Bozeman Comes Off the Bench
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Todd Bozeman blames hastiness for wrecking his coaching career, tarnishing his reputation and forcing him to bear eight years of discomfort, so he'll be patient today.
He might clean up his Bowie home or take his son to basketball practice. He'll make calls as a salesman for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, a job he likes because it vaguely reminds him of coaching. He'll keep busy and try not to make a big deal of the day -- June 1, 2005 -- that he's spent almost a decade anticipating.
For the first time since July 17, 1997, a college athletic director could call today and hire Bozeman, 41, without consequence. Today, officially, begins Bozeman's second chance -- "my chance to finally see light," he calls it -- and he's determined to approach it with caution. He knows the dangers of a breakneck pace.
He rose to coaching prominence faster than almost anyone: At 29, he became the head basketball coach at the University of California, took the Golden Bears to the 1993 NCAA tournament and upset Duke in the second round.
He fell faster than almost anyone: After Bozeman admitted to paying a recruit's family $30,000, the NCAA gave him an unprecedented eight-year "show-cause" ban. Any school interested in hiring Bozeman during the ban needed to present its reasons -- or show cause for the hire -- before an NCAA infractions committee. Schools stayed away, and Bozeman became the archetype of a dirty coach.
Few coaches have ever recovered from a show-cause ban, but Bozeman spent his sentence preparing for a comeback. He scouted in the NBA, coached summer league teams and traveled to three continents to improve his contacts. He thinks he can thrive as a head coach at a high-level Division I school now, but he's likely to get his first chance as an assistant coach or as a head coach at a junior college.
"All I want is to get back in, but I'm not going to be heartbroken if my phone doesn't ring right away," Bozeman said. "I'm trying to condition myself not to get too excited. That's kind of sad, I guess, but that's what I'm doing. I just don't get my hopes up any more."
It's an evenness developed through a series of disappointments. In the last five years, Bozeman estimates he's been considered, if only briefly, for a dozen coaching positions. For him, it's become a ho-hum cycle: An athletic department calls, interested in hiring him; Bozeman reminds the school he's still under a show-cause ban and asks that it consult its university president.
"An hour or two later," Bozeman said, "they call back with bad news."
It's happened, friends and family said, at George Washington, Howard and Virginia Tech. Bozeman nearly landed assistant positions at Arkansas and Washington before the ban became a deal breaker. Former Southeast Louisiana coach Billy Kennedy, a friend of Bozeman, said he offered Bozeman a job as an assistant coach, but he declined because he felt uncomfortable moving his family there. (Kennedy recently took an associate head coaching job at Miami.)
So for now, Bozeman settles for trying to re-create a coach's life. He likes working for Pfizer, he said, because selling a drug to doctors feels a lot like selling a college to high school basketball players. And despite his full-time job, he spends more than 40 hours each week immersed in basketball.
He coaches his 13-year-old son's Maryland Select team; he's an assistant coach for the 16-and-under D.C. Assault team; he works out college stars -- Maryland's John Gilchrist, Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack -- to prepare them for the NBA draft; he works out NBA players -- Rod Strickland, Rodney White -- who come home during the summer; he travels around the world -- Africa last summer, South America the summer before that -- to meet coaches and players.