Thursday, April 08, 2004

Crushed Dove

So there's not really been much news from us lately. I'm sure we're all just at the grind at work. So I'll share a story from the LJ World today. It's Chuck Woodling's of a memorable day in his life a year ago. It was also very memorable for Doug and I, and the story, I think, captures everyone's recollections of a incredibly interesting day. Here ya go:

Wooding: Al Bohl's driveway: a year later
By Chuck Woodling, Sports Editor

Contemporary days of infamy usually start with Dec. 7, 1941, include Nov. 22, 1963 and conclude with Sept. 11, 2001.

I'll never forget April 8, 2003, either, although that date contained no catastrophic events.

Nevertheless, it was the most bizarre day in the history of Kansas University athletics.

At 3 p.m. on that day -- less than 48 hours after KU had played Syracuse in the NCAA men's basketball championship game in New Orleans -- Chancellor Robert Hemenway announced to a packed media session that athletic director Al Bohl was "leaving his position effective immediately."

In other words, Bohl had become the first Kansas University athletic director ever to be fired. Not that the handwriting wasn't on the wall. Bohl had clearly lost the confidence of coaches, athletic department administrators and boosters during his 20-month tenure.

Many thought Bohl should have been handed his walking papers earlier, and Hemenway admitted he delayed the firing so as not to distract from the Jayhawks' march through the NCAA Tournament.

Media attending Hemenway's announcement in Hadl Auditorium figured to receive a perfunctory written statement from Bohl handed out by the sports information office.

No way. Bohl wanted to give his side of the story in person. Since KU would not make a venue available, Bohl decided to do it in the driveway of his home on Wimbledon Drive adjacent to Alvamar Country Club.

And so, a handful of television satellite trucks and numerous media turned Bohl's residential street into a media mecca, no doubt startling Bohl's neighbors and passers-by.

At that stage, the atmosphere was uncommon at best, strange at worst. Then Bohl passed out copies of a statement he had generated on his home computer. Moments later, Bohl read the statement with TV cameras rolling and tape recorders whirring.

This was, for now and forever, to be known as the "Crushed Dove" speech.

Bohl accused KU basketball coach Roy Williams of hatred and vindictiveness, adding that Williams held Bohl in his hand like a dove.

"He had the choice," Bohl stated, "to either crush me with his power of influence, or let me fly with my visions for a better total program. He chose to crush me."

Ohmigoodness, I remember thinking at the time. Did I really hear what I just heard?

Anyone with any connection with the KU athletic department knew Williams was just one of many who had cast stones. Bohl's dismissal had not been a one-man show. It had been a team effort.

As proof, Williams bolted for North Carolina five days later, effectively ending speculation he would come back for a 16th season on Mount Oread if Bohl were discharged.

Had Williams stayed -- and to this day I believe he listened too much to his heart and not enough to his head -- I've often wondered how Williams would have interacted with Lew Perkins, the man who replaced Bohl. I can't envision there would be any conflicts, but it does appear Williams feels more comfortable working for men who hired him.

Williams worked amicably for 14 years under Bob Frederick, the Kansas AD who hired him in 1988, and now he's working for North Carolina AD Dick Baddour, the man who lured him -- with Dean Smith's help -- back to Tobacco Road.

What's done is done. Both Williams and Bohl are gone. Williams landed on his feet, but Bohl has dropped out of sight. He's living in St. Augustine, Fla., where his wife Sherry is teaching first grade in a public elementary school. I couldn't reach him because he and his wife are vacationing.

Anyway, it was a year ago this week that the face of Kansas University athletics began to change.

Bohl's polarization of KU athletics convinced Hemenway he needed to take a giant step to boost Kansas into major-player status in today's high-powered, cutthroat world of million-dollar bowl and television contracts.

In making Perkins the highest-paid university athletic director in the country ($400,000 salary, with an undisclosed annuity worth at least that much and probably more), Hemenway served notice he believes the only way to compete in contemporary NCAA Division One athletics is to spend money.

Whether the chancellor is right or wrong will be determined in the marketplace of athletic success or failure.

No comments: