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Out to Dinner, Out of A Job
Alexander Wolff
November 18, 1996
UCLA fried coach Jim Harrick for lying about an expense-account meal. Was that the only reason?
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November 18, 1996

Out To Dinner, Out Of A Job

UCLA fried coach Jim Harrick for lying about an expense-account meal. Was that the only reason?

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Cameron Dollar took a seat on a bench in Pauley Pavilion after practice last Friday, his head wrapped in a towel. Dollar, UCLA's senior point guard, was feeling out of sorts, and he suspected the culprit to be the hot Santa Ana winds that had kicked up a few days earlier and chased away a bone-chilling cold front. "Earthquake weather," Dollar said. "Lot of change. Lot of weirdness going on."

Dollar and change indeed. On Nov. 6—only 19 months after the Bruins had won the national championship that seemed finally to banish the specter of John Wooden and his unmatchable success, scarcely two weeks before the start of a season in which UCLA was expected to be a Top 5 team and scant days before the early-signing period that's so critical to recruiting—school chancellor Charles Young and athletic director Peter Dalis fired the Bruins' 58-year-old coach, Jim Harrick. To replace him until at least the end of the coming season they named assistant Steve Lavin, 32, who has no head-coaching experience and who only two seasons ago was a $16,000-a-year part-timer.

UCLA took its extraordinary action in the wake of a dinner three weeks earlier at which Harrick entertained a dozen people, including three recruits and five current Bruins. On his expense report he lied about who had been in attendance, and he prevailed upon one of his assistants to go along with his false account. "Yes, I lied," Harrick said after his dismissal. "I made a mistake in judgment. But to be fired over it? That outweighs the crime by mountains and miles." Added Harrick later, "Dalis has been after me for years."

Dalis's riposte: "If that was the case, why would I have extended his contract [for five seasons, at a reported annual salary of $400,000] last year?"

"I don't want to overstate it, but I think Watergate is analogous," said Young. "The breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices wasn't that big a crime, but what followed it is what brought down the president of the United States."

Harrick's undoing probably began in September, after his son, Glenn, 27, sold a 1991 Chevy Blazer, registered in his father's name, to Lisa Hodoh, a UCLA food-services employee who also happens to be the sister of Baron Davis, a 6'2" blue-chip point guard at Santa Monica's Crossroads High. Hodoh gave the Blazer to her brother shortly after Sept. 18, the day Davis orally committed to the Bruins. Investigators from the NCAA and the Pac-10 would exonerate the Bruins in the matter, ruling that the $5,000 Hodoh paid for the Blazer, which had 112,960 miles on it, was fair market value. But Jim Harrick knew of the sale of the vehicle for two weeks without saying anything about it to Dalis, who was not pleased to find out about the deal through an inquiry from a reporter. Exactly how mad was the AD? "On a scale of one to 10," says one athletic department employee, "he was an 11."

The Blazer imbroglio, Dalis said last week, was not in itself a factor in Harrick's firing. What the incident seems to have done, however, was create a climate in which Dalis would subject Harrick's every move—including that dinner on Oct. 11 at a Westwood eatery called Monty's Restaurant—to sharper scrutiny.

Harrick's last supper took place the day after Pac-10 investigators looking into Blazergate left campus. The three recruits in attendance were Jarron and Jason Collins, 6'10" twins from Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood, and Earl Watson, a 6'1" guard from Washington High in Kansas City. Three of the Bruins on hand, Kris Johnson, Jelani McCoy and Bob Myers, were there properly under NCAA rules, as student-athlete hosts of the prospects. But also at the meal were Dollar and teammate Charles O'Bannon. Because the entire tab went on Harrick's university credit card, Dollar and O'Bannon, who weren't hosts for the recruits, received what the NCAA calls an improper extra benefit. To conceal the impropriety, Harrick submitted the names of two people who weren't at Monty's that night—his wife, Sally, and LaShell Holton, wife of UCLA assistant Michael Holton—on his expense report instead of Dollar's and O'Bannon's.

If all Harrick had done was falsify an expense report, he would probably still be the Bruins' coach. But three times Dalis and Donald Morrison, UCLA's NCAA faculty representative, queried Harrick about the meal, and each time he lied about who had been in attendance. According to sources at the university, during the school's probe Harrick asked Holton to corroborate his version of the dinner by telling Dalis that LaShell had indeed been there that night. Holton did Harrick's bidding—once. But after a fitful night's sleep, Holton, a former Bruins star and NBA player who is about to begin his first season of coaching at his alma mater, told Dalis the truth the following morning. When Harrick stuck to his original story, his fate was sealed. (Harrick did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.)

Dalis and Young met with Harrick for 45 minutes in the coach's office after practice on Nov. 5 and offered him a choice: He could admit his error and resign by 10 the following morning and be paid through the balance of the season, or be fired, with no compensation, for violating the ethical-conduct clause in his contract. Not much of a choice—but after consulting with his attorney, Robert Tanenbaum, Harrick opted for the latter.

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