Baylor University basketball coach Dave Bliss asked players and assistant coaches to help him falsely portray slain player Patrick Dennehy as a drug dealer in an effort to hide the fact that Bliss violated NCAA rules by providing Dennehy with money to pay his tuition and car loan, according to conversations secretly taped by one of Bliss's assistants.
Assistant coach Abar Rouse recorded Bliss on July 30 and 31 and Aug. 1 during meetings with Bliss alone or with other coaches and players. Rouse made the tapes available to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday, just prior to turning them over to an NCAA investigator and Baylor representatives.
"If there's a way we can create the perception that Pat may have been a dealer," Bliss is heard saying to two players, according to a story in yesterday's Star-Telegram. "Even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us."
Neither Bliss, who resigned Aug. 8, nor Rouse could be reached to comment yesterday.
Dennehy's badly decomposed remains were found July 25 after he had been missing for six weeks. Police charged Dennehy's friend and former teammate, Carlton Dotson of Hurlock, Md., with murder after Dotson admitted to shooting the 6-foot-10, 230-pound center in self-defense, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Grady Irvin Jr., Dotson's attorney, said that guards at the Kent County Detention Center in Chestertown, Md., have placed Dotson on "suicide watch" after guards found him yesterday nude and tossing objects outside his cell. To prevent him from harming himself, authorities replaced the cloth sheets on his bunk with paper sheets, Irvin said.
Dotson is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for an extradition hearing to determine whether he will be returned to Waco, Tex., to stand trial.
In the wake of Dennehy's death, Baylor formed a committee to investigate allegations by Dennehy's family that coaches at the Baptist school had broken NCAA rules by providing him with cash.
Bliss eventually admitted to giving money to two players, a violation of the NCAA's "extra benefit" rule, which prohibits athletes from receiving anything unavailable to the general student population. Bliss resigned Aug. 8, the day after attending a memorial service for Dennehy.
"I keep going back to him shaking my hand, and me thanking him for coming," Dennehy's stepfather, Brian Brabazon, told the Associated Press yesterday after learning of the content of the tapes. "Had I had even an inkling of this, I would have grabbed his hand and his throat and thrown him against the wall and beat him."
A week before the service, the recordings show, Bliss suggested how coaches and players could convince Baylor's investigators that Dennehy generated the cash to pay his tuition through drug sales. He asked players to tell school officials that they saw Dennehy in possession of a variety of drugs and a roll of $100 bills, the Star-Telegram reported.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation into Dennehy's murder said that none of the Baylor players ever told police he was selling drugs.
Rouse told the Star-Telegram he made the tapes because Bliss threatened his job after he objected to his plan to discredit Dennehy. To record Bliss, Rouse "wired himself" by concealing a tape recorder in his pants and rigging up a microphone in his shirt, said Kirk Watson, the outside counsel for the school's internal inquiry.
Bliss acknowledged making the statements on the tape during an interview Friday evening with the Star-Telegram.
"The bizarre circumstances painted me into a corner and I chose the wrong way to react," Bliss told the paper. "As of last Friday [Aug. 8], however, those days are over and I have cooperated completely and will continue to do so."
In a statement Friday night, Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said he felt betrayed by Bliss's attempt "to suppress and conceal the truth."
While most of Bliss's directions to players were in regard to misleading university's investigative committee, he told one player, according to the Star-Telegram, that the athlete had an opportunity to "practice" his story when the player spoke with law enforcement officials.
Watson said that the school's investigative committee plans to forward Rouse's tapes to law enforcement officials in the next few days.
Representatives of the Waco Police Department and the McLennan County Sheriff's Department declined to comment yesterday on whether the contents of the tapes may leave Bliss open to criminal prosecution.
Dennehy's family and friends have said that he and Dotson purchased handguns and a rifle after being threatened by teammate Harvey Thomas -- a former reserve player at Georgetown who transferred to Baylor last spring -- and several of Thomas's friends who were armed.
During the investigation into Dennehy's disappearance, Bliss denied that Dennehy ever told the coaching staff that Thomas had threatened him. However, comments on the tape attributed to Bliss indicate that Dennehy had gone to the coaching staff about the threat.
On the tape, Bliss said that he could count on Thomas, of Fredericksburg, to cover for him because he had done the same for him.
"Harvey will throw himself on a grenade. He's the best," Bliss is heard telling Rouse, according to the Star-Telegram. "That [expletive] will lie when the truth is easier.
"Harvey will do anything. And the reason is because we did it for Harvey. . . . That's why we're in this jam, we stuck up for Harvey. I said there were no threats, and all these people got ticked at me."
Thomas could not be reached to comment yesterday. He has denied making threats against Dennehy or having any involvement in his death.
How the tapes will affect Dotson's case is still unclear, but Irvin said that his assertion that police may not have all the information regarding Dennehy's death is supported by Bliss's comments.
"Since this entire episode gained national attention, there have been numerous reports of suspicious and questionable activity that clearly pointed in directions other than Carlton Dotson," Irvin said.
Also on the tape, Bliss indicates that he was aware of marijuana use by members of his team, which he had denied. He also pointed out to his players that their story was strengthened because Dennehy was not around to dispute it.
"Dennehy is never going to refute what we say," Bliss said on the tapes, according to the newspaper. "I've got some things to say about him, because he came in and tried to get me to help him with something, and I told him, 'I can't help you.' Now I know that ticked him off, but he knows that's the truth. And now he's dead, so he isn't going to argue with me at all."
Reached by phone at her home yesterday, Dennehy's girlfriend, Jessica De La Rosa, said Bliss was likely referring to the day Dennehy sought his coaches' help after allegedly being threatened by Thomas.
"It was the probably the most sinister, wicked and evil thing someone could say," said De La Rosa, crying. "His words are almost inhuman. . . . Patrick chose your program because he believed in you, Coach Bliss."
Also on the tapes, Bliss tells Rouse and a player that Det. Robert Fuller of the Waco Police Department and Bill Underwood, a member of the university's investigative committee, told him of Dennehy's drug involvement.
"[Underwood] is on our side, and Bob Fuller's on our side, because they know that Pat was doing [expletive]."
Fuller laughed when a reporter read him Bliss's quotes.
"I don't have any allegiance to Baylor," said Fuller, who led the initial investigation into Dennehy's disappearance. "My loyalty is with the citizens of Waco and the Waco police department."