After an involuntary hiatus from basketball for another year, Loyer resurfaced last spring when he was named head coach at Wabash Valley junior college in Mount Carmel, Ill. It's a long way from being the second-in-command at Cincinnati—and his salary of $32,200 represents a two-thirds pay cut—but he's grateful for the reprieve. Nevertheless, he wonders why Huggins didn't lobby more passionately to save his longtime apparatchik. "He said it was out of his hands," shrugs Loyer. "I hope that was the case, but how do you ever know?"
The NCAA denies that member schools offer up scapegoats in hopes of reducing their penalties. "The NCAA infractions committee looks at the evidence that it has and renders its decisions based on the evidence," says NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro. But one former NCAA official asserts that in his 20 years of serving the organization he was exceedingly frustrated by how often head basketball coaches escaped penalty. "There's no doubt in my mind that every head coach at a top Division I program has committed a major violation at one time or another," says Bob Minnix, an associate athletic director at Florida State who was the NCAA enforcement director from 1984 to '96. "But it's a lot easier to get rid of an assistant coach—and even, sometimes, the university president—than a head coach."
Many embattled assistants might have kept their jobs had they not compounded relatively minor infractions by being less than forthright with investigators. While he was enforcement director, Minnix always told beleaguered coaches that when placed in a bind, it was imperative that they tell the truth. "When you commit an ethical violation, that's when your career really goes into a tailspin," he says. "You have to be honest."
It's simple enough advice, but it provokes smirks from those on the front lines. "It doesn't work like that," says Coffman, who admits he "didn't tell the entire story" when he went before the NCAA in the Weber State investigation. "If you tell the truth, you're going to bring the whole house down."
Still, there are the occasional examples of virtue's prevailing. Three years ago, then UCLA coach Jim Harrick tried to cover up a violation by lying on his expense report about how many Bruins players he had entertained at a $1,085 dinner. He then beseeched assistant coach Michael Holton to corroborate his fictional account. It was precisely the type of request that good soldiers accommodate. Nevertheless, Holton was uneasy. Placed involuntarily at the intersection of loyalty and lying, Holton endured a sleepless night. The next morning he approached athletic director Peter Dalis and told the truth about what had happened.
When the dust settled, Dalis fired Harrick, as much for the clumsy attempted cover-up as for the original crime. Holton retained his job and remains a UCLA assistant. He still communicates with Harrick, now the coach at Georgia, and doesn't see himself as worthy of canonization. To hear him tell it, he did nothing extraordinary. "Subordinates in any job, not just coaching, are put in difficult positions," says Holton. "When that happens, the issue isn't job security. The issue is personal integrity."
Effectively exiled from college basketball at age 30, Nordquist returned home to Southern California four years ago to earn his master's degree in education and coach the girls' team at Channel Islands High in Oxnard. Before the season got under way, school administrators learned of his involvement in the New Mexico State scandal and stripped him of his coaching duties. Nordquist was crushed but stayed on as a volunteer assistant on the boys' team and eventually won the trust of the school administrators.
In April, he was offered the job of head coach of the boys' team at his alma mater, Rio Mesa High, in Oxnard. The Spartans won just three games last season and play their games in front of only close friends and relatives. No matter. Nordquist loves it. "It's so pure at this level," he says. "They're good kids, and I don't have to worry about boosters or make sure they go to class. I'm finally getting to some of the reasons I got into this profession in the first place. I feel like I'm doing what I do best."
Halfway across the country Oran is still working the lot at Covert Chevrolet. His mind is miles removed from the world of new cars, as he wonders constantly if he'll get to coach again. As the rejection letters mount and the calls to head coaches he thought were friends go unreturned, he gropes for answers. In a young man's line of work, how much is his age (48) working against him? What about his involvement in a scandal that, regardless of his level of culpability, still sullies his name? How much is he hurt by his frayed relationship with Penders, a backslapping pledge brother in the coaching fraternity? "Those," says Oran, "are questions I ask myself every day."
Oran was home watching television this fall when the phone rang. Out of the blue Penders had called to check up on his onetime acolyte. According to Oran, Penders asked him if he was selling any cars. When Oran responded, "Not really," Penders said he'd do what he could to help him get back into coaching. "I said thanks," recalls Oran, "but if I'm the coach at Oklahoma and Tom Penders calls to recommend this Oran fella, my first thought is, If he's such a great guy, why didn't you keep him on your staff?"