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Smizik: WVU better off without Dakich

Monday, April 15, 2002

Pittsburghers love to make fun of West Virginia. Maybe it's some sort of deep-rooted insecurity that causes us to leap at the opportunity to ridicule our neighboring state and/or its citizens. Is there anyone among us who hasn't made fun of -- how shall we say this -- the perceived deeply rural makeup of the West Virginia population?

It's too easy to make fun of West Virginians and the passion they hold for their beloved state university.

Don Ireland, a part-time sports writer who worked as the public-address announcer at Pitt football games, made himself famous a few years back with this little joke.

At a Pitt-West Virginia game, Ireland informed the crowd that a tractor with West Virginia plates had its lights on. The license plate, Ireland said, was E-I-E-I-O.

With that it mind, it would be easy to make fun of West Virginia University after basketball coach Dan Dakich walked away from the job after one week that would have paid him four times more than the one to which he was returning.

It would be easy to ridicule Athletic Director Ed Pastilong, who forgot just one little thing before announcing Dakich as coach. He never bothered to get Dakich's signature on a contract.

And it would be easy to mock WVU president David C. Hardesty for overseeing such a fiasco.

But that wouldn't be fair. West Virginia did only one thing wrong in the Dakich situation. What it did is something almost every college and university in the country does on a regular basis: It trusted a coach.

When it comes to contracts, college coaches can't be trusted. In fact, even if Dakich had signed a contract, he could have walked away from WVU. Contracts mean nothing to these men; they tramp on them with numbing regularity.

This is not to suggest coaches aren't decent men. Most of them are and more.

Is there a grander gentleman in town than John Majors, who spent a lifetime coaching football? Ben Howland, Pitt's current basketball coach, has shown himself to be an absolutely first-class person, a man you'd be happy to have as a friend or next-door neighbor.

Coaches just can't help themselves. They've been elevated to such a level in our society that it's understandable they think they're above the constraints that bind the average citizen.

The West Virginia job was believed to be a wonderful advancement for Dakich, who had been coaching at Bowling Green. Not only did his pay jump annually from $125,000 to $500,000, but West Virginia had an outstanding basketball tradition to build upon and was in the prestigious Big East Conference, a considerable step up from the Mid-American.

Sometime during his first week on the job, Dakich discovered a serious rules infraction within the West Virginia team. Although freshman guard Jonathan Hargett has denied any wrongdoing, the violation is believed to involve him. If you believe the street talk, Hargett had signed with an agent at some point during -- if not before -- the start of the recently concluded season.

It's understandable such a revelation, and the consequences that might come with it, would have given Dakich second thoughts about the West Virginia job. It's even understandable that he might have wanted out of his contract because of this.

If that were the case, he immediately should have taken the moral high ground and announce the job was not what he expected and because of that he was leaving.

Instead, he took the moral low ground and attempted to suck more money out of West Virginia. He reopened negotiations, which was easy to do because he hadn't signed a contract. He reportedly wanted more than the five years he had agreed to and more than the $500,000 annual package -- which could go as high as $635,000.

Hardesty said as much. "We were not willing to restructure the economic terms as aggressively as he wanted to restructure them. We were willing to lengthen his contract and restructure incentives. But we did not acquiesce in his request to restructure the economic terms."

In other words, Hardesty would not allow Dakich to plunder the West Virginia treasury.

In leaving, Dakich spoke of doing what's right for his family.

There's a truism about contract negotiations that goes something like this: When they say it's not about the money, it's about the money.

Here's another: When they say it's about family, it's all about the money.

Dakich is back at Bowling Green, where he'll likely be hailed as a hero for turning his back on the money.

Truth be known, West Virginia is better off without him -- and that's no joke.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.

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