While Crum escaped unscathed, the hammer fell on three of his assistants. The first casualty was Jerry Jones, who was transferred to the school's university-relations division in June 1996 after admitting that he had given Walker an illegal benefit. In January 1996, assistant coach Larry Gay resigned under pressure after he committed violations ranging from the placement of impermissible phone calls to recruits, to failing to report the free use of a car he had gotten from a booster. After quietly retreating from the public eye and, like Oran in Texas, selling cars for three years, Gay returned to coaching last summer when he accepted a $96,000 a year assistant's job at Nebraska.
Gay's former colleague McCray has not been so fortunate. After using his own credit card to guarantee payment for a hotel room being used by Nate Johnson's father for two months, McCray, a 10-year assistant and a member of Crum's 1980 NCAA championship team, lost his job in June '98 and was transferred within the athletic department. Last spring the school refused to renew his contract, and he is currently working part-time for a real estate company. "I'm going through a rough time," he says. "Basketball means everything to me, and it kills me not to be in the game."
McCray betrays no bitterness toward Crum, who declined SI's request to be interviewed for this story. "We're still on good terms," McCray insists. Instead, he has directed his outrage toward the NCAA, which he is now suing for "millions of dollars," according to the lawsuit, for publishing a "false and defamatory report" that intentionally "placed him in a false light." Says McCray, "I was born to coach, and the NCAA has taken that from me."
McCray is not alone in directing his ire toward the NCAA instead of his head coach. Dwayne Casey, generally viewed as the standard-bearer for scapegoat assistants, lost his position at Kentucky in 1989 when he allegedly sent an overnight-express envelope to recruit Chris Mills that was stuffed with $1,000 in cash. While head coach Eddie Sutton immediately went on to another lucrative job at Oklahoma State, Casey received a five-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA and ended up coaching in Japan. More than a decade later he remains friendly with Sutton but is filled with resentment toward the NCAA. "The NCAA isn't a court of law, but its decisions are just as binding," says Casey, now an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics. "It can ruin careers with rumor and innuendo, and it isn't accountable."
Another criticism leveled at the NCAA is that it treats schools more leniently when they offer up a sacrificial lamb—usually a figure other than the head coach—before an investigation. Schools have the drill down cold. When word of a possible violation breaks, the school conducts its own investigation and then transfers or fires an assistant coach. By the time the NCAA arrives, the school has already punished the culprit fingered in the internal investigation and asserts that the problem has been corrected. "It's like dealing with organized crime," says Fordham's Brown. "The NCAA can't get the guy at the top, and the schools don't want to get rid of the guy at the top, so they try to make an example out of the limo driver."
In March 1997, Cincinnati placed top assistant John Loyer on paid leave after he had admitted to providing point guard Charles Williams with improper academic assistance. Loyer had enrolled Williams in a summer school course on the penultimate day of the '96 term and arranged for Williams to receive one-on-one instruction that would get him the credits he needed to become academically eligible for the '96-97 season. (Naturally, head coach Bob Huggins professed to know nothing about Williams's scheduling.)
During a meeting with university investigators in February 1997, Loyer initially claimed that Williams had enrolled in the course himself. The next day he told them that he had misspoken and that, in fact, he had arranged everything. He spent 1¾ years on leave, during which time the NCAA placed Cincinnati on probation for two years for numerous violations. Loyer was found to have breached the NCAA standards for ethical conduct in the Williams matter and was banned from recruiting off-campus for a year. He appealed, and when the committee met three months later, it agreed to drop his penalty because of the amount of time he'd already spent out of coaching.
Prepared to return to the Cincinnati bench, Loyer met with Huggins and university president Joseph Steger on Nov. 16, 1998. Loyer thought the meeting was a mere formality before his reinstatement, but Steger grilled Loyer about his conduct. According to Loyer, Huggins sat in stony silence during the entire meeting. "I was a little disappointed that [Huggins] didn't stand up and say, 'Hey, my guy didn't do anything wrong.' " Several days later Loyer received a two-sentence letter from Steger. It read: "I have determined that it is not in the best interest of the men's basketball program for you to remain on the coaching staff. Accordingly, I am terminating your contract immediately."
Loyer was devastated. "I never thought I'd work for a school where you give years of your life, 24 hours a days, pretty much 365 days a year, and they're the ones out to get you," he says.
Why would Loyer be fired, even though he was cleared by the NCAA to resume coaching? According to Loyer, the school had to exact a pound of flesh to justify a $250,000 legal bill for the investigation. "Steger had gone around town saying the basketball department and John Loyer had done all these things wrong," he says. "He had to fire someone to save face." Loyer also points out that Huggins's hefty contract, a deal reportedly worth $700,000 annually for 10 years, made the head coach an unlikely candidate for firing. "They have to pick somebody who is valuable enough to take the heat." (Cincinnati declined to respond to Loyer's accusations.)