier for his own failings.

The way his lawyer is threatening to sue the university to get van Breda Kolff the $950,000 left on his contract, he should understand: He's lucky the Franciscan Friars don't sue him for the damage deposed president Robert Wickenheiser and van Breda Kolff had done to the good name of the university.

A Matlock impersonator and political operative out of Nashville, lawyer Lew Conner has a better chance getting his old Republican presidential candidate, Lamar Alexander, elected to the Baghdad city council, than he does getting his old Vanderbilt buddy, Van Breda Kolff, another Division I coaching job. This is a hell of a defense for an offensive whiz of a coach: This was my program, but this wasn't my problem. The kid with the welding certificate and high school G.E.D., there was a problem with getting him eligible?

"Nobody told me," van Breda Kolff said, his nose growing longer than Mick's Louisville Slugger's on the wall. Somehow, he insisted he was completely ignorant that there was even an issue on his eligibility. He said he never had a meeting on it. Never had a conversation. For goodness sakes, even Nixon finally came clean.

"It surprises me he would say that since he was in a meeting with Gothard (Lane) and me, where we talked about this issue," St. Bonaventure compliance director Barbara Questa said. "I also know that, through Gothard, he had a meeting with the president and Gothard about it where it was discussed."

Asked whether van Breda Kolff pushed for St. Bonaventure to accept the welding certificate and declare him fit for a scholarship, Questa said, "He was certainly an advocate of making him eligible."

When you made a call to get those names, there was just a frustrated voice on the phone down in Brunswick, Ga.

"That's a crock," Gerald Cox, Coastal Georgia's A.D. and basketball coach, said. And then, he asked, "Do you swim? Well, what happens to a swimmer when a man that's drowning gets to him? He gets up all over you so you can't breathe. He takes you down with him."

St. Bonaventure is a mom-and-pop store of Division I basketball, a small athletic department, small staff and an understanding, says one official, that "Nobody said boo around here without Jan's approval." Out of the loop? Van Breda Kolff was the loop at little St. Bonaventure, where his bully-boy tactics and power-broking assistant coach, Kort Wickenheiser, created, as the school's probe found, a climate of intimidation and fear. Cross the out-of-control, victory-hungry president's son, you were crossing the president. This was a hammer that van Breda Kolff loved on his staff and used constantly.

"There is no way that (van Breda Kolff) didn't know about the problems with Jamil's eligibility," Cox said. "He got the same information just as quickly as every other D-I and D-II coach in the country did on Jamil. I had no reason to think he was out of the loop. I remember one of the basketball people -- van Breda Kolff or one of (his) assistants -- telling me that they had found in their research that said they could get him in.

"And knowing the academic reputation of St. Bonaventure, my president was flabbergasted that St. Bonaventure could take him. I should've listened to her."

The way van Breda Kolff should've listened to his compliance director, Barb Questa, whom he treated like a witch out to stand between him and his blind ambition for victory.

VKB doesn't just want the $950,000 left on his terminated contract, but a chance to coach college basketball again. Between Cox's recollections and those of ex-AD, Gothard Lane -- who told the Buffalo News that he kept notes of a meeting about Terrell with the university president and Wickenheiser, where van Breda Kolff declared that "No one will turn us into the NCAA" -- he's going to have trouble working again as long as he sticks to his story of complete ignorance.

Until he comes clean, van Breda Kolff is just one more soul-less coach that America's athletic directors should cross off its short lists. This system is so messed up, because too many repeat offenders are constantly recycled. And Lane isn't a hostile witness toward VBK, because he, too, wants to work again and is still trying to sell the notion that hiring Van Breda Kolff two years ago wasn't a mistake for St. Bonaventure. But, the administration didn't do its homework on him. It didn't discover what everybody else in college basketball understood: VBK is anti-social and temperamental, with a reputation for firing assistants and secretaries like tossing out Kleenex.

Last season, when his own media policy -- that players couldn't talk after losses -- blew up on him, he tried to have his sports information director fired to shield himself from an onslaught of public criticism. Which, as we now all know all too well, was just a prelude to the vast cover-up that shook St. Bonaventure to its core in March.

Desperate for a shot-blocking and rebounding center for the 2002-03 season, van Breda Kolff had Wickenheiser do the end-around on the A.D. and compliance officer and go straight to the university president on the matter. Every time the coach was told "No" on Terrell within athletics, van Breda Kolff climbed higher and higher. Remember, Kort wasn't just an assistant coach, but the president's own son.

If he was freelancing to Daddy, Jan Van shrugged, the head coach never knew a thing. Plausible deniability. Van Breda Kolff made sure that e-mails were never copied to him, leaving no chance for the paper trail of a welding certificate back to his office. Somehow, he believed people might buy it. Of course, everything worked it's way back to his office.

St. Bonaventure isn't Harvard, but it sure isn't designed for basketball coaches to bring recruits with welding certificates and high school G.E.D's to the front door of the admissions department.

Somewhere, it can't be about just getting kids into school, but coaches asking themselves: Can the athlete do the work? Can he graduate? St. Bonaventure had an 87 percent graduation rate for men's basketball and van Breda Kolff couldn't have cared less about it, the way he was chasing non-students on the recruiting trails.

After a miserable first semester, the answer, sadly, for Terrell was that he couldn't. And everybody at St. Bonaventure -- the ex-president to the ex-coach -- never took it into consideration. They never cared. They used Jamil Terrell, corrupted a school and got what they deserved: The perp walk across the national scandal stage.

So, Sgt. Schultz and Matlock promise to stay on the campaign trail, trying to get that $950K out of the Franciscans' brown robes and another coaching job out of some sucker institution of higher learning. Here's a little advice for future employers: Save yourself the trouble on Jan van Breda Kolff and let history be your witness.

When this operator is drowning on your watch, he'll take care to make sure you go down with him.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.

Wojnarowski is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

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