The strongest sanction in the NCAA arsenal — and we should stipulate this was one sanction not levied against Georgia Tech — is the “show-cause” penalty. When a coach is found to have committed egregious violations (two examples: Dave Bliss and Kelvin Sampson), he’s banned for a number of years and any member institution seeking to hire him during that span must convince the NCAA it has good reason.
I mention this because I’ve been thinking: If the NCAA said, “We want you, M. Bradley, to show cause as to why Dan Radakovich should remain athletic director at Tech,” I’m not sure I could.
This isn’t easy for me to say. I like Radakovich. Until Thursday, I rated him among the brightest stars in his industry. But the department Radakovich heads turned what should have been a one-week tempest into a 20-month ordeal that has yielded four years’ probation, a $100,000 fine and a vacated ACC title.
Even the NCAA sounded a note of incredulity. From its press release: “The university’s failure to cooperate and meet the obligations of membership compounded the seriousness of the case by adding onto what was originally an isolated instance of impermissible benefits and preferential treatment.”
As late as this spring, Tech still believed this case could amount to no more than a secondary violation. This tells us Tech had no idea what was happening, which is a dire indictment. Radakovich has been in this job since 2006 and has spent all but four years of his adult life working for NCAA institutions. This is the man who should have been steering, not asking, “Which way looks good to y’all?”
It’s clear he got bad advice, but Radakovich was (and remains) the guy in charge. He gets paid to safeguard his athletic association. Given that Radakovich had fired coaches Chan Gailey and Paul Hewitt despite the onerous contracts negotiated by predecessor Dave Braine, this AD seemed capable of acing any test. He flunked this final.
In a 25-minute phone conversation Friday, Radakovich was asked if he felt he’d let Tech down. His response: “The circumstances around this have caused a lot of consternation, not only with me, but within the department. I take this very seriously. I know there was no intent to hinder the investigation, but the NCAA enforcement committee doesn’t see it that way. That’s a blow to my integrity.”
If you read the committee on infractions’ 26-page report, you’ll have a hard time grasping how a case that began with the NCAA checking on a football player’s cellphone and his use of complimentary tickets could lead to such heavy penalties because a different player was found to have accepted $312 of clothing. (FYI, most of the clothing given to Demaryius Thomas was never worn and is housed in a cabinet at Tech.) From Point A to Point H to Point W?
Conceded Radakovich: “It’s not cut and dried. It’s not as simple as some cases.”
I get that part. What I also get is that the NCAA got ticked at Tech — not just at former Institute counsel Randy Nordin and what it called his “obstructionist reproach,” but also with the AD.
Said Radakovich: “I don’t personally think I angered the NCAA. I think the NCAA and this particular investigator were miffed when I did not follow his instruction to our compliance director.”
Radakovich told football coach Paul Johnson what was coming. Investigator Marcus Wilson had asked that Radakovich not say anything. Said Radakovich: [The NCAA believed] this action impeded their investigation. We maintain that it did not.”
Then: “This [don't-say-anything order] may have come up a hundred times [in other cases], but it certainly wasn’t highlighted. It goes back to how the individual investigator chooses to handle it. It is procedural.”
And that’s Tech’s defense: That its error was procedural, as opposed to conspiratorial. Said Radakovich: “There was no clandestine meeting, no conspiracy to pull together a story. That stuff didn’t happen.”
Why did he tell Johnson? “I was going off previous experience I’d had … I did it consciously.” Then: “I need to have a relationship with coaches. That’s important in being able to run a department. What would my relationship [with Johnson] have been like if I hadn’t said anything? That’s the part that gets lost.”
The NCAA made hay of Tech’s failure to comply with its request. The committee on infractions noted that, because it lacks subpoena power, “the successful adjudication of infractions cases is heavily dependent on the good faith efforts and, most importantly, the full and complete cooperation of member institutions and other involved parties under investigation by the enforcement staff. ”
Translated: We might not be able to make an agent come testify, but if you work at one of our institutions you’d better do as we say.
Said Radakovich: “We didn’t do — Georgia Tech didn’t do — some things very well.”
That doesn’t quite go far enough. This was a howling case of mismanagement — “A cautionary tale of conduct that member institutions should avoid,” the NCAA deemed it — from a school that has, of all things, a college of management.
Asked if he had offered his resignation to Tech president Bud Peterson, Radakovich said: “No, I did not. Was not asked and didn’t offer.”
Then: “The lesson learned from all of this is that when you get that inquiry, the initial phone call is to bring in someone like a Chuck Smrt [a former NCAA investigator who now counsels those being investigated and who was retained by Tech] … someone who is skilled in that kind of forum. You need a different set of eyes. As good as any university attorney is, this is not their forte.”
In 2006 a Tech coach said, “If Tech people understand anything, it’s business.” The next day Gailey’s team lost the ACC title to Wake Forest in the worst game ever played. Fifty-one weeks later, Radakovich fired Gailey. Two years after that, a different Tech coach won the conference title. This week the crowning achievement of this AD’s most notable hire was forfeited because the AD and his department didn’t follow procedure.
I’m not a Tech grad, but I wouldn’t call that good business. I’d say it’s close to being a firing offense.
By Mark Bradley