Athletes Get Their Way, Campanelli Gets Boot

Let me tell you about what happened to Lou Campanelli, the basketball coach at Cal.

I've been there.

It was 30 years ago that the football players at California decided they didn't like the coach anymore. They met at the home of a reporter and decided they would take their case to the athletic director.

A week later, Marv Levy was fired. The players said he couldn't communicate with them; management agreed.

A year later, Cal students stormed the administration building to hold an institution hostage. In the years that followed, chaos, not learning, reigned on campus. Free speech was worth fighting for; anarchy was not.

Against all odds, Levy had recruited Craig Morton, a quarterback whose high-school credentials were nearly as impressive as those of current basketball freshman Jason Kidd. There were high expectations.

They weren't met.

Levy had received a Master's degree in history from Harvard. He had been successful as the head coach at New Mexico. He cared about people and academics. Later he would coach teams to the Grey Cup and Super Bowl games.

But the kids got their way.

My roommates at Cal, who were there when Pete Newell coached the Bears to consecutive Final Fours in basketball, and later when Levy coached football, still go to the basketball games. They have season tickets. They don't like Lou Campanelli, the way he walked out on the team after a loss to Cornell in December and then called

the players "uncoachable" after they blew a 19-point lead to Washington State.

They're glad he's gone.

Someone else can coach Jason Kidd.

I never liked Lou Campanelli either. He was arrogant. He was, well, an easterner with slick hair and fast answers. He wasn't Pete Newell.

But, my goodness, whatever happened to due process?

The basketball players at Cal were in a funk just as the football players were 30 years ago. They found Campanelli "abrasive and negative." Campanelli's great sophomore class threatened to transfer. Kidd might go directly to the pros after this season.

And, admittedly, the team had blown the game to WSU and been lackluster in a loss to Arizona.

But so what?

This was a team that three weeks earlier had handed UCLA its worst loss in Pauley Pavilion history. This was a coach who had recruited back-to-back top 10 ranked classes, including the acquisition of the best high-school player in the country. Jason Kidd should have gone to Kentucky or Kansas, not Cal.

Campanelli had revived interest in the program that hadn't been felt on campus since Newell quit after the 1960 season. He drew 12,000 people to a Cal game in the Oakland Coliseum this season against Sacramento State.

His team has a 10-7 record with 10 games to go, and Campanelli is fired by a rookie athletic director - Bob Bockrath had come from Arizona in 1991 where he had been an assistant - trying to mollify a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old kids.

Brian Hendrick, the lone senior starter on the team, told the San Francisco Examiner, "I couldn't believe Coach Campanelli would get fired with only 10 games left."

Campanelli had a winning record, his players were graduating, he apparently wasn't violating NCAA rules or rendezvousing with the chancellor's daughter.

But he gets fired anyway, just a week after his boss had told him he was doing OK.

Cal has always seen itself on the cutting edge of intellectual thought. So what is the message Bockrath is sending the rebellious players, indeed, to other coaches across the country, and to the young coach who has taken over for Campanelli, Todd Bozeman?

Sophomore Lamond Murray, apparently one of the six players who met with Bockrath to complain, said after Bozeman's first practice, "There wasn't as much tension as there had been. We were having more fun, instead of worrying about not doing something right."

Well, isn't that great.

Is Bozeman's job to win or to make his players happy?

And the next time they are tense and anxious, is it back to the athletic director's office threatening to quit?

Didn't Campanelli deserve to be apprised of his deficiencies, faced by his accusers and given the opportunity and dignity to try to improve, if he needed improvement, in the final 10 games?

Professional franchises owned by millionaire owners capriciously fire coaches because "they don't like the direction of the program." An institution of higher learning should demand due process for coach and player alike.

The players had their say when they picked Cal. All Campanelli got was the door.