Another major subject of talk concerned associations with "gambling people," partly because of Collins' friendships at The Library and with various known bettors, and partly because of Curci's relationship with John Y. Brown Jr. A Fort Lauderdale newspaper once reported that Brown had added $22,500 to Curci's base salary as incentive to bring him to Kentucky. Curci denied it then and does now (outside salary supplements are against NCAA rules), and offers correspondence with the NCAA as proof. Kentucky President Otis A. Singletary also denies it, and states further that " John Y. Brown Jr. had nothing directly to do with the hiring of Curci," that it was the decision of the UK search committee.
Nevertheless, Curci says he realized the need to move carefully in the environment in which he found himself. When Brown brought Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder to the Curci home after a game two years ago, Curci told him to please come back another time. "It's not that I don't like Jimmy," he says, "but it wasn't the time or the place."
Ordinarily, Curci prefers to take an equally gingerly stance toward his players. "I'd rather not know too much," he says. "You can be made to look awfully foolish. For example, I'd never say, 'It can't happen here,' because it can. Adolph Rupp was quoted as saying they couldn't touch his boys 'with a 10-foot pole,' and you know what happened. So I don't say that. I just know where I stand, and I try to get involved only when I have to."
With Collins he made an exception last summer when, Curci said, a Lexington banker tried to help Sonny purchase a new Jensen-Healey with a balloon mortgage—ride now, pay later. Curci went around to Collins, who had the car out "on trial," and ordered him to take it back. Collins says he never intended to keep it.
Ironically, it was Curci's see-no-evil approach that helped cloud the issue and compound the troubles. When Tony Gray quit he not only cited his being blamed for the Auburn touchdown pass ( Curci denied making him the scapegoat) and subsequent demotion to second string, but talked of Curci's "lack of interest" in his personal affairs. Gray was having marital and financial difficulties at the time. The story bumped headlines with the kidnap-murder and, ultimately, when the "shaving" rumor broke, it was Gray's luck to be the bearer of bad tidings ("the mess" at Kentucky).
Gray now says those remarks were made mostly "while I was laying around the room" after the interview and concerned his own particular gripes.
"I froze on the [ Auburn touchdown] pass," he says. "I admit that. I missed the change they made at quarterback, when they put in the guy we'd been told was their passer, and I didn't pick up the key, and when I realized what was happening it was too late. But there were still two fumbles after that [by Collins and Steve Campassi on successive kickoffs], and I didn't think it was fair to blame me. Then on Monday, when they demoted me to second team, I quit."
Curci says that Gray had quit before, the week of the Tennessee game in 1974. "I had told him then that the next time would be the last."
The irony was apparent once more. On the day the story appeared quoting Gray about "the mess going on here," Gray was in Curci's office with two of his (Gray's) high school coaches, seeking reinstatement. Curci told him he'd have to take it up with the team, that as far as he was concerned the issue was closed. Gray never took it to the team. "When I saw the paper and the way I was quoted, I didn't go to class for two days," he said.
Gray says there was nothing sinister about his remarks. "When I said 'a lot of mess,' I didn't mean point shaving, I was talking about the kidnapping and the murder. I never even thought about point shaving. The team was close, everybody worked hard to win. Everybody. And Sonny worked hardest of all. Sonny is one hundred percent win."