Prior to the 1999-2000 basketball season, Baylor University hired Dave Bliss to coach the team and breathe life into a floundering program. Baylor had just completed a 6-24 season that included an 0-16 record in Big 12 conference play. Bliss had spent the previous eleven years at New Mexico. His Lobo teams had made seven trips to the NCAA tournament and notched an all-time best New Mexico record of 28-5 in 1995-1996. Baylor paid Bliss $600,000 per year to coach the team.

Baylor showed signs of improvement the next year, winning 14 games, including 4 in conference. The next year, 2000-2001, would be the high water mark for Bliss at Baylor, when his Bears went 19-12 (6-10 in conference) and went to the NIT tournament. The Bears were mediocre in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003.

In the summer of 2003, tragedy struck the Baylor basketball community. On June 14, 2003, junior forward Patrick Dennehy spoke with a friend. He was never heard from again. His body was found seven weeks later, and teammate Carlton Dotson was charged with Dennehy’s murder. Dotson was declared incompetent to stand trial, but later plead guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

If was the end of the story, it would be a very sad story. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story.

Eventually, questions were raised about Dennehy’s financial situation. Dennehy had transferred to Baylor from New Mexico and had been forced to sit out a year, as is standard procedure with NCAA athletes. During this time, he did not have an athletic scholarship. The amount financial aid he was receiving was not nearly enough to cover his expenses. Who was covered the other expenses?

The answer, of course, is that Dave Bliss had paid a portion of Dennehy’s tuition. He had done the same with another Baylor player. It was later discovered that Bliss had engaged in similar practices while he was the SMU coach in the early 1980s. This is a clear violation of NCAA rules.

Bliss, of course, did not want anyone to know this. In order to explain Dennehy’s source of cash, he told the team to spread the rumor that Patrick Denehy had been a drug dealer. There is little doubt as to the accuracy of these allegations – an assistant coach caught them on tape after Bliss threatened to fire him if he didn’t help with the scheme. Bliss, a supposed leader of young men, a man whom parents entrusted with their sons, had severely violated that trust.

Dave Bliss resigned in August, 2003 and has never held another college coaching job (although he did coach his son’s high school team and also coached a year in the CBA). The NCAA handed down severe sanctions – they were on probation until 2010, ineligible for post-season in 2003-2004, and had scholarships and recruiting visits reduced. Perhaps the most interesting penalty is the fact that Baylor would not be allowed to play any non-conference games in 2005-2006. They were not technically ineligible for post-season play that year, but with only 16 conference games plus the Big 12 conference tournament, it seemed impossible that Baylor could amass a win total that would get them into a post-season tournament.

Baylor offered to release players from their scholarships so that they could transfer to other schools. Four players, including Baylor’s top three scorers from the previous season, transferred to other schools. One of them, Lawrence Roberts, became a first-team All-American at Mississippi.

At this point, the Baylor program was in shambles. They hired Valparaiso coach Scott Drew, a man who apparently loves a challenge. Considering the shape the program was in, it was no surprise that Drew struggled during his first three years – 8-21 in 2003-2004, 9-19 in 2004-2005, and 4-13 in 2005-2006.

Baylor finished 15-16 in 2006-2007. For Drew, this was a considerable achievement. In 2007-2008, Baylor went 21-11 (9-7 in conference) and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988. Baylor smartly signed Scott Drew to a 10 year contract extension.

What has Drew done for an encore? Baylor went 17-13 in the regular season (albeit 5-11 in conference). Baylor knocked off Nebraska in the first round of the conference tournament. Thursday, they beat #1 seed Kansas. Baylor will not likely earn an NCAA berth unless they win the conference tournament. With such turmoil in their recent history, how can your root against them? My favorite school is a rival Big 12 school (Iowa State, which has been eliminated from the conference tournament) but I’ll be cheering for Baylor this weekend.

1 Comment

Share this article via email

Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

Like this site? Subscribe via RSS, Subscribe via Email, or Follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

The permanent URL for this article is:
http://www.thesoapboxers.com/baylor-finds-success-without-bliss/