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The Clem Haskins Story
By William Wilcoxen
June 25, 1999
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A LOOK AT CLEM HASKINS' life reveals some themes that warm the hearts of Americans, and others that many would prefer not to think about. Born to sharecroppers in rural Kentucky, Haskins' hard work and dedication led him to a successful career in professional basketball. Always mindful of his roots, he became a powerful influence in the lives of hundreds of young men as a coach and mentor who passed along the values that had served him well. But detractors suggest Haskins' influence became too powerful and the coach perpetuated a college sports system that some say shortchanges many athletes rather than helping them.

Growing up in Campbellsville, Kentucky in the 1950s and 60s, Haskins struggled against the Jim Crow traditions that kept many doors closed to African-Americans. He was the first black student at Taylor County High School and his talents on the basketball court led the tiny school into the state tournament. He was undisputably one of the best high school players in a state crazy for basketball. But segregation's grip was so tight that University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp ignored him and Haskins still feels that sting.

Haskins: No, Adolph did not recruit me. A lot of people talked about waiting two years or three years, they may integrate. That was kind of a slap-in-the-face insult. But those type of things - at that time I was a pretty good basketball player, I think my record speaks for itself. I was decent. But it was really hurting to think that you could not go and play at a university if you wanted to in your own state.
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Snubbed in Lexington, Haskins instead enrolled at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and led its team to the NCAA tournament in 1966. Next came the NBA, where Haskins was a standout point guard with the Chicago Bulls. He also played for the Phoenix Suns and Washington Bullets until knee injuries ended his playing career in the mid-70s. He then returned to his alma mater as an assistant basketball coach, then was promoted to head coach. His Western Kentucky teams were successful enough to earn him a national reputation in basketball circles, and in 1986, Clem Haskins was hired by the University of Minnesota to re-build a basketball program tarnished by scandal.

Sexual assault charges against three Gopher players led to the ouster of Haskins' predecessor, Jim Dutcher, and had many on campus calling for a coach who would exercise more control over the team. Haskins filled the role. He had spread manure on farm fields and made clutch free throws in rowdy NBA arenas. His breadth of experience helped him become a father figure to high school recruits from Thief River Falls to the Bronx. And Haskins impressed his values upon the young men he coached. On the basketball court, that meant teamwork and sportsmanship. Off the court, it meant neckties on road trips and no tattoos or earrings.

Haskins' teams won games. In 1997, the Gophers took the Big Ten championship ,then marched into the Final Four in the NCAA's national tournament. Even as they rode that wave of success, guard Eric Harris said coach Haskins preached modesty and humility to the Gophers.
Harris: Oh, yeah, well coach is a down-to-earth guy. He knows how it feels to be the underdog, too. He just wants us to stay humble and stay how we've been all season. We don't have big heads on this team and I think that's what's great about the team.
Haskins: Our next stop is Indiana. That's the Final Four. But we're going to Indiana for one reason: to win two games and win the national championship.
The Gophers played only one game in Indianapolis, a semi-final loss at the hands of the University of Kentucky. In 1999, two years to the day after Haskins spoke to fired-up fans at a Williams Arena rally, a former university office manager spoke to the media about her contention that she wrote hundreds of the homework assignments turned in by Gopher basketball players during a five-year period that included the Final Four run. Jan Gangelhoff said she wrote the papers because - at the time - she felt she was helping the students by allowing them to pass their classes and stay eligible for the basketball team. Gangelhoff said she had no doubts Haskins knew what she was doing.
Gangelhoff: There was a wall around men's basketball. And that was the retaining wall around the house. And you did not get past that wall unless you were allowed past by coach Haskins. And I have said this before and I will say it again: I personally, from being a member of the family, do not believe there was anything that went on in that program that Clem Haskins did not know about.
The woman who headed the academic counseling program for student athletes paints a similar picture of Haskins' management of the men's basketball program. Elayne Donahue, who retired from the university last year, says she was on the losing end of a power struggle with Haskins. On paper, Donahue supervised the academic counselor to the basketball team. But in practice, she says, it was Haskins who controlled the counselor's activities. Donahue says Haskins had his own philosophy of education.
Donahue: His feeling was - the best way that I can describe it - was to do things for students. If they don't know how to do something, you don't take the time to teach them, you do it for them.
Haskins has denied participating in any cheating or rule-breaking. Outside attorneys hired by the university are investigating the basketball program and will report to U of M president Mark Yudof this fall. Two days after the academic fraud allegations became public, the university decided four members of this year's team who were among those implicated would not play in a first-round NCAA tournament game, which the Gophers subsequently lost. In announcing the decision to bench the players, Yudof expressed concern for the seriousness of the allegations and for the reputations of the coach and players.
Yudof: We take this as serious, this is important and we can imagine fairly draconian sanctions coming out of it if it turns out to be true. But as I said yesterday, there's a first amendment - freedom of the press - there's also a 14th amendment - due process of law. And we're not going to try them before we have all our facts.
Since March, pressure on the basketball program has grown, particularly as media reports detailed the team's low graduation rate and gifts Haskins and his assistants received from boosters.

Haskins has three years left on his contract with the university and has said he wants to continue coaching the Gophers. But U of M general counsel Mark Rotenberg has been meeting with Haskins' attorney this month to discuss a possible buyout of the contract. A buyout would be expensive for the U of M. The contract calls for Haskins to be paid more than a million dollars if he is dismissed without cause.

When the investigation is complete this fall, the university will self-impose any sanctions it deems necessary and will report them to the NCAA for review.