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.
"He has his hands on more players than you can imagine," said Curtis Malone, founder of D.C. Assault.
"He knows more than I do, and I'm supposed to be recruiting," said Kurtis Townsend, an assistant under Bozeman at Cal who now holds the same position at Kansas. "I swear, if you asked him, Todd could rattle off the top 20 rising juniors in Yugoslavia. He's obsessed like that."
Bozeman thinks he would be a better head coach now than he was at Cal. His skills haven't eroded, he said. If anything, they've developed. He spent four years scouting in the NBA, and he observed a Philadelphia 76ers training camp. Because he's one of them now, he's developed better relationships with elite summer league coaches. His tie with D.C. Assault means he already has an in with more than a dozen college-bound players.
Bozeman would love to be back in college basketball next season, but few coaches are hired as late as June. Even with his renewed patience, he sometimes grows eager. He wrote the NCAA earlier this year to ask that his show-cause ban expire in April or May to give him a better chance at coaching during the 2005-06 season. The NCAA declined.
"I'm coming to terms with just having to wait," Bozeman said. "I can't look at anything like it's do or die anymore. When you absolutely have to have something, that's what gets you in trouble."
Building Up the Bears
He used to live by have to's.
He had to be a head coach by 30, so he put his career on fast forward. In four years, he vaulted from high school assistant coach to George Mason graduate assistant to Tulane assistant to Cal assistant.
He had to become the best recruiting assistant coach in the country, so he remade himself into someone high school players would like. He wore out-of-the-box Nike shoes and full warmup suits. He listened to hard-core rap. He talked with laid-back indifference.
While other coaches called top-rated point guard Jason Kidd to talk about basketball, Bozeman called to talk about Kidd's girlfriends. Even when Kidd indicated he'd lost interest in Cal, Bozeman kept calling. He became like Kidd's older brother, or so the point guard said when he committed to Cal in November 1991, giving the school its most celebrated recruit in a decade.
Three years later, Bozeman spent a month studying Islam before he visited Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a highly regarded forward from Marietta, Ga. When he got there, he greeted Abdur-Rahim's mom with a cultural bow and told her about Cal's burgeoning Muslim community. If need be, Bozeman said, Cal could schedule practices around religious obligations. Abdur-Rahim committed a few weeks later.
"Being recruited by him was more like being befriended," said former St. Albans guard Anwar McQueen, whom Bozeman recruited to Cal. "He got it to a point where more or less I was literally checking in with him, not the other way around."
Even when Bozeman reached his goal and became Cal's head coach after the school fired Lou Campanelli on Feb. 9, 1993, he hardly slowed down. During 31/2 years as head coach, Bozeman worked at a maniac's pace to amass a 63-35 record and take Cal to three NCAA tournaments. Everything else in his life suffered.
His wife, TeLethea, and their two children went on family vacations without the father. Bozeman's father, Ira, came to California for a six-week visit and only saw his son when he sat in the stands and watched practice.
Only once during his head coaching tenure was Bozeman persuaded to take a vacation, for a family reunion in South Carolina. He flew back to Maryland and drove to South Carolina with his brother, Michael, the girls' basketball coach at Bishop McNamara.
"I thought we would finally get to catch up," Michael said.
Bozeman had other ideas. He brought a portable television and a VCR in the car so he could spend the five-hour drive watching game tape.
"He was always overdoing it," Michael said. "And my thing was, where do you go from there? You're 30 years old, you're getting every top recruit, you're working like a mad man -- where do you go from there? He kept turning up the dial, turning up the dial. He was going to lose his head. I mean, something had to happen."
Convinced he had to sign Mendocino, Calif., point guard Jelani Gardner to replace Kidd, Bozeman agreed to pay Tom and Linda Gardner $15,000 each year Gardner played at Cal so the family could travel to watch his games. Through intermediary Butch Carter, Bozeman made two such payments, preceding Jelani's freshman and sophomore years. Then the Gardners, frustrated by their son's lack of playing time, turned Bozeman in to the NCAA.
Carter was later exonerated because he said he did not know what the money was for, and he was named head coach of the NBA's Toronto Raptors two years later.
"It was temporary insanity on my part, that's the only thing I can say," Bozeman said. "Initially I wasn't going to do it, then I did it. The thing that kills me is we would have gotten the kid anyway. I would have had him anyway. I just got caught up in competing. I got crazy."
Said Tom Gardner, Jelani's father: "It was a huge train wreck. That's putting it as bluntly as I can. Going to the NCAA was a lifetime call. It's something that changed a lot of lives."
An Uncertain Future
There are days when Bozeman wonders if the Gardners actually did him a favor; May 22 was one of them.
In the early afternoon, he spent three hours at a D.C. Assault practice, where he looked and felt very much like the coach who became famous coaching Cal games on ESPN. Decked out in a black-and-white Adidas shirt, black shorts and Adidas shoes, Bozeman stopped the practice every five minutes to admonish someone, then ended each criticism with a high-five.
He went next to his parents' house in Forestville, where Bozeman and his wife bring their two children for dinner every Sunday. Michael comes with his family, too, and long after dinner the three Bozeman men sit around the table and talk, often about basketball. It's these conversations to which Todd Bozeman credits his patience.
"Todd might be getting down, but we'll just keep picking him up," Ira said. "I'll say, 'Right now they might have put the handcuffs on you, but don't worry. You're going to get another shot.' "
Others aren't so sure. Bozeman's actions left Cal with scars -- three years of NCAA probation, a one-year postseason ban and two lost scholarships -- that some will never forgive him for. Former Cal athletic director John Kasser, who cleaned up Bozeman's mess, did not return calls seeking comment for this story; former Cal athletic director Bob Bockrath, who hired Bozeman, said he didn't want to comment.
"In the basketball world, Todd's kind of like a leper," Townsend, the Kansas assistant, said. "Even his name can scare an athletic director."
"When we handed down his punishment, I never thought he'd coach again," said David Swank, the chair of the NCAA investigation into Bozeman. "Usually an eight-year ban is like a career death sentence. He committed some major violations. It takes a long time for people to forget that."
Bozeman will wait.
He had an epiphany just last week, one that brightened his outlook and made him feel more patient than ever.
"Did you know John Chaney was 50 when he became the head coach at Temple?" Bozeman said. "Man, that means I could wait another nine years and still have a great career. I mean, I'm only 41. I've got time. I don't have to rush everything for a second chance."