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FIRST-PERSON: Baylor’s disgraced coach a tragic slave to victory

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s hard to believe anyone could be as low as former Baylor University basketball coach Dave Bliss.

Following the murder of Patrick Dennehy in late July, Bliss was under scrutiny for alleged NCAA violations that included the illegal paying of tuition for Dennehy and another player.

Bliss was proud of his squeaky-clean reputation at Baylor, and he wanted to keep it that way. So, rather than fess up to the infractions, Bliss concocted a story that Dennehy got his money from selling drugs, rather than from Bliss himself. The coach even tried to get his players and coaches to go along with the tale.

But the Fort Worth Star-Telegram uncovered the plot, thanks to one of Bliss’s assistants who taped several conversations. Bliss resigned before the tapes were made public, after a Baylor committee had discovered the wrongdoings anyway.

“I think the thing we want to do — and you think about this — if there’s a way we can create the perception that Pat may have been a dealer,” Bliss told one of his players. “Even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us.”

Bliss told his players that they could pin the deed on Dennehy because he was dead and couldn’t set the record straight.

Talk about disgusting. Coaches are entrusted with a great responsibility to instruct, discipline and care for the players under their charge. But encouraging his players to lie and besmirch Dennehy’s character after his death is a blatant shirking of that responsibility.

If Bliss was simply guilty of violating NCAA rules, as bad as that is, he probably could have salvaged his career and found another position before too long. Other coaches have done the same. But by attempting to cover up the infractions in such a heartless way, Bliss has sacrificed everything.

No other school should ever give Bliss any consideration for a coaching job. His career is essentially over, and his reputation is shot. Everything Bliss has worked to achieve over so many years — gone in an instant because of his willingness to sacrifice good judgment for self-preservation.

Of course, if Bliss hadn’t broken the rules to begin with, he never would have gotten this deep.

Bliss’s stomach-churning behavior shows just how enslaving the pursuit of victory can be. He probably didn’t set out to make a fool of himself and earn the disdain of his players, assistant coaches and thousands of fans.

But somewhere along the line Bliss sold his soul, and winning became all that mattered. Thus, fabricating a story about the character of one of his deceased players became acceptable behavior to Bliss, who was interested only in saving his basketball program.

It’s proof of how intoxicating winning can be, and how important it is never to put victory ahead of doing what’s right.
Tim Ellsworth’s column appears each week at BPSports, www.bpsports.net. Ellsworth is a writer and teacher in Mulkeytown, Ill.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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