Friday, April 07, 2006

Coaches and Athletic Directors May Be Able to Relax If Register's Witosky Gets Teaching Job. He's One of a Half-Dozen Finalists At Penn State

Coaches and other athletic department officials in this state may soon be able to breathe a little easier.

One of the newspapers in Des Moines will be taking a sizable hit, but there's nothing new about that.

It happens every day.

I hear that Tom Witosky, the veteran investigative reporter at the Des Moines Register, may soon be leaving the paper.

The word is that Witosky [pictured on the right] is one of six finalists for a teaching job at Penn State University.

As we say in the news business, the information comes from "multiple sources."

Although Witosky has been a bulldog of an investigative reporter at the Register, coaches and others who have to do deal with him usually figure there's trouble brewing if he wants to talk with them in person or on the phone.

When Witosky is assigned to a story, it's usually a big one. No rinky-dink stuff for him.

Witosky was, of course, the reporter who did all the meaningful writing when former Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy's problems with alcohol surfaced in 2003. Eustachy was ultimately dismissed by the university and is now coaching at Southern Mississippi.

It doesn't surprise me that Witosky is considering another job. With circulation continuing to decline at the Register and with the bosses there constantly showing disrespect for well-paid newsroom veterans, it makes sense for talented people to look elsewhere.

Frankly, with Witosky's track record, I'm surprised a larger newspaper hasn't hired him away before now.

Witosky has been the Register's longtime sports projects reporter. His bio says he has "written extensively about the legal, social, racial, and academic aspects of national intercollegiate athletics. He also has reported on corruption and influence peddling in high school, college and professional sports.

"[He] broke a story on previously undisclosed domestic-abuse allegations lodged against the new head football coach [Dan McCarney] at Iowa State University.....

"As the Register's investigative reporter in 1992 and 1993, Witosky won several awards for a weeklong computer-assisted series on Iowa's most chronic drunken drivers. He also has helped pioneer The Register's entry into computer-assisted journalism with projects on the questionable use of long distance telephone calls by members of the Iowa Legislature, the first in-depth review of campaign contributions in Iowa elections, national intercollegiate athletic graduation rates and the amount of money spent on high school sports in Iowa.

"Witosky is a 1973 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University for the 1991-92 academic year. He is married and has two children. He is also an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation."

Paul Anger, former editor at the Register, explained Witosky's role in the Eustachy saga in this column that appeared in the newspaper May 2, 2003:

"Sometimes, what a newspaper must do is clear but not easy. Not easy in journalistic or human terms.

"More than a month ago, Managing Editor Rick Tapscott and Assistant Managing Editor Randy Brubaker, who oversees the Sports Department, walked into my office with a large envelope filled with photographs.

"They showed Iowa State University men's basketball coach Larry Eustachy at a party at the University of Missouri, drinking beer and hugging and kissing young women [left], a clock face in the photos showing the hours unraveling toward dawn.

"The telling evidence in the photographs would lead to the apparent undoing of Eustachy's career at Iowa State. They had been mailed, along with original negatives, to Sports Projects Reporter Tom Witosky by a Missouri student.

"We didn't exactly know what we were going to do with them, but we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. We were not going to toss them into the newspaper -- too much was at stake -- without finding answers to a lot of questions.

"Who were the students in the photos? Did they know Eustachy before the party? Was he lured into a trap of some sort? What did he say and do in the apartment?

"We needed to know about the context of the photos. In one, neither students nor Eustachy looked happy, and one young woman was covering her face with her hands.

"We needed to know about Eustachy's pattern of behavior. Was this a case of a man making a bad decision, just this once? Or was this just one example?

"Any story can be correct in each and every fact and still be inaccurate in context and tone, depending on how it's written and the information included. Getting the correct balance is a constant goal, and it's something we talk about all the time at the Register.

"Witosky set off to answer questions. Tapscott and Brubaker and I talked about whether it's anybody's business what Eustachy does off the court.

"Our quick conclusion: As the highest paid public employee in Iowa, and one of the most recognizable college basketball coaches in the country, the photos and details of Eustachy's behavior at the party would be newsworthy -- how newsworthy depending on what happened and depending on examples of similar behavior.

"We also knew Eustachy's contract stipulates that he must not bring embarrassment to the university in public or private matters. In other words, any of his actions could be of public interest.

"We cleared Witosky's schedule so he could work on the story full time. Two things about Witosky -- he has a heart, and he's a bulldog of a reporter. He has covered the state Legislature, done many investigative and enterprise projects and spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

"Witosky visited the Missouri campus and did interviews over the phone. He determined the identities of the students in the photos. Several did not want their photos used and refused to talk to him. Others told him what happened at the party. Three agreed to be quoted. Two agreed we could use photos that included them.

"Witosky also got tips about other incidents involving Eustachy. Students involved in one of them, at Kansas State, agreed to be interviewed. The details were in many ways identical to the party at Missouri. We had a pattern of sorts:

"Eustachy arrives uninvited, drinks heavily, poses for pictures, talks badly about his own team, gets into disputes with students who eventually object to his presence and his interest in the young women, and stays into the wee hours before finally leaving.

"It took Witosky a couple weeks to assemble this information. Now what?

"Now we needed to give Eustachy and Iowa State every chance to tell us about the photographs and respond to our questions. We made repeated attempts to contact Eustachy. We talked to Iowa State Athletic Director Bruce Van De Velde and showed him the photos. He told us that Eustachy had not been truthful with the university about his activities.

"The Register later received a statement from Eustachy. After learning about the photos and information in the Register's possession, he apologized for 'bad decisions' and 'poor judgment.'

"That alone was news -- the head basketball coach apologizing to the university administration for his behavior. What about the photos? They were taken of students who go to parties with no expectation that their faces would appear across Iowa in the newspaper -- or across the country on television and Web sites.

"We decided to publish five of the 12 photos -- party scenes of Eustachy and those students who agreed to be identified.

"We were now ready to publish. We had the facts, we had a pattern of behavior, we had done everything we could to let Iowa State and the coach comment.

"After reviewing the facts again, Tapscott paused and sat down on the steps to my office. He took time to reflect on the story one more time. He said to me, 'I like to take a moment in a case like this, after all our work is finished, to make sure of what we're doing and why we're doing it.'

"We were well aware of the sensitivities of the story.

"It was also clear that we would print it."

* * *

Drake women's basketball coach Amy Stephens has received a three-year extension of her existing contract [for a total commitment of five years] through the 2010-11 season, Drake president David Maxwell said today.

"This past season, Amy Stephens confounded the so-called experts by taking a young team to the upper reaches of the Missouri Valley Conference standings," Maxwell said. "Along with her fine recruiting record, coach Stephens has the leadership capabilities, the knowledge of the game and the confidence of her players to keep Drake in the top ranks of the MVC and to go far into postseason play.

"We're all looking forward to an exciting 2006-2007 campaign. At the same time, we are confident of Coach Stephens' commitment to Drake University's values and mission, and to the academic success of her players as well."

Stephens has a 47-42 record during her three-year tenure at Drake with teams advancing to the WNIT in 2004 and 2006. Her Bulldog squad earned a 3.01 grade-point average during the fall semester and three Drake starters were named to the MVC Scholar-Athlete team this season.

"I am very appreciative of the support that President Maxwell and athletic director Dave Blank have shown in my coaching staff and in me," Stephens said. "Drake University is a very special place to work and I'm proud to be a part of this athletic department and university."

The Bulldogs are coming off their best season under Stephens, posting a 17-12 record with the most victories by a Drake team since the 2001-02 season. Drake also won 12 home games for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Drake finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 13-5 record this past season and was the only league team to beat regular-season champ Indiana State at home.

With six of their top eight players returning, including three starters, the Bulldogs should be picked to contend for the league title in several 2006-07 Missouri Valley Conference preseason polls.

* * *

The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports that guard Michael Taylor, who was scheduled to visit the University of Minnesota this week, has committed to Iowa State to play basketball. Taylor, a Milwaukee native, attended Chipola College in Florida.

* * *

Jean Prioleau [pronounced Jhawn PRE-low], a former assistant coach at Marquette and Wichita State, fills out the final spot on Iowa State’s men's basketball coaching staff.

“When I was formulating a group of coaches to hire at Iowa State, Jean was one of the first names I had in mind,” new Cyclone head coach Greg McDermott said. “I have a lot of respect for the two coaches he assisted under last [Mark Turgeon at Wichita State and Tom Crean at Marquette], and they had nothing but praise for Jean. We are elated to have him on staff.”

Prioleau spent the 2005-06 season as an assistant for Marquette, helping guide the Golden Eagles to a 20-11 record and a NCAA tournament berth. The native of Teaneck, N.J., assisted at Wichita State for five seasons [2000-05] before his stint at Marquette.