Friday, April 15, 2005

Washington Wasn't 'The Black Maury John,' But Good Luck to Him Now

First of all, let me say that I’m very happy Rudy Washington is getting another chance as a basketball coach at Bakersfield College.

In the right situation, he might be a winner.

Drake proved it wasn’t the right situation for Washington, and it didn’t take him long to find that out. He had a 63-102 record record in six seasons with the Bulldogs—without winning more games than he lost in any year- and left in 1996 without fulfilling his dream.

“When he came here, he thought he was going to be a black Maury John,” Drake historian Paul Morrison told me today.

John was a huge winner at Drake, taking his 1968-69 team to the NCAA Final Four and coaching three straight teams to the Big Dance.

“I got a long with Rudy very well, but he turned a lot of people off," Morrison said. "From comments I would get, some fans couldn’t tolerate him because it looked like he wasn’t doing anything on the bench.”

Well, I hope Washington has learned a few things over the years. I hope Bakersfield, Calif., is the right place for the man who once had a very high-profile job in collegiate basketball as executive director of the Black Coaches Association.

Now, out of administrative work,Washington – tainted past and all — has been hired as the head coach at Bakersfield, a two-year school.

Washington, 53, will be a fulltime instructor at Bakersfield in addition to his coaching responsibilities. His most previous coaching job was at Compton (Calif.) College in 1998.

In his new job, he has an opportunity to rebuild a career that took a severe hit when he was fired as commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2001 for allegedly mismanaging funds.

The Associated Press reported that Washington allegedly overpaid himself $78,750 and failed to document more than $99,000 in expenses.

However, Washington told the Bakersfield Rip that his associate commissioner, DeLane Rosemond, an attorney, was in charge of payroll.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with payroll,” Washington told the newspaper.

Washington said there was “never any wrongdoing proven” and that he paid back the money. “In fact, I paid so much money, I overpaid $25,000,” he told the paper.”

Washington’s first season at Drake was 1990=91, when the university badly needed someone to right the ship.

The coach who preceded him was Tom Abatemarco, whose players turned against him and caused his firing during a 13-18 season in 1989-90.

Washington came from the University of Iowa, where he had been an assistant under George Raveling and Tom Davis [who now is the Bulldogs’ coach]. Bulldog fans hoped he’d be the school’s basketball savior.

But things never worked out for Rudy, a barrel of a man who resembled a Sumo wreslter. His Drake teams were the first to play in the 7,002-seat Knapp Center, but even that didn’t provide any motivation to his program.

His records were 8-21, 6-21, 14-14, 11-16, 12-15 and 12-15. His best player was Curt Smith, who was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s newcomer of the year in 1992-93—the only year he lettered before running into academic trouble.

Although Washington was listed as executive director of the Black Coaches Association, a number of people in athletics thought John Thompson, then the coach of powerful teams at Georgetown, was actually running the show. Washington was thought to be a Thompson puppet.

Drake’s difficult academic standards ended up frustrating Washington. Finally, he quit.

I was tipped off that he was going to announce his resignation at his regularly-scheduled press conference—to be held in the morning--a day prior to the start of the Valley postseason tournament March 1, 1996.

The guy who told me that Rudy was going to quit joked that he chose St. Louis to announce his resignation because he thought no Des Moines reporters would be on hand for the press conference.

I surprised him. And he was cordial to me afterward.

But he and I weren’t always cordial. I didn't play the game the way Rudy wanted it played.

During his first season with the Bulldogs, I visited with him in his office about how things were going.

He was already frustrated. He said he had been the target of racial slurs in a few arenas around the Valley. Then, following Drake’s 104-81 loss Feb. 14 at Southwest Missouri State, Washington told a local reporter that “a black coach can’t win in this league.”

That gave me plenty of work to do the rest of the week. Drake’s next game was at Illinois State two nights later, and I knew I had a job ahead of me trying to put together Washington’s concerns for more stories.

From a hotel room in Normal, Ill., I got hold of Nolan Richardson, who then coached at Tulsa and later had outstanding teams at Arkansas. Richardson, who is black, told me that Washington would have to get accustomed to racial slurs, even though it was wrong for fans to use them. Richardson said he, too, had been the victim of racial slurs.

I doubt that Washington liked what I finally wrote about the situation, and he and I had some other coach-sportswriter run-ins during the next few seasons.

I think he did the right thing in leaving Drake. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wish him well at Bakersfield.

Vol. 4, No. 336
April 15. 2005.