Misty and water-colored

Misty and water-colored

When it was reported that former Cal head coach Todd Bozeman was a finalist for the Morgan State head coaching job, it brought back a name that many Cal fans would just as soon forget. While a haze of suspicion had always engulfed the Golden Bear basketball program during Bozeman's brief tenure in the mid-90s, the revelation that he had paid Jelani Gardner's father ended up costing Bozeman his job, putting the basketball team on probation, and causing the university a great deal of embarassment.

Not only did Bozeman cheat, he cheated badly. This was not a case of unmarked envelopes sitting in drawers; overnight courier packages bursting open with cash, or mysteriously new vehicles being driven around by players that was shrouded behind boosters and assistants; this was the head coach directly paying $30,000 to a recruit's family, then lying to the NCAA about it on three different occasions before being overtaken by a pang of either conscience or desperation.

In addition to the penalties that Cal received in 1997; the usual stew of forfeited games, lost scholarships, postseason ineligibilty and probation, Bozeman was hit with an 8-year show cause penalty. Per the NCAA, if any school wanted to hire him,"he and the involved institution shall be requested to appear before the Committee on Infractions to consider whether the member institution should be subject to the show-cause procedures of Bylaw, which could limit his athletically related duties at the new institution for a designated period."

To get an idea of how harsh a penalty that is, think of every suspect, double-dealing, outlaw coach you can think of. The ones who've won national championships yet always seemed to make the headlines every couple of years for transgressions that were generally, but not always, swept under the rug. Even on their worst days, with their notorious rap sheets, were they punished as severely as Bozeman? Not. Even. Close.

This made Bozeman unhireable. Any athletic director wanting to hire him would a) have to be convinced that he's a changed man, b) make that case in front of the university's administration, c) make the case to the team's fan base, d) make the case in front of the NCAA, and after that's all done, still leave open to the possibility that some of Bozeman's responsibilities might be restricted.

Rather than spare himself the years of "we love you but we're not in love you" talks from athletic directors, Bozeman stayed away from college ball, doing everything from helping tune up Vince Carter's jump shot to coaching club basketball.

After 10 years in the wilderness - the eight-year sanction ended on June 1, 2005 - Todd Bozeman is back.

So, how do you feel about it?

People make mistakes, people change, people deserve second chances.

What he did to university and the basketball program was unforgivable.

By the way, where do you keep your copy of Sports Illustrated with Jason Kidd on the cover?

When Lou Campanelli was fired as Cal head coach in February 1993, he lamented that he had created a monster. Since his arrival in 1985, he had revived a sleepy program and although the attempt to rechristen Harmon Gym into Harmon Arena never caught on, sellouts were now a regularity as was the expectation of postseason play. In an attempt to boost the talent level, he brought in a hotshot assistant who brought in two highly-rated recruiting classes, including St. Joseph's Jason Kidd, who had made high school All-American teams as a sophomore. Demand for tickets was so high that the Bears moved four of their home games to the Oakland Coliseum.

With all the promise the team had, they started 10-7. The team looked bad, the players weren't happy, rumors of imminent mass transfers were circulating and in the middle of the season, there was a coaching change. If you look at all of the reasons that would justify firing a coach in midseason; whatever reasons Campanelli was fired for, in retrospect, look pretty flimsy. Nevertheless, the hotshot assistant took over and team played better, finishing the regular season on a 9-1 run and qualifying for the NCAA. There was the first-round win over LSU on Kidd's pretzel shot, which was followed by the mesmerizing win over defending national champion Duke. Besides being a big win for the program, and launching sales of t-shirts and magazines, that game jarred people into seeing what California basketball could become: a player on the national stage that could win with superstars. Even though the Bears lost their Sweet 16 game to Kansas, there was now a buzz around Cal basketball.

Aside from what was taking place on the court, there was a zaniness about Cal basketball. Long lines for Midnight Madness? Yup. Students camping overnight for season tickets? Mm-hmm. More home games moved to the Oakland Coliseum? Definitely. There was Bozeman getting into a yelling match with some fans during a road game...at Cal State Northridge. There was Lamond Murray breaking out a Dr. J cuff dunk during the closing moments of a game against Oregon. After a particularly unattractive loss, one listener called into Bear Talk and asked the hosts if they felt Bozeman was one of the best half-court coaches in the country. As the hosts fidgeted and squirmed their way towards and answer, the callers erupted into large peals of laughter before being cut off. The strangeness factor was such that public address announcer Bill Glass stunned a Midnight Madness crowd by launching into a Scott Ferrell impression. (And if you don't know who Scott Ferrell is, don't even bother with Wikipedia or Google. They can't do him justice.)

At the time, Bozeman was considered one of the nation's hot young coaching prospects. Those who knew him well would vouch for how personable and down-to-earth he was. During post-game interviews, he would extoll his players, often saying, "as good as a player he is, he's an even better person." He personified the impending triumph of new school vs. old school and to his team, he wasn't afraid to play up the us-against-the-world angle.

To skeptics, everything seemed to be going too fast, too soon. Instant success never comes without a steep price. At the time, nobody knew what that price would be because they were too happy enjoying the ride.

In 1993-1994, during Bozeman's first full-year as head coach, the Bears went 22-8, finished 2nd in the Pac-10, won at #6 Arizona, and had a memorable 85-68 takedown of #1 UCLA in the Oakland Coliseum. The opening round loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay put a damper on the season. Kidd finished the season as an All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year; both was the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. After the intoxicating two-year run with Kidd, there was a strong yearning to find a successor to sustain the program's momentum.

This is where Tom and Jelani Gardner came in and where the Bears' downward spiral began. And Bozeman quickly learned the same thing that Campanelli did; once the downward spiral begins, people's memories get very short.

Cal basketball remained popular and the Bears enjoyed a resurgence following a rough 1994-1995 season as led by Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the Bears finished the 1995-1996 season with a 17-11 record and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Part of this continued popularity helped drive momentum for what would become Haas Pavilion. Although ground wasn't broken until spring of 1997, the plan to build it wouldn't have gotten any traction unless there was sentiment that Cal had a big enough following to keep it reasonably full. Selling out games at the Oakland Coliseum helped to boost that sentiment.

Yet for Bozeman, the endgame was near. His involvement in a sexual harassment had become public, one player was going to transfer if unless he was guaranteed a certain degree of involvement in the offense, Abdur-Rahim had decided to turn pro, Gardner had turned out nothing remotely close to being the next Jason Kidd, and it didn't appear that the summer was going to pass without some resolution about Gardner's recruitment.

When details of the payments to Gardner and the NCAA penalties were announced, there was considerable outrage. While the coach was relieved of his duties and the player involved had transferred, the university's image was tarnished and the team would suffer severe penalties over the next three years which would mean that the subsequent coach would have a considerable rebuilding task.

While Bozeman has been understandably reviled for much of the past decade, keep in mind that whatever vision one might have for Cal basketball; whether it's making a tourney run, whether it's playing exciting basketball, seeing highly-rated recruits suit up for the Bears, that vision doesn't become clearer and more attainable if not for Todd Bozeman.

Maybe Cal doesn't go on probation if they had somebody other than Todd Bozeman as coach. But you can't dismiss the Bozeman you don't like and keep the one you want. With no Todd Bozeman, maybe Cal doesn't get that Top 10 recruiting class which helped set a foundation for Jason Kidd coming in the following year. And maybe there's no NCAA run, no upset of Duke, no Sports Illustrated cover, no rout over #1 UCLA. Maybe the momentum for building Haas Paviion slows a little. Maybe a lot.

And maybe if Campanelli's monster doesn't happen, maybe he's retiring this week as head coach of California and not the Pac-10 Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating.

Instead, on the same week that Lou Campanelli retires from coaching, Todd Bozeman returns to college coaching.

Let's get back to the question.

So, how do you feel about it?

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