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As Williams sits outside his home and chats, his engaging nature comes through. He is open. He has trouble expressing himself, but he tries. His love for his son is undeniable: "He's my heart."
Williams won't discuss the $10,000 he allegedly accepted to go to Tulane. Sources in the D.A.'s office maintain that Williams took the money and used part of it to pay doctor bills incurred by his family, then bought himself a used car. Once at Tulane he received, according to one source, payments of $20, then $30, then $40, all on an irregular basis. It was not until the trailer burned, the source says, that Williams occasionally received $100 a week. McWilliams says Fowler told him, "I gave John money because he had a baby, his house had burned down and he was penniless. How can I look a boy in the face without a dime in his pocket and say, I'm sorry, but I can't help you'? In my case, I did the right thing, and it turned out wrong." Contacted by SI, Fowler said, "If you think the players were lined up outside my office like [it was] a cash window, that's just not right."
McWilliams, who back in 1940 received one of the first five basketball scholarships ever awarded by Tulane, says he understands the dilemma. He told Fowler, "Coach, the whole thing came tumbling down once you started doling. You lost discipline, then control of the situation. Most of all, you knew you were breaking the rules." Fowler, according to McWilliams, then told him, "You're right."
Meanwhile, not much of anything seems right on the Tulane campus. (Even assistant coach Pfeifer's name is misspelled on the basketball office door.) As a group, the faculty definitely is not a bunch of happy campers. The main object of disenchantment is University College, one of 11 colleges and schools that make up the institution. University College is the continuing-education arm of the school and mainly serves adults and part-time students. But physical education majors also matriculate in University College. Some of the faculty consider the college an academic joke; SAT scores are approximately 200 points below the campus-wide average. Some 80% of the football and basketball players are enrolled in the college. The only two degrees the college confers on full-time students are in physical education and general studies. Boatner Reily, the chairman of the Board of Administrators, thinks the physical education major is "academically suspect."
The university is well aware of the college's image, and Kelly says that even before the current scandal broke out, the administration had decided to impose, beginning this fall, a campus-wide minimum combined SAT of 700 for admission to Tulane.
Says Frank Birtel, a longtime professor and a faculty rep to the Board of Administrators at Tulane, "Students in University College are both academically and socially alienated, misfits in their own institution."
The explanation for the presence of alienated athletes at Tulane, says Gwyn, is that coaches "get fired if they don't have winning seasons. That means they have to get the players, and all that is inherently corrupting."
Clyde Eads says he had been repeatedly warned about profiting from point-shaving by his father, Clyde Sr., who used to talk often about the similar scandal that occurred at Kentucky, among other schools, in the '50s.
Sitting on a weathered bench outside the physical education offices last week, Eads was distraught. "It's so tough to go home [to Tampa] and see your mom cry. I'm the only one in the family that would have finished college, and now this. My parents have been through so much. Now they're disgraced. They told me to lay low, and maybe it will go away."
It won't. It will always be with Eads, with Tulane, with Kelly, with college basketball. And certainly with Hot Rod Williams. But as he sat outside his Sorrento home next to a dilapidated basketball goal that had been torn down, Williams still saw rainbows: "I'm a good cabinet worker, so I can get me a good carpenter job. I can paint houses. I can fix stereos, and that's good because you know there's always trouble with them things. I'd like to live here the rest of my life. Just sit under the tree. You can see how great this place is."