The coach's troubles began after reporters from the Star-Ledger, acting on a tip, staked out the Chestnut Street apartment for five days. Only three players—Tony Nkeruwem, Jeff Varem and Lucky Williams, all from Nigeria—had their names on the mailbox at 387 Chestnut, but Kudjo Sogadzi of France and Marco Vukovic of Yugoslavia also apparently lived there, with no adult in sight "The only tiling we saw resembling a guardian was when Leibowitz took them out shopping," says Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger. Leibowitz, who owns a Westfield, N.J., insurance agency, has denied recruiting the players, telling the newspaper, "They're not exchange students, they're foreign students who now reside in Newark."
Leibowitz's teams had gone 61-31 since he took over at East Side in 1995. Now he faces a February hearing before the NJSIAA's Controversies Committee. Meanwhile the Chestnut Street Five—including Sogadzi, who played for the Red Raiders last year and retains his eligibility—have dropped out of school. The apartment is empty. Phone calls go unanswered.
Revolt of the Headset Set
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has a mess on his hands. Unless he acts decisively in l'affaire Belichick, every NFL coach will start thinking he has license to turn his back on his team.
Last week Jets head-coach-for-a-day Bill Belichick, citing concern that his authority might be curtailed under a new team owner who will be determined next week, became the fourth coach in three years to skip out on his team. In 1997, when Bill Parcells, who was contractually obligated to coach the Patriots that year, left to coach the Jets, Tagliabue brokered an agreement that sent four New York draft choices to New England as compensation. A year ago Mike Holmgren, with a season left on his contract with the Packers, bolted to the Seahawks in exchange for a second-round draft choice. Also last year, Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer resigned with two years left on his deal, and when his agent sent signals last week that Schottenheimer might return to coaching, Kansas City quietly said it would want first-, second-and third-round picks from any team that signed him.
Since when could coaches, unlike players, walk away from their teams so freely? Picture Brett Favre walking into Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf's office, quitting and then three days later calling Wolf to say, "I want to play for the Vikings, so let's work out a deal."
Belichick signed a six-year contract with the Jets in 1997, when the team was owned by Leon Hess. The contract stipulated that Belichick could leave the team at any time for a head coaching job elsewhere so long as Parcells was still the Jets' coach. But if Belichick were still with New York when Parcells stepped down, the contract mandated that Belichick would automatically become the Jets' coach no matter who owned the club—a key provision given that Hess died last May and the team is being sold by his estate. (The sale could be approved at the NFL owners' meetings on Jan. 18.) A league source who has seen the contract tells SI it is his understanding that the contract binds Belichick to "the current owner or heir to the current owner or successor to the current owner," and that it includes no escape clause in the event of new ownership. ( SI's attempts to discuss the matter with Belichick were unsuccessful.) Belichick may be correct in thinking he won't have the same authority under a new owner as Parcells had under Hess, but that doesn't mean the club should have to sit still and watch him walk away.
Now the ball is in Tagliabue's hands. The league has scheduled a Jan. 13 hearing on the Belichick matter. The commissioner will do the game a disservice if he simply brokers another draft-pick transaction between New England and New York. Whatever Belichick's contract may say, this is what the commissioner should do: Mandate that any coach who willingly leaves a team before the end of his contract may not coach in the NFL until that contract expires.
BUSH'S YOUTHFUL ERROR
George W:'All Right, I Admit It'
Even Democrats can admire the candor that presidential candidate George W. Bush showed during a debate last week in New Hampshire, where the Republican front-runner—and former Texas Rangers managing general partner—was asked to name his greatest mistake. "I signed off on that wonderful transaction: Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines," said Bush, referring to a 1989 trade between the Rangers and the White Sox. Said Baines, "I can see why he got out of the business."