La Salle's prez: Student safety a priority

Updated: July 24, 2004, 6:34 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PHILADELPHIA -- La Salle men's basketball coach Billy Hahn and women's coach John Miller have resigned amid two separate rape investigations involving players on the men's team.

Both coaches were placed on administrative leave July 6 following two separate on-campus rape allegations involving three different men's basketball players in the past two seasons.

In the first alleged assault, a former player from the women's team claimed she was sexually assaulted by a member of the men's team in April 2003. The coaches discouraged her from telling police, she said, after holding a meeting with both athletes.

The 2003 allegation came to light after former players Michael Cleaves and Gary Neal were accused of sexual assaulting a player from the University of New Haven's women's team at a party on June 24.

"This is a complex situation and not a judgment on the personal character of the coaches, but the university's policies and procedures are clear," Brother Michael J. McGinniss, the school's president, said at a news conference Saturday. "When it comes to the safety of our students and our community, there is no room for personal interpretation of our rules."

The coaches did not attend the news conference, but in a telephone interview Miller denied any wrongdoing.

"I in no way discouraged one of my players from going forward publicly with any kind of rape allegation," Miller said.

When the former player came to him confidentially, Miller said, he told her he would do anything to help her and also asked her to seek counseling at the university.

"She did not want any of this to become public at the time," he said.

Miller said he has a long-standing policy of helping players with their personal problems.

"I feel a coach is also a counselor and my players always know my door is open and if they close the door, they can rest assured I will keep things in confidence if they want them kept in confidence," he said.

Hahn's attorney, Nicholas Nastasi, confirmed Hahn's resignation, but declined further comment Saturday. He said his client will hold a news conference next week to discuss his future. La Salle spokesman Jon Caroulis said the school had no comment.

La Salle officials wouldn't confirm or deny that either coach received a buyout.

The member of the men's team involved in the former La Salle woman's allegation is still enrolled at university and still on the team's roster, sources told ESPN.com's Andy Katz.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that discouraging the woman from reporting the incident with this third player would be a violation of the Jeanne Clery Act, which is a federal law requiring institutions of higher learning to disclose information about crime on or near campus. One source close to the La Salle program told ESPN.com that the coaches didn't report the meeting to a superior.

Cleaves, 22, of Paterson, N.J., and Neal, 19, of Baltimore, face charges of rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, sexual assault, unlawful restraint and other charges stemming from the June 24 encounter.

The 19-year-old woman had been working at a youth basketball camp run by Miller.

DNA evidence matched samples taken from both players, police said.

Both men turned themselves into police earlier this month and were immediately expelled from the university, according to school officials.

Hahn has been at La Salle since 2001, coaching the Explorers to a 37-53 record. The Explorers were 10-20 overall, and finished last in the A-10 West at 5-11 last season. Hahn worked for Maryland coach Gary Williams for 12 seasons prior to leaving for La Salle.

"He did a great job for us at Maryland," Williams told ESPN.com Saturday while recruiting in Las Vegas. "I'll always appreciate what he did for us in getting this program going. You feel a great deal of empathy for Billy in this situation because you think he should have done this or that. When something happens, you hope you react well. There's a lot of pressure in coaching and sometimes you don't always react the way you should."

Assistant coach Bill Dooley, a former Richmond head coach, has been in charge of the program since Hahn was put on paid leave on July 9. Assistant coach Tom Lochner has been in a similar role for Miller, who had coached the women's team for 18 seasons, going 317-203 with two NCAA Tournament appearances.

La Salle athletic director Tom Brennan is expected to move on a replacement for Hahn as soon as possible, but sources close to the program told ESPN.com that Dooley has a legitimate shot of being the interim coach for the 2004-05 season, based on the timing of the forced resignation.

But sources said intermediaries, such as alumni, acting on La Salle's behalf, are expected to gauge the interest of Penn coach Fran Dunphy, a La Salle graduate, as well as Philadelphia natives Fran O'Hanlon of Lafayette and Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. Sources said none of the coaches have been officially contacted by La Salle yet.

The lure of coaching at a Big Five school could help La Salle get O'Hanlon or Mihalich, but it would be tough to get Dunphy. Dunphy has been an institution at Penn and leaving for another school in the city, even his alma mater, would be a tough sell.

Assistant coaches Matt Hahn and Stephen Stewart have been on the road recruiting this month. Billy Hahn had not gone out on the road since the evaluation period began July 8, the day before he was put on leave.

La Salle returns junior forward Steven Smith. He was the Explorers' second-leading scorer with an average of 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Neal led the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game and would have been one of the top players in the A-10 next season. Cleaves was fourth on the team with 7.1 points per game. The Explorers do return point guard Jermaine Thomas (7.2 ppg) and forward David Bell (5.8 ppg) to help Smith in the starting lineup. The Explorers were in search of a shooting guard and now need another scorer after Neal's departure. The Explorers were expecting redshirt center Roman Narmbaye to be a key member of the 2004-05 team.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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