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'Clearly this has not been one of our better months'

3/25/2005

FRESNO, Calif. -- Fresno State's athletic department is a
mess.

The Bulldogs are minus men's and women's basketball coaches
after both left amid controversy in a two-week span this month.
There's no athletic director, and the athletic department has an
$850,000 budget deficit.

Athletic director Scott Johnson resigned just before the March 2
firing of flashy women's basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein, who
was dismissed after a three-week investigation in which the school
determined she inappropriately obtained pain medication from
students and staff and violated NCAA rules.

Men's basketball coach Ray Lopes resigned March 17 after Fresno
State learned he had violated an NCAA rule about telephone calls to
recruits. Lopes was hired in 2002 to replace Jerry Tarkanian, whose
seven-year run as coach left the Bulldogs on NCAA probation for
violations including academic fraud.

Earlier this month, Fresno State's basketball team had one of
the worst scores among all Division I teams on an NCAA report card
that measures academic progress. The passing mark was 925, and the
Bulldogs managed a paltry score of 611.

That embarrassment came a few months after Fresno State's
football team tied for the lowest graduation rate (26 percent)
among the 56 teams that played in a bowl game following the 2004
season.

"Clearly this has not been one of our better months in terms of
positive stories," said interim athletic director Paul Oliaro, a
university vice president and dean of students who's filling in
temporarily.

"But I'm hoping those who are watching realize this is a
university that takes action and works through problems when we
encounter them. We don't try to sweep them aside. We try to deal
with them in a direct way and find the best solutions we can."

The search for a new athletic director is underway, with the
goal of having someone in place by summer. And a search committee
held its first meeting this past Tuesday to discuss possible
candidates to replace Lopes.

The school that produced NFL quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and David
Carr, three-time Olympic gold medal softball player Laura Berg,
Golden State Warriors general manager Rod Higgins and Los Angeles
Dodgers pitcher Jeff Weaver is making national headlines for all
the wrong reasons.

"That's a circus," Stanford women's basketball coach Tara
VanDerveer said during the NCAA tournament at the university's $103
million Save Mart Center last weekend.

It's been nonstop drama for weeks in this sports-crazy town of
450,000 in California's fertile Central Valley, particularly the
downfall of Johnson-Klein, the well-liked coach who turned the
Bulldogs into a winner.

She had been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 9 while the
school probed accusations by assistant coaches and players about
Johnson-Klein's conduct. She has called it a mutiny.

She won games her way, stomping her high heels on the sidelines
to get players' attention. She was the best-recognized sports
personality in Fresno -- adorning billboards and magazine covers --
and her colorful, formfitting outfits made her one of college
basketball's most conspicuous coaches. She once wore a pink fur
poncho on the sidelines.

Johnson-Klein told The Fresno Bee she took Vicodin from a
player, and said it was "a poor decision."

According to the school's investigation, Johnson-Klein obtained
a half-full bottle of Vicodin last September from one of her
players and acknowledged taking one of the pills.

Johnson-Klein's attorney, Warren Paboojian, has said the
allegations are false or blown out of proportion. Paboojian said he
provided the university with a prescription Johnson-Klein had for
the medication because of a car accident last April. He said she
had run out of her prescription when she asked the player for the
pills.

"Fresno State cannot overlook or simply tolerate the behavior
that has now been confirmed in the administrative review, despite
the popularity of the coach," school president John D. Welty said
in a statement announcing her dismissal.

Johnson-Klein had more than three years left on her contract and
plans to contest the firing in court.

Attendance for first- and second-round NCAA women's tournament
games in Fresno was disappointing, especially considering two
California teams were competing: top-ranked Stanford and UC Santa
Barbara. The first-round sessions drew only 4,876.

While both the university and local schools were on spring
break, the empty seats still had some wondering whether the turmoil
at Fresno State had at least contributed to keeping fans away. And
the NCAA games only brought the school's embarrassing soap opera
onto a national stage.

"Hopefully, people will be reluctant to paint the whole program
with a broad brush because of some unusual circumstances that have
occurred in a relatively short period of time," Oliaro said.
"Certainly we're going to work very hard to move past it."