Bliss was Baylor’s coach at the time, and he gained notoriety for insisting, in the wake of the death, that Dennehy had been a drug dealer. Bliss came under NCAA investigation for a range of violations, including paying tuition for Dennehy after the latter had transferred from New Mexico without a scholarship, and he was alleged to have concocted the story about drug dealing to explain how Dennehy could have paid his own way at Baylor.
No evidence ever emerged to substantiate Bliss’s claims, which were caught on tape by an assistant coach, and he was forced to resign from Baylor shortly thereafter, although no criminal charges were filed against him. In “Disgraced,” Bliss repeats his assertions that Dennehy dealt drugs at Baylor, in comments he thought he was making off-camera.
“If there’s a way we can create the perception that Pat may have been a dealer,” Bliss was heard saying to two players in 2003, in recordings secretly made by assistant Abar Rouse, who had been threatened with losing his job if he didn’t go along with the plan to discredit Dennehy. “Even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us.”
“The bizarre circumstances painted me into a corner, and I chose the wrong way to react,” Bliss said at the time.
A Baylor teammate of Dennehy’s, Carlton Dotson, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to prison. He surprisingly pleaded guilty shortly before the case was set to go to trial in 2005, after having initially claimed he shot Dennehy in self-defense. In “Disgraced,” John Segrest, who was district attorney at the time, said that Dotson’s Baylor-educated defense attorneys had told him, “This is making Baylor look bad. Can’t we just get it over with?”
Bliss, now 73, was given a 10-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA in 2005, essentially making him impossible to hire at the college level, and he took a variety of high school jobs. After the penalty expired, Southwestern Christian University hired Bliss to run its NAIA basketball program, but it had a recent change of heart. From the Oklahoma-based school’s news release:
University President Dr. Reggies Wenyika affirmed his commitment to seeking new leadership in a manner that is consistent with the University’s beliefs, standards and policies, as a duty to our Christian heritage of providing a values-driven education, and accountability to our stakeholders and the public good.“I accepted Coach Bliss’ resignation earlier today and our prayers and wishes are with him as he transitions,” Dr. Wenyika said. “… As president, I would like to reiterate the University’s commitment to ensuring the success of our student athletes on and off the field or court and look forward to the next participation season with new leadership in our men’s basketball program.”
Of Bliss’s comments in “Disgraced” about Dennehy being a drug dealer, the documentary’s director, Pat Kondelis, told the Houston Press, “That was just so shocking and so strange, that’s why we decided to put it in. I felt like if I didn’t put that in there, then I’m just a mouthpiece for Dave’s propaganda. If I don’t show the audience this is what he’s actually saying, his body language changes, the inflection in his voice is different, this is really him. I think [Rouse] said in an interview with somebody that they caught Dave being Dave.”
Kondelis added of Bliss, “He sees himself as a victim. There’s some truth to what Dave says. Every coach cheats. That’s something that he told me many times. ‘I didn’t do anything differently than what any of these coaches do on a daily basis but for the coverup.’ Dave went way farther than anybody really has, and this became the biggest scandal in college basketball history. But Dave doesn’t take any responsibility for what happened. He still does not.”