Bliss gets second chance with CBA's Wizards

Updated: August 26, 2005, 11:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Dave Bliss was hired as the coach of the CBA's Dakota Wizards on Friday, two years after he quit as Baylor's coach amid a scandal after one of his players was shot to death.

"I made a mistake and I'm grateful for the second chance," Bliss told The Associated Press before a news conference. "I'm humbled about what I did. Selfishness and ambition played a large role in what I did."

Bliss, 61, and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned from Baylor in August 2003, two months after the death of player Patrick Dennehy. Former teammate Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty in June to killing Dennehy and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Baylor found that Bliss improperly paid up to $40,000 in tuition for Dennehy and another player, and that the coaching staff had not reported players' failed drug tests. Bliss also asked players and an assistant coach to lie to investigators by saying Dennehy paid his tuition by dealing drugs.

"I take full responsibility for what happened," Bliss said. "You can only ask for forgiveness. I made a selfish decision to give those players scholarships.

"I don't want that to be my epitaph. I've been a good soldier and I've helped a lot of young people."

Bliss said he missed coaching.

"I've come to grips with the fact that I've got a real good opportunity here and I appreciate that I've been given a second chance," he said. "I'll work hard for them. It's going to be full-speed ahead."

Bliss went to China this summer with former NBA and Fordham coach Bob Hill conducting clinics, a precursor to getting this chance with the Wizards. In the year after he was fired from Baylor, he volunteered for a brief time at a high school in Colorado where his son was playing.

Bliss will fill the position vacated when Casey Owens' contract was not renewed.

Bliss was in his new Dakota Wizards office Friday night, looking at game tape of last season's team to familiarize himself with the roster. He also planned on watching game tapes of other teams in the league to get to know the other teams. "I'm the rookie in this league,'' Bliss told ESPN.com's Andy Katz by phone from North Dakota. Bliss said he has never coaches in the pros. "I'm a veteran in other circles, but I've got a lot to learn and I'm excited about adapting to a different environment.'' Bliss said he has been talking to college coaches over the past few days in anticipation of getting the job, hoping to land a few free agents for the CBA team. The CBA season starts Nov. 18. "I'm excited about getting the excitement going in the community,'' Bliss said. "I love doing that. We had that at New Mexico and were getting there at Baylor. I enjoy that part of interacting in a community.'' Bliss said he also wants to be more of a teacher with the players, helping them get better in their quest to make the NBA. "I want them [the NBA coaches] to know that I'll work with the players,'' Bliss said. "I'm not going to be a CBA coach who just rolls it out. I want to work with players.''

Wizards owner Steve McCormick said earlier that Bliss had contacted the Wizards about the coaching vacancy, and that he was one of about five candidates.

McCormick said the team did a background check on Bliss before offering him the two-year contract.

"We did what we considered our due diligence," McCormick said.

Bliss said there are no criminal or civil charges pending against him.

Bliss' tarnished history will likely increase the Wizards' attendance, which averaged about 3,000 fans a game last year, McCormick said. But he said the decision to hire Bliss was based on his college coaching record of 526-328 over 28 years. Besides Baylor, Bliss coached at Oklahoma, Southern Methodist and New Mexico.

"We feel very fortunate to have a coach of his caliber," McCormick said. "We were very impressed by him. To meet him and to know him is to like him."

McCormick said Bliss was not the team's first choice. He said the job was offered to Brian Walsh, who served as an assistant coach under Owens last season. Walsh withdrew his name on Thursday because of family commitments, McCormick said.

Walsh also was an assistant under Bliss at Baylor, but had left the team before the program was hit by the 2003 scandal.

McCormick would not discuss Bliss' salary. Bliss said he did not know how much he would be paid for coaching the team.

"In any case, I'm just glad to be working," he said.

The Dakota Wizards won CBA titles in 2002 and 2004. Several Wizards players have been called up by NBA teams since the Wizards joined the CBA for the 2001-02 season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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