Hurricanes: Eye Of The Storm -- A Program In Disarray
GUNS, DRUGS AND SEXUAL ABUSE have been as much a part of the University of Miami football story as touchdowns and championships, both before and during Dennis Erickson's six years as coach. The latest revelations come to light just as the NCAA begins to investigate other alleged improprieties.
MIAMI - In 1992, the federal government accused star University of Miami receiver Lamar Thomas of lying about his family income to get $2,300 in Pell Grant aid. Dave Maggard, then athletic director, wanted to suspend Thomas for the season opener. Coach Dennis Erickson didn't.
According to Maggard, they had the following exchange:
Erickson: "I need him to play."
Maggard: "You need to pull him. He isn't going to play."
Erickson: "Let him practice at least."
Maggard: "No. No way. It's never going to stop around here."
Erickson: "The guy hasn't been convicted of anything."
Maggard: "Dennis, he has been indicted."
This is a story about the Hurricane football program. It is about guns and sexual assault. It is about arrests, drugs and drinking. It is about players and coaches clashing with police, and athletic-department leaders clashing with each other.
It is about something else, too: Winning.
For the football program, this is a critical week - a confluence of investigations that ultimately will determine how much trouble Miami is in with the NCAA. Investigators will be in town any day to assess whether Miami should be penalized for any violations. And Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee yesterday reported his findings on whether the school adhered to its own drug policy. Dee reported that three athletes who tested positive for drugs "did not receive the appropriate sanctions under our program."
The current controversy - whether Erickson, who left Miami in January to take over as coach of the Seattle Seahawks - withheld positive drug tests from Dee to keep top players such as Warren Sapp eligible - is the latest sign Miami made compromises off the field to maintain dominance on it. For a decade, transgressions were as consistent as touchdowns.
Interviews with more than 50 current and former athletic officials, players and others close to the team reveal a litany of lawlessness before and throughout Erickson's six-year tenure.
Sexual misconduct: Women were humiliated and sometimes assaulted in the football dormitories, according to police, players, wives and girlfriends. One ex-student told The Miami Herald she was assaulted by several players in 1990. She said Erickson talked her out of going to the police. Erickson declined to comment for this story.
Arrests: At least a dozen players on last year's team - one of every seven on scholarship - were arrested while at Miami. Charges included possession of cocaine and battery on a police officer. In three of the cases, charges were dropped.
Alcohol abuse: Erickson and some coaches ran into trouble for drinking too much - ex-assistants Gregg Smith and Ed Orgeron were arrested on drinking-related charges while at Miami, and Erickson was arrested for driving under the influence last month in Marysville. Former safety Charles Pharms said coaches once invited him to drink with them at the Sugar Bowl.
Violence: Campus police clashed with players so often, Erickson received late-night calls for him to come to the dorms to help control players. In one incident, an officer said he "feared becoming a victim."
Drugs: Despite Miami's drug-testing program, marijuana use was prevalent, according to four former players. Beth Samartino, secretary to assistant coaches from 1989 to 1994, said she often bought marijuana for players and smoked it with them in their rooms, including the night before the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.
Guns: Pharms said he and several players owned guns and would often fire them out the windows, into the sky, when they were "drinking and having fun." One Miami student said she has seen bullet holes in the dorm ceilings.
Former athletic directors say Erickson ruled with a loose grip.
"Dennis was too lenient," Maggard said. "He needed some backbone behind him.. . . Dennis is a really good X's and O's coach. He has a big problem disciplining the team."
Sam Jankovich, who hired Erickson: "At times, he let some players intimidate him. You could say he could have been firmer."
Erickson, who was 63-9 and won two national championships in six years at Miami, did not return calls over a two-week period or respond to faxed questions. A Seahawk spokesman said Erickson had no comment.
Miami's drug-testing controversy centers on Erickson's interaction with Dee, or lack of it. Dee said Erickson didn't inform him of positive tests and that he had an obligation to do so. Erickson said he did tell Dee - though sometimes he waited before doing so - and was not required to report results.
At issue: Dee, concerned about a strict policy that called for a one-game suspension for a second positive test and a year's suspension for a third, suspended unspecified parts of the policy after taking over as AD in June of 1993 for Maggard (who, frustrated about spending so much time on damage control, had resigned). Subsequently, Erickson did not suspend any player who tested positive.
The NCAA requires that if a school has a drug-testing program, it must be followed. NCAA investigators also will look into possible violations such as $173,744 in Pell Grant fraud and players being paid for performance by ex-players and rap star Luther Campbell.
In addition, the NCAA will review whether Miami has demonstrated institutional control over the program. But NCAA problems are not the only signs of a program in disarray. Of the dozen Hurricanes on last year's team arrested while at Miami, two suspensions were announced - safety Tremain Mack (battery on a police officer) and receiver Jonathan Harris (fleeing an officer).
There is no college-football consensus on when arrests should result in suspension. At Miami, the tendency has been leniency, often non-descript probation.
"Suspension is the last thing you want to do," said ex-defensive coordinator Tommy Tuberville, now head coach at Mississippi. "You are in the business of educating, and most coaches believe in second chances.
"You tell the players, `If it happens again, you are going to be suspended.' Ninety-nine percent of the time it doesn't happen again. If it does happen two or three years later, you give him a second chance."
Quarterback Frank Costa missed no game time despite two arrests, one a felony charge for driving while intoxicated.
Broken team rules often resulted in probation.
"What is probation?" asked one former player. "As long as you are in school, who cares? Probably 75 percent of the team was on double-secret probation."
Of the 12 arrested, three had charges dropped outright: Harris and two others for disorderly conduct. Three were convicted: Costa for DWI, Mack for battery on a police officer and Lamont Cain for a concealed firearm. They got probation.
The others: Offensive lineman Omar Andres (cocaine) entered a drug program and charges were dismissed; Sapp (battery on a student at a pickup basketball game), offensive lineman Freeman Brown (obstruction of justice) and quarterback Ryan Collins (disorderly conduct) entered pre-trial intervention; cornerback Aaron Jones (battery) and tight end Syii Tucker (marijuana) entered a deferred prosecution program.
"Once or twice a week, we'd get some call regarding a player," said a former campus police officer who worked two years during the Erickson era. "Anything from drunk players throwing bottles to allegations of rape, theft, assault, battery and drugs."
Off-field misconduct is not unique in college football, where aggression often leaks from the field to the campus. The 1987 Colorado team may have set the standard: 18 players arrested at least once.
Penn State, undefeated last year, represents the other extreme. Only three players on last year's roster had ever been arrested.
"Dennis tried to deal with his kids fairly," said Dee, adding that he wouldn't describe Erickson as lenient. "There was discipline in nearly every case."
One student who requested she not be identified said she was sexually assaulted by four players in 1990. She said she passed out drunk and woke up wearing a ripped bra and a man's shorts. Another woman and a former player who were present told The Herald that players burned the assaulted woman's shoes and took her earrings, and that players wrote "bitch" and "slut" on her with a yellow and blue marker.
Embarrassed and fearful her parents might find out, the woman said she arranged a meeting with Erickson instead of going to the police. She said they met twice, and he asked her not to go to the police.
"He said, `My assistant coaches and I will take care of this.' He said he was upset. He's like, `They told me you were drunk, but that's no excuse for what they did.' He told me they wouldn't be playing for a while. One of them didn't play for half a game."
Sexual assault allegations date to the mid-'80s. Said Caryn O'Conner, ex-wife of former lineman Paul O'Conner: "I have seen girls getting raped - passed out, drunk, drugged. I saw a girl passed out and guys lined up, taking turns and laughing."
Former player Martin Patton (1989-91) said, "You had guys raping girls on campus."
A "half-naked, hysterical" female student once came to his door, Patton said, wanting to call a coach because she had been sexually assaulted. He said he let her use the phone and that the player was punished with extra laps.
Said Miami President Edward Foote: "We've won national championships, and we've done many things right. But we've also had our moments of trouble, widely publicized, and that has not been good for the university."
It is not a new lament. During Jimmy Johnson's tenure in 1986, after Time magazine called Miami "the best and most troublesome team in the country," Foote convened a six-man committee to review team behavior and recommend stricter rules. The committee concluded Miami had integrity "on and off the field." One of the committee members: Paul Dee.
The coaches responsible for enforcing the rules sometimes broke them. Erickson often drank to excess in public, according to eight sources who witnessed it on separate occasions. One ex-Miami coach said Erickson would get so "obliterated" that he was "walking on his knees."
"How could he discipline players," the coach asked, "when he didn't have discipline in his own life?"
Erickson was arrested last month in Marysville for driving while intoxicated. His blood-alcohol reading was .23, more than twice the legal limit. Erickson agreed to two years of treatment to defer prosecution.
Gregg Smith, Erickson's top assistant, was charged with DWI on March 11, 1992, after doing $4,000 worth of damage to his car. He refused to take a Breathalizer. The charge was reduced to reckless driving after he pleaded no contest and agreed to six months' probation. Smith, now with Erickson in Seattle, could not be reached for comment.
"I remember being at the Sugar Bowl as a sophomore, walking past a bar where coaches were drinking," said former safety Pharms. "They asked me to come in and drink with them, which I thought was odd. Isn't it ironic? At Miami, the coaches got into more trouble than the players."
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was arrested after a Louisiana bar fight on July 25, 1992. Charges were dropped when Orgeron settled with the bar owner out of court, but the school put Orgeron on probation. In July 1993, he resigned for "personal reasons."
Former defensive lineman Damon Bethel remembers Orgeron: "His whole philosophy was, `Welcome to Miami. If you want an education, go to Harvard.' "
Four former players and Samartino, the former secretary, said more than a fourth of the team smoked pot regularly - sometimes before bowl games, after the NCAA had finished drug testing.
Samartino resigned in March 1994 after being arrested for possession of marijuana. It was her second arrest while at Miami, the first being for cocaine possession in 1989. Adjudication was withheld on both charges, and she received probation for the second charge.
Miami has won four national titles since 1983, but spectacular on-field success hasn't been matched by harmony in the athletic hierarchy. As off-field problems mounted, school officials bickered.
Among the disagreements:
Erickson vs. Dee, over the drug-testing chain of command and the importance academically of young players living on campus.
Jankovich and Maggard vs. Erickson, over discipline for players.
Foote vs. Erickson and Jimmy Johnson, both of whom considered Foote hypocritical in expressing embarrassment over player misconduct, then joining in victory celebrations.
Erickson was letting players live off campus as soon as their sophomore years. Dee wanted them on campus, where an academic-support system that has produced one of the nation's best graduation rates could police study habits. Most recently, sophomore running back Al Shipman, who was living off campus, turned pro this week because he was flunking out of school.
This was not unprecedented behavior for Erickson: His final team at Washington State produced a 1.94 grade-point average because players were skipping class en route to a 9-3 record.
Miami Herald staff writers Gail Epstein and Trish Power contributed to this story. A longer version is on the News Plus area of The Seattle Times Extra. See A 2 for details.
---------------------------------------------------------. Miami turmoil. . A look at findings about the Hurricane football program as reported by the Miami Herald:
-- Sexual misconduct: Women were humiliated and sometimes assaulted in the football dormitories, according to police officers, players, wives and girlfriends.
-- Violence: Former Hurricane defensive back Charles Pharms said he and several players owned guns and would often fire them from dormitory windows into the sky when they were "drinking and having fun."
-- Alcohol abuse: Two assistant coaches were arrested on drinking-related charges.
-- Drugs: A former secretary to the assistant coaches, Beth Samartino, said she often bought marijuana for players and smoked it with them in their rooms. She resigned in 1994 after an arrest for possession of marijuana.
-- Arrests: At least a dozen players on last year's team were arrested while at Miami. Charges included possession of cocaine and battery on a police officer. Some of the charges were later dropped.
Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.