Bozeman, still confident, happy with second chance

Originally Published: November 9, 2006
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

BALTIMORE -- Todd Bozeman is back in the coaching business, 10 years after he was banished by the NCAA for one of the game's most blatant rules violations: giving $30,000 to the father of a recruit.

Yet, here he is, 42 years old, more humble and mature, but still as provocative, intense and driven in his new role as head coach at Morgan State in the historically black MEAC as he was when he was on top of the profession at Cal.

"In a lot of ways, he's the same," said Anwar McQueen, a Morgan State assistant coach and former Bozeman player at Cal. "He's very fiery. He's passionate about the game."

"Last year, we won four games and everybody was, 'Oh, the Bears suck.' But this year, we haven't even played a game yet and we got people excited," said Morgan State senior guard Joseph McLean. "They're excited about everything, everybody is behind us … They're all like, 'You got coach Bozeman, and you all going to win this year.' "

To understand Bozeman's route to this obscure basketball program, you have to visit his past, something that he doesn't hide from. One look at his cramped box-like office on the Baltimore campus proves that he is holding on to his glory days. There is a Cal collage and an SI cover of Jason Kidd after the Bears shocked two-time defending champ Duke in the 1993 NCAA Tournament's second round.

"I mean, I'm still kind of known for that now," Bozeman said. "People, even before I got back into college basketball, would see me at the airport and say, 'Hey, I remember you're Jason Kidd's coach.' That's almost like my [pseudonym]. They'd say, 'I remember that Duke game.' I either messed up people's pools or I won them some money, because they picked us as an upset."

Bozeman was just 29 when he was named head coach at Cal.

"You've got to remember, at the time I was like the first young black coach that kind of hit the scene like that," he said. "I didn't wear ties all the time. I kind of really related to the players, and if you were on the West Coast and you wanted to play for a black coach, I mean, it ended up becoming me."

But the focus on Bozeman was a bit much for his family -- especially his wife, TeLethea.

"I don't think that we were ready for all the attention it brought to us," she said. "Todd was ready for the job, but that didn't necessarily mean that he was ready for everything else that came along with it."

"The program had arrived," said Kidd, now the star point guard for the New Jersey Nets. "It arrived maybe too fast. In a sense we were an overnight success. We had a lot of success and now we were getting a lot of national attention. And he wanted to be that UNLV-type of program in a sense of getting all the top athletes to come, and unfortunately it was halted."

Bozeman's hiring after veteran coach Lou Campanelli was fired in the middle of the 1992-93 season was controversial. Not everyone was a believer in Bozeman, especially those in other parts of the Pac-10.

"There were a lot of clouds around the situation when that happened," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said about Bozeman's ascension to the head coaching chair. "You don't get recycled very often in this business. But there were a lot of clouds hanging over when Todd got the job, and then he was obviously let go because of the various violations that the NCAA indicated they had been guilty of. That was a stormy period in Cal basketball."

The violations were pretty straightforward: Bozeman paid Tom Gardner, the father of recruit Jelani Gardner -- and, ironically, a Morgan State graduate -- $30,000 from his own funds. Bozeman wouldn't go into details about the payment, but did say it was through a third party. Unbelievably, Bozeman actually ran into Tom Gardner at a football game this fall and he said Gardner acted as if nothing happened 10 years ago. That's somewhat in line with how Bozeman treated the violation with his family.

"Todd never shared anything with me about that," TeLethea Bozeman said. "I had no idea whatsoever that the situation had taken place until it was about to spill over to the media."

"I kind of allowed myself to emotionally get caught up in competing, and I didn't really need the kid, I actually felt like I had him anyway," Bozeman said. "Initially, I said 'Man, are you crazy?' I'm not doing that.

"Then, as the time went on, there was self-induced pressure and that's why I tell people it's kind of like temporary insanity, because I said … 'I'm not doing that.' Then I felt like I wouldn't get the kid."

The investigation took a year before a penalty was handed down. New coach Ben Braun led the Bears to the 1997 Sweet 16 before the Bears were penalized. Cal had to return $54,362 to the NCAA for its earnings in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. Cal was banned from the 1998 postseason, lost two scholarships for two straight seasons and had to forfeit games in which Gardner played from 1994-96.

"One of the things that disappointed me: People said I ruined the program. How can you say that when the cupboard was full? Did I embarrass the program? Yes. I will give them that. But I didn't ruin the program," Bozeman said.

Bozeman was also given an unprecedented eight-year show-cause penalty, which meant any school that hired him from June 1, 1997 to June 1, 2005 had to go in front of the infractions committee to see if further sanctions would apply to the hiring school.

"If someone is guilty of some really serious infractions, then I think there should be a penalty," Olson said. "As to whether it's a lifetime penalty or whether it's five years or what it is, but there needs to be a hammer over all of our heads."

Tom Yeager, the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, is a member of the infractions committee and joined the group a year after Bozeman's penalties went down.

"There's a huge segment of collegiate athletics, internally and the general public out there, that said if a coach has been involved in a major violation, then he should never come back and coach again. Well, that could be a little harsh," Yeager said.

Bozeman appealed during the eight years but didn't get the sentence reduced. Yeager said the committee felt the show-cause period was appropriate.

"I never really thought I would have to sit out the whole thing," Bozeman said. "At the time, you're thinking, 'Hey man, I was rocking college basketball.' But it was a humbling experience and one that only helped me to grow as a person and as a man."

Todd Bozeman
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesBozeman was a rising star at Cal before scandal derailed his career.

"For a very short period it was devastating, but in our minds we never thought that he would have been out of basketball for this period of time," TeLethea said. "We thought, 'OK, we're down for a minute, but he'll be right back.' We had no idea that the sanction would be as long as it was."

Bozeman and his family moved back to their native D.C. area. He spent the eight years working as a scout for two NBA teams and working for Pfizer as a pharmaceutical rep, all the while keeping his foot in youth basketball by working with a local AAU program as well as getting college players ready for the NBA draft.

"I knew that he was going to get another job. He is not the kind of man that would wallow in self-pity and fall apart because he doesn't have that job or a job in that industry," TeLethea said. "He knew he had a family and therefore a responsibility, so I knew that he wouldn't just sit around and not provide for the family."

Bozeman said he got close with assistant coaching jobs at Virginia Tech and Coppin State and interviewed for the head coaching job at Howard, all to no avail.

"That was hard, that was hard, because every time with those situations he felt he was close, he felt that he was almost there," TeLethea said. "But it didn't happen, so he was deflated for a moment. But I can tell you that if we had to look at percentages, there might be maybe three percent of the time where he may have felt like this is just so tough. I just don't know for every time that he may have said that, there were 97 times when he said, 'You know what, it's tough, but I'm going to get my shot because somebody is going to give me a second chance.' "

Bozeman said he didn't expect to land at a big-time school. He just wanted to coach, anywhere.

When Butch Beard resigned at Morgan State in March, Bozeman jumped at the chance to replace him. Bozeman was fortunate that the school had hired athletic director Floyd Kerr a year ago. Kerr was a former basketball coach and a member of the prestigious NCAA Tournament selection committee at the time.

"There has to be a comfort level, and I don't think around the country there was a comfort level at all," Kerr said. "Because I don't think most institutions wanted to go in front of the NCAA and sit down and justify hiring a guy who cheated the way he did.

"Yeah, there were a number of people who called. I had calls from some alumni and said, 'Look, don't touch this guy. I mean the guy is bad news.' "

Bozeman, though, clearly has unconditional support from the administration, including university president Dr. Earl Richardson.

"My expectations are very simple: Win," Richardson said. "He knows that. And I have faith. I think that he is appreciative of what we have done. We are appreciative of him wanting to come and be interested in the university. I think it's a win-win."

Kerr is taking this hire personally. He said he and Bozeman will walk together. He said as soon as he heard Richardson's aspirations, he had no issues hiring Bozeman.

Bozeman's eight-year ban, which extended to 10 years by the time he got the job last April, came with another price. Bozeman lost his father and best friend, Ira Bozeman, to lung cancer on Jan. 2.

"The last two words my dad spoke to anybody -- and he spoke them to me -- he said 'be patient.' And it wasn't about basketball, but it fits," Bozeman said. "Those words just ring out to me -- to be patient. When I'm at practice and things might not be going right, when I walk out, I let it go and I'm just going to be patient. If I had been patient years ago, I would have never put myself in that situation."

Morgan State is picked for the bottom of the MEAC this season, but with Cal transfer Marquise Kately sitting out, there is a chance that the Bears could be a player for the league title and the automatic NCAA berth in the near future. That's something that clearly motivates and moves Bozeman.

"I couldn't even put it into words. I couldn't even put it into words. I would probably get emotional," Bozeman said of one day coaching in the NCAA Tournament again.

"I kind of look like I made history twice: The first coach to get sanctioned to that degree with that severity and then also the first coach to come back from a harsh sanction," he said. "People thought I would never come back to college basketball, so to say you left at one level and came back at another level, that's fine. I'm back in."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com