On the afternoon of Dec. 17, the University of Pittsburgh's basketball players were summoned to a meeting. They expected to review extra films, or hear even more screaming from their coach, Roy Chipman.
It had been three days since their 74-63 loss at West Virginia, a game that had been such an embarrassment that Chipman had instituted two-a-day practices. The players knew that he had thought this would be his best team ever and that he was fed up with how they were playing.
Chipman was fed up, all right, and not just with his team. His 9-year-old son Geoffrey had come home from school one day and asked, "Daddy, are you going to jail?" Geoffrey had heard of the published reports about Pitt's alleged recruiting violations.
There had been talk of problems with the Pitt program for three years. And now, a recruit named Doug West had told a newspaper that a Pitt booster had offered him $10,000 for his services.
And so, when Chipman, 46, assembled his team for the special meeting, he told them that he was quitting. He would finish the season, he told them. Then he plans to go into business with a close friend.
He will be on the bench at 7 p.m. Thursday when 11th-ranked Georgetown visits sold-out Pittsburgh Civic Arena.
But he insists this will be his last season. Since losing to West Virginia, the Panthers (8-2) have won three straight. The last two victories were easily achieved, over Texas A&M and Southwestern Louisiana, and brought the Panthers the Sugar Bowl tournament title, which made their trip here worthwhile.
"That I could walk away gives you an idea of how strongly I feel about other stuff," Chipman said during the tournament last week.
By "other stuff" he says he means recruiting, and too much emphasis on college basketball as "a business."
West, now a freshman at Villanova, told the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror last spring that Dr. Joseph Haller had offered him, through a friend, $10,000 to attend Pitt.
Ironically, Haller, an oral surgeon, is a Georgetown alumnus. He could not be reached for comment but has in the past denied West's allegations. West has not commented further.
The year before that, there had been talk that Pitt had paid Charles Smith, now a 6-foot-10 sophomore and one of the league's best players. Chipman had heard it all, and decided he had had enough.
"In the last three years, there's been tremendous suspicion about Pitt," he said. "The fact that we got Charles Smith, for example. Coaches can never say, 'Well, they worked harder than we did.' They only say, 'They must have done something (in violation of NCAA rules).' "
Chipman, asked if he is responsible for the activities of his school's boosters, said: "If I don't know, then I'm doing a bad job. I've got to know what's going on in my program. It's my responsibility . . . " He also has heard the charges that he quit only to avoid a full-scale investigation by the NCAA.
"If I was just trying to get out from underneath it, I'd just go somewhere else," he said. "But I never would want to coach anywhere except Pitt."
He said that if the Pitt adminstration thought he was bailing out, "the chancellor and the athletic director would have been happy to see me out, but that isn't the case. They've asked me to stay.
"If the NCAA is doing anything, even with the Doug West thing, it's been awfully quiet. Usually, they inform the university if they're looking into something. I would be totally shocked if anything came out of this situation.
"Hell, here's an 18-year-old kid that's allowed to make an accusation. He doesn't have to support it to anybody. He didn't indict me, but he did indict a prominent member of the community. He's talking about taking the kid to court and I hope he does. . . . Everything is just out of whack and I'm tired."
Chipman, finishing his sixth season at Pittsburgh after nine seasons at Division II Hartwick and three at Lafayette, said he doesn't want to go into another recruiting season not knowing "whether I'm dealing with the player and his parents, the high school coach, or five guys who are friends of the player."
He said he wonders from time to time if he has made the right decision, but stopped and said, "I have no distractions now. We're going to work our butts off and have a good season."
After the road losses to Xavier of Ohio and West Virginia, it didn't look as if Pitt even would equal last year's 17-12 record and trip to the NCAA tournament.
"The loss to West Virginia really straightened us out," senior forward Darryl Shepherd said. "We thought we were a better team than we really were. We figured we had all this talent; four Parade (high school) all-Americans. We figured we couldn't be beaten. We were big-headed. The first loss, to Xavier, we figured, 'Well, it's on the road and it's early in the season.' But the West Virginia loss really brought it home."
Joey David, a senior guard, noted that Pitt is encountering new pressure this season.
"My freshman year was Pitt's first year in the Big East," he said, "and if we lost we could say, 'Hey, we're new in this.' The next year we could say, 'Well, we're young. And the same thing last year.
"But this year, we can't find anything, so we've got to go out and do it. Or somebody's going to come down hard on somebody."
Of Thursday night's game with Georgetown, Chipman said: "I'm looking forward to this, because it'll be a better indication of where we really are."