EXIT DANA KIRK
When embattled Memphis State basketball coach Dana Kirk was canned last week, there was immediate speculation that the firing was due to fears that Kirk may be indicted by a grand jury investigating sports gambling. The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported that a "powerful university booster" recently contacted Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander and said Kirk had to go. According to the paper, Alexander then told Board of Regents chancellor Tom Garland to have the Kirk matter settled before the board adjourned last Friday. The governor's office denied this scenario, but the fact remains that Kirk, who had a 158-58 record in seven years at MSU, was fired on Wednesday.
University president Thomas Carpenter made the announcement, saying the school would buy out the remaining 30 months of Kirk's five-year contract to "change the leadership of the basketball program." He admitted school officials had been "concerned" about the focus of the grand jury investigation on gambling, but insisted, "If that was involved [in the firing], we would have waited until whatever happened happened."
Perhaps, but it is nonetheless clear that Kirk's dismissal makes life easier at Memphis State. More than a year ago reports surfaced that the grand jury was investigating possible point-shaving in MSU basketball games, that Kirk had associations with a Memphis gambling figure and that he had promised the family of ex-Tiger star Keith Lee $10,000 if Lee would attend MSU (SI, June 24, 1985). Kirk denied the last charge and wouldn't talk about anything involving the grand jury. Then a revelation that Memphis State had graduated only four of 38 scholarship basketball players since 1973 brought a demand for Kirk's head from the local chapter of the NAACP. In May of this year the NCAA slapped the Tigers with two years' probation for recruiting violations and other rule-breaking. The bad news was unending: A recent Commercial Appeal story alleged that Kirk had received a $10,000 check from the Winston Tire Co. to bring his team to a 1983 Christmas tournament in Los Angeles. Kirk said the money was for his work at an L.A. hoops clinic. Then several published reports told of Kirk charging a Memphis TV station $500 for interviews during MSU's Final Four appearance in 1985.
Something had to give. Avron Fogelman, co-owner of the Kansas City Royals and MSU's most prominent backer—he recently built a $3 million business school for the university—told SI's Armen Keteyian last week, "Too much of a burden has been placed on Memphis State. They had lost a lot of self-pride and national esteem." Fogelman, a friend of president Carpenter, insisted he played no part in Kirk's dismissal, but added. "I did not think it was in the institution's best interests to continue to have a cloud over its head."
With the coaching job now being offered to the popular Larry Finch, Kirk's assistant, MSU's cloud may be lifting. But Kirk's may not be. A source close to the grand jury told SI last week that indictments are expected before year's end. Kirk had no comment on last week's events or the ongoing investigation, promising he would hold a press conference "when I have something to say."
GETTING INTO A NEW RACKET
Journeyman tennis pro Craig Wittus is developing a second career as a rock singer and has already recorded a video with John McEnroe on guitar. The backup band on his upcoming album has a fitting name: Highly Strung.
ANCHORAGE SNOWS 'EM
Last spring we told you of Anchorage's sterling effort to convince the International Olympic Committee that the 1992 Winter Games should be held in that fair city (SCORECARD, May 5). As you might recall, Anchorage's road show included cultural displays, economic and climatic statistics and, not least, the talents of Seymour the tap-dancing moose (actually schoolteacher Bonnie Rindo in costume). Well, the Association of National Olympic Committees bought it. In a report recently delivered to the IOC, Anchorage is one of three cities—Sofia, Bulgaria, and Lillehammer, Norway, are the others—to receive a highly favorable review. The report, drafted by committee members who saw presentations and then visited seven competing cities, calls Anchorage's a "surprisingly strong bid, well-organized by a group of enthusiastic business people who feel they can assure the financial viability of the Games from commercial sources and provide...free board and lodging and a $1,000 travel grant [per athlete] to offset the geographical remoteness of Alaska." No mention was made of the moose.
FEELING FINE, MERCI BEAUCOUP
A vibrant Mark Twain once assured his readers that "the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." So, too, have the death notices of Zotique Lesperance, 76, who last year was elected to the hockey Hall of Fame as a media honoree, deceased. Lesperance, a hockey writer since he was 14, was happy and healthy in his Montreal home when he learned of his dubious distinction. He was soon on the phone with the NHL.