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Dakich bolts WVU, returns to Bowling Green

| Saturday, April 13, 2002

Talk about a turnaround.

Just one week after taking over as coach of the West Virginia men's basketball program, Dan Dakich sent shock waves through Morgantown, informing school officials of a decision to abandon the Mountaineers and return to his job as coach of Bowling Green in the wake of an investigation regarding a possible NCAA rule violation.

The move, announced Friday, stunned the West Virginia campus but, nonetheless, provides the school with another opportunity to court its first choice, Cincinnati coach and WVU graduate Bob Huggins, who turned down the job last month to stay on with the Bearcats.

"That name will resurface," West Virginia president David Hardesty said. "In fact, it already has … by people, as I walked (on campus yesterday morning)."

In addition to Huggins, others known to have interviewed for the job were ex-Kent State coach Stan Heath, who since has taken the job at Arkansas; former Tennessee Tech coach Jeff Lebo, now at Chattanooga; and Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who already had withdrawn his name from consideration.

Also, Connecticut assistant Dave Leitao; North Carolina assistant Doug Wojcik, a native of Wheeling, W.Va.; and Georgetown assistant Ronnie Thompson had met with West Virginia officials, including West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong.

"The coaches that we had been speaking to may have reservations, but I'm confident that in the end, we'll have a very good, quality person involved," Pastilong said. "It sets us back a week … we'll take our time — nothing doing today or tomorrow — and make sure we have a good thorough plan."

West Virginia was believed to be investigating the amateur status last season of guard Jonathan Hargett and had notified the NCAA and the Big East Conference. Pastilong indicated that the possible violation was uncovered after longtime coach Gale Catlett retired Feb. 14, but neither Pastilong nor Hardesty would comment further on the matter.

"We do not have the facts for me to make a determination," said Hardesty, a West Virginia alum. "To comment could damage everyone involved."

Pastilong said the university has hired an Indianapolis, Ind., law firm to prepare information to submit to the NCAA.

Shortly after Catlett resigned as coach of Cincinnati to take over at West Virginia in 1978, the NCAA clipped the Bearcats for recruiting violations and placed the school on probation. But Catlett was not implicated, even though the violations occurred while he was coach.

Dakich left Bowling Green to succeed Catlett at West Virginia on April 4, but returned yesterday to the Mid-American Conference school, which was expected to welcome him back. He had coached the Falcons to a five-year record of 89-57, including trips to the National Invitation Tournament in two of the past three seasons.

West Virginia is coming off its worst showing in seven seasons in the Big East Conference (8-20 overall, 1-15 Big East).

"If it's not a good fit, it's not a good fit," Hardesty said of Dakich's decision.

"I like Dan Dakich. I think he was a good person. I liked his bite. I like everything he stood for. I think he might have overreacted here because we do run a clean program. I just felt he did not want to take the time it would take … I gave him every possible assurance that I felt I could. I can't get inside the head any better than that.

"We are deeply shocked and disappointed."

Dakich agreed to a five-year, $2.5 million contract at West Virginia, but never signed the deal. He became wary of the possible violation this week and, upon reviewing the scenario, also had expressed dissatisfaction with the overall condition of the basketball program.

"We have faith in our basketball program and it is unfortunate that coach Dakich did not," Hardesty said. "It's certainly a lesson for us all. We thought we had agreed to the final (contract) terms on two occasions."

Bowling Green is located 25 miles south of Toledo, Ohio, and Dakich, a former coach and player for Bob Knight at Indiana, was en route to the school and unavailable for comment. He held a team meeting with West Virginia players for the first time last Friday and immediately booted five players for arriving late. He informed the players of his decision to leave yesterday morning.

"He was trying to set a standard. He was coached by old-school coaches," West Virginia senior center John Oliver said. "Personally, I didn't have a problem with it. Some teammates might have responded negatively because they didn't want someone telling them what to do and they didn't want to work hard."

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