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Westphal describes himself as a "paranoid ex-coach sitting by the pool wondering what to do with my life. I don't know why I ever wanted to work there, the way they've treated me. A criminal without charges. Gossip and innuendo rule, all in the name of Christianity."
PAUL WESTPHAL IS TRYING to sort out what happened to his brother at Grand Canyon. The former Grand Canyon coach and heir apparent to Phoenix Suns head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons doesn't confine blame to the school's bureaucrats and "a bunch of kids who thought they were superstars." He also raises the possibility that North Phoenix Baptist Church pastor Richard Jackson had a hand in his brother's firing.
"The big feeling when I was there was that Dr. Jackson calls any of the shots he wants," Paul Westphal says. "The school president [Bill Williams] once told me it was very frustrating for him because of the authority North Phoenix Baptist seems to exercise."
Pastor Jackson is a force on many levels: His 20,000-member congregation is one of the largest in the Southwest, and provides Grand Canyon with healthy endowments. Many of the school's top administrators attend North Phoenix Baptist. Bill Westphal, however, attends a small Bible church in Scottsdale.
But Jackson denies he had any involvement in Westphal's demise at Grand Canyon.
"That's an absolute fabrication," Jackson says. "People assume that because our church is supportive that I throw my weight around. I had nothing to do with Bill Westphal's hiring; I had nothing to do with his dismissal."
Paul Westphal, however, recalls something that happened when he was coaching at Grand Canyon. The team was moving its home games during the championship 1987-88 season from its bandbox campus gym to a larger one at North Phoenix Baptist.
"I liked our little bitty gym, and I wanted to have the loudest pep band you ever heard," he says. "I bought the band these black, long-sleeved shirts, and they looked wild. Real jazzy. Everything was fine until we had a game on the Baptist television network.
"We had this heavyset guy playing the national anthem; he had long hair and his shirt was untucked. They had a close-up and he almost looked like a Hell's Angel without tattoos. Word then came to me that North Phoenix wanted its own band, and they would wear ties. When we played our first game there, they did have their own band. Excellent musicians, but they didn't play our fight songs anymore. They played hymns. `Amazing Grace!' That doesn't really stir up the passion for the moment, you know."
That sort of response isn't new to Grand Canyon. In 1979, school officials wouldn't let the baseball team compete in the national tournament after a photo of players hoisting bottles of champagne appeared in a newspaper. "The very existence and purpose of this school is at stake," school president Bill Williams said at the time.
So it's not surprising that the honchos at Grand Canyon were appalled in late March by the Kansas City booze incident, and by Westphal's allegedly tepid response to it. But Westphal says the school fired him before he could discipline the players.
"The administration wanted me to get rid of these `bad guys' who were drinking," Westphal says. "But the guys had stayed in their rooms, and they weren't running through the streets of Kansas City with Grand Canyon sweat shirts on. I'm not a rebel, but I can't get all that shook up by someone having a beer."
The Kansas City incident was the last straw for the strait-laced administration. "People here perceived that Bill's team had too many players one step removed from the streets, and that Westphal wouldn't get rid of them when they caused trouble," says the source, who requested anonymity. "The administration saw the team as being `out of control,' because Bill wasn't a tough guy."
Since almost all the players were black, it's not surprising that race became an issue as well.
"People would say to me, `They have a good team, but they sure have a lot of blacks,'" Paul Westphal says. "Those who want Grand Canyon's team to project a little different, quote, image, somehow got the ear of the people who make the decisions. Some equate black kids to trouble. Things may be very different on the team in a few years as far as the racial mix goes."
Pastor Richard Jackson, however, bristles at Westphal's suggestion.
"It's very unfortunate for Paul to suggest that racism is behind the firing," he says. "Paul is wrong. That cannot be validated in any manner. I think he's just saying that out of frustration."
Paul Westphal also puts his finger on what may have been the school's most important motivation in firing his brother. Grand Canyon's athletic program is joining the NCAA--going big time--and they knew Bill Westphal didn't like the idea.
"Grand Canyon is taking a step they should not be taking in basketball," Paul Westphal says, "and Bill told the world what he thought." The step up in status had been prompted by the school's desire to upgrade its baseball program, and all athletic programs have to belong to the NCAA if one does. Bill Westphal, however, sneered at the idea.
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