Sunday, June 22, 2008
DENVER -- "None of you would do something as stupid as what I did," Dave Bliss recalled telling a room full of 500 coaches and their wives at the Final Four in San Antonio in April. "But I didn't think I would, either."
Bliss came to embody the corrupt state of big-time college sports in the wake of Patrick Dennehy's death. He paid players, hid results of positive drug tests and, days before commiserating with Dennehy's family at the funeral, was secretly caught on tape by an assistant telling players what to say to investigators -- specifically that Dennehy had paid his tuition by dealing drugs.
"I cheated," he said flatly in a hotel conference room near Denver International Airport in May. "I got in a situation where I got so ambitious and so prideful that I ended up doing something that I no more would believe on second glance that you would do. What I should have done is cut the players loose. I really didn't need 'em, but I was afraid I wouldn't have enough players to compete. I made a foolish decision."
Bliss paid a modest settlement to the Dennehy family after Dennehy was shot and killed by teammate Carlton Dotson. "The tragedy with Patrick and Cartlon is lost on my story, but it hasn't been lost on me," he said.
The NCAA sanctioned Bliss with a 10-year "show-cause" penalty in 2005, which all but ended a college career that featured more than 500 wins. By the time the sanction ends in 2015, he will be 71.
Today he is president of Interactive Occupational Training, an online education company based in Lakewood, Colo.
Athletes in Action, the evangelical Christian ministry that uses sports as a platform, contracted Bliss to bring a team to Taiwan next month, where it will scrimmage Asian Olympic qualifiers before the Beijing Games.
"It's not a comeback to coaching; it's a comeback to being a man that knows right from wrong and that believes in integrity and character and things like that," said Bliss, who choked back tears as he spoke of his Christian faith and personal redemption.
Bliss offered a nonpaying AIA assistant coaching job to Abar Rouse, the Baylor assistant who secretly recorded him. Rouse's lawyer confirmed the offer, but said his client was in no financial position to take the job. Rouse has been ostracized from the coaching fraternity, is in severe debt and now makes airplane parts at a textile mill in Wichita Falls, Tex.
"He deserves forgiveness, too," Bliss said. "He didn't ruin my career; I ruined my career."
-- Mike Wise