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"When the school announced its plans to go NCAA," Paul Westphal recalls, "Bill said publicly, `So, we're going to join the Great Western Hemisphere Conference?'" Westphal was referring to the fact the conference includes teams in such far-flung places as Hawaii and Alaska. "The problem is, basketball is not ready, and they're being dragged along with baseball. Bill was undiplomatic. That didn't go over well."
Bill Westphal also let the world know that NCAA status, prestigious as it would be, might make it difficult for Grand Canyon to continue as a small-college basketball power.
"That's the absolutely worst thing they can do for the basketball program," Paul Westphal explains. "Basketball is virtually committing suicide as far as being a national power by going NCAA. One big thing that's enabled Grand Canyon to get good athletes was the more lenient NAIA rules."
Grand Canyon had long recruited athletes who for various reasons were ineligible to play under NCAA rules. "Last-chance" players such as Rodney Johns, a star on the 1988 championship team recently named an assistant coach at the school, probably won't be coming the Antelopes' way in the future.
"Grand Canyon was Rodney's fourth school in five years or something," Paul Westphal says. "This was his last stop. If we had been an NCAA school, Rodney couldn't have come here. And I wouldn't have coached a championship team."
That said, college administrations usually tolerate undiplomatic coaches who win more than 75 percent of the time. But the well-publicized move into the NCAA may explain why Grand Canyon officials came unglued last season over Bill Westphal's $150 loan to a player.
Westphal describes the loan scenario this way: "Mike [Johnson] owed the money for his apartment. A mix-up between him and two roommates. He didn't have the money, and his scholarship check wasn't coming in for several days. Mike had asked me for a loan a few times, and I'd told him no. Finally, I said, `I'll give you the money. Pay me back when you can.'"
Back-up forward Johnson repaid the loan within days, he and Westphal say.
"The loan was a mistake, but it wasn't done with bad intent," Bill Westphal agrees. "Mike averaged four points a game. He wasn't a kid I was trying to keep happy, as if I'd do that. It was a mistake."
NCAA director of legislative services Rick Evrard tells New Times that lending money to athletes is "a definite no-no." He adds, however, that "lots of things are taken into consideration in any investigation--the school's past record, for example. And whether the incident is isolated or inadvertent." Evrard says he's unfamiliar with the Grand Canyon situation.
To an organization that investigates payoffs of Mercedes-Benzes and trunkloads of cash, a $150 loan would hardly seem a priority. In fact, enforcement sources at the NCAA tell New Times they've never heard of the Grand Canyon incident.
When school officials learned of the loan shortly after it happened--from a disgruntled teammate of Johnson--they didn't fire Westphal on the spot, or report the incident to the NCAA. Instead, for reasons they won't explain, they waited until season's end to dismiss him.
Revelation of the loan stoked a fire at Grand Canyon already threatening Westphal's job. The administration had learned months earlier that Westphal's assistant Scott Mossman had given a recruit a $10 Grand Canyon tee shirt. That's also an NCAA no-no, though hardly the worst violation that's ever been committed.
Westphal says the school advised him to fire Mossman, a junior high teacher who had worked for two years under Paul Westphal before Bill took over.
"Bill asked me what had happened," says Mossman. "I told him the truth, that I'd taken a recruit to a store in Metrocenter because our bookstore was closed, and that I'd bought the kid a tee shirt because he didn't have any money. It was a stupid thing to do, and I haven't done it before or since. Bill backed me."
Mossman says Grand Canyon put him on probation, "and then six months later they said I was on my own again. What gets me is that now, they tell Bill that one reason they fired him is because of the tee shirt. It just flabbergasts me. Bill Westphal did not deserve this."
IT'S A SCENE reminiscent of a 1940s Hollywood college movie. Idyllic campus at sunset, clean-cut Baptists strolling on the well-trimmed lawns, on their way to Bible study.
Hundreds of Grand Canyon's 1,700 students live in apartments on the lovely campus, located at 33rd Avenue and Camelback. They include members of Grand Canyon's basketball team. On a balmy, early May evening, several players sit in a living room and discuss their season. This articulate group, all black, is quite pleased Bill Westphal lost his job.
To a man, they reject Paul Westphal's comments about a possible racial motivation to Bill Westphal's firing. As for the "racial mix" on next year's team, at least, the players say the school has asked all of them to return.
"I thought Bill deserved to be fired, and it has nothing to do with race," says Darryl Williford, the team's senior captain. Most of the players' complaints about Westphal center around their lack of playing time and to his sometimes laconic approach to coaching.