|Monday, August 18
Updated: August 19, 10:38 PM ET
Bliss raises bar for unseemly behavior
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
For the longest time, when you thought of coaching brigands, you thought of Jerry Tarkanian, working the angles like Willie Moscone on chronic while tilting at the windmill that is the NCAA.
Or maybe you rose up in rectitude and thought of Bobby Knight, who wasn't a cheater but was often accused of being a bully, and more interesting yet, an unrepentant one.
More recently, you could choose from Jan van breda Kolff, who taught the up-side of quitting ... Jim Harrick, who worked the exciting corner of academic fraud ... Larry Eustachy, who liplocked coeds at frat parties after games and said the bottle made him do it.
Then came Dave Bliss, and suddenly the definition of what is too far was radically altered.
Bliss, who recently resigned under well-deserved pressure as the head basketball coach at Baylor, is on tape trying to convince the basketball players and staff members to, among other things, frame the dead Patrick Dennehy by telling investigators that Dennehy was moving drugs.
With that one act, tape recorded by an assistant coach who obviously knew which way the whirlwind was blowing, puts Bliss, who always wore the face of the incorruptible man, in a cynic's class by himself.
At least as far as we know. I mean, two weeks ago, we didn't think Ted Williams was being broken up into parts, either.
This wasn't slipping a few extra bucks to a recruit for a competitive advantage, or grinding an academician to keep a player eligible, or yelling at a kid to make him play or concentrate harder.
This was to preserve a program that had already gone irredeemably rotten, with drugs, with lack of discipline, with losing, and with guns. This was, frankly, to save some skins, most notably his own.
That's not cheating. That's something else. In fact, that's beyond something else because, with all the other gruesome circumstances in play, it was unspeakable behavior by someone who not only knew better, but had cast himself for years as a stiff-backed coaching moralist.
But wait. "Knew better?" Isn't that phrase alone lowering the culpability bar too far? Who doesn't know better than to encourage others to slander a murder victim? Who could defend such an action? How do you rationalize this one away?
With every other coach on the notorious list, there was always a way to argue the other side. Tark was fighting The Power. Knight was coaching Old School. Harrick was trying to keep That Competitive Edge. Van breda Kolff was teaching Passive Resistance, kind of. Eustachy was, well, Drunk.
And oh, we did laugh at all of it. We can laugh at anything, given the three-day horror moratorium.
But not this. This one is so far off the dial that one doesn't know how to place it in any kind of blithe perspective.
So far, we have heard no explanation from Bliss, since these revelations came after his resignation. One doubts that we ever will. There is no explanation. Based on the published excerpts of his taped remarks, there is nothing to explain. He tried to save himself and his program by encouraging others to stand on an unspeakable lie.
Or at least what we think is an unspeakable lie. We still can't be sure what was going on with the Baylor basketball program, or the level of Dennehy's involvement.
But we know this: Dave Bliss put himself in a place from which there is no escape. Even if he has a way to explain the tape, who would dare believe it?
He is destroyed, pure and simple. He crossed a line that cannot be defended, in an industry in which everything can be defended if you contort yourself tightly enough.
Baylor basketball is destroyed, or should be for awhile. The University of San Francisco disbanded its program for five years based on less horrific behavior than this. Frankly, two years' self-imposed probation is awfully generous.
And the coaching profession, which has already been worked over hard this offseason, takes a blow that tells the already skeptical that somewhere else, there is another school where the rule of thumb is that anything goes. Coaches everywhere will swear it isn't so, but one of the coaches who once swore that was Dave Bliss.
And now he stands alone, engulfed in a shame that none of his notorious contemporaries will ever know.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com