Longform

Fire HIM!

Arizona State University's men's basketball coach Rob Evans revived a program disgraced by a notorious point-shaving scandal and reached postseason play four out of his eight seasons.

While winning was important, Evans' overarching goal was to teach his players how to succeed in life.

He kept close watch on his student-athletes, demanding they go to class and conduct themselves off the court with honor. At least 14 players earned degrees since 1999, and none found himself in trouble with the law.

For Evans' dedication to building character through competition, he was fired.

Evans was dismissed on March 10 with a year left on his $600,000 annual contract after posting a 119-120 record. He will be paid by ASU for doing nothing next season.

Football coach Dirk Koetter hasn't done much better on the field, posting a 33-28 record in five years and winning two of three second-tier bowl appearances.

Koetter's premier goal is to win a national championship -- no matter what. There's a $1 million bonus coming his way if he does.

Unlike Evans, Koetter has had extremely serious problems with his players off the field. Two players have faced sexual-assault allegations and two other players were kicked off the team for secretly filming a coed disrobing. Another player was dismissed after pulling a knife, and another for firing a gun.

But what began to happen in the winter of 2004 and spring of 2005 with one of the Sun Devils' star players easily eclipses the ongoing Duke lacrosse team gang-rape scandal, where, by the way, the coach immediately resigned.

During that period, 21-year-old running back Loren Wade exhibited increasingly erratic and threatening behavior toward female athletes, including his girlfriend. When faced with the option of reporting Wade's serious misconduct to ASU campus police and to student affairs officials, Koetter did neither.

Had he reported the behavior, his star player surely would have been kicked out of school.

Koetter played it safe -- for his football team and for his career. The coach reinstated Wade, who was already in trouble for a different problem, to the team for spring 2005 practices. The earlier trouble involved Wade accepting cash payments from an ASU employee, which had gotten him suspended.

Incredibly, Koetter reinstated Wade after learning that he had threatened to kill a female gymnast, after receiving a report from the women's soccer coach that players were terrified because Wade had a gun, and after knowing Wade's girlfriend had called police fearing Wade was going to destroy her apartment after he had threatened her life.

No counseling was ordered for Wade.

No punishment was handed out.

That's because Wade was an untouchable star athlete.

Wade had set the ASU freshman rushing record in 2003 and was expected to be the key to ASU's offense in the 2005 season. In order to win and have a shot at the Pacific-10 Conference title, Koetter needed Wade at running back, no matter what.

Koetter chose to ignore behavior that would have led to immediate dismissal from the team, if not the university, for a player of lesser ability.

This proved to be a dreadful mistake in judgment.

Soon after Wade began practicing with the team, disaster struck.

On March 26, 2005, he shot and killed 25-year-old Brandon Falkner, a former ASU football player who had been talking to Wade's estranged girlfriend in the parking lot of a Scottsdale nightclub.

How did the ASU athletic department react to the tragedy of one ASU athlete killing a former Sun Devil athlete?

It awarded Koetter a hefty raise to $950,000 a year and extended his contract.

Last December, six months into her tenure as ASU vice president of athletics, Lisa Love bestowed upon Koetter -- whose record includes one win and 10 losses against Top 10 teams and whose ex-star running back is facing a murder rap -- an 18 percent raise and a contract extension until January 2010.

Three months later, Love fired Evans, a coach who never had a player in trouble with the law and had rebuilt a program ruined by a gambling scandal that left ASU basketball a national pariah.

Love, who has never led a large college athletic department, let alone one with a $41 million budget like ASU's, has set Sun Devil athletics on a troubling course.

Apparently overlooking the tragic shooting, among other problems, Love told the media that she extended Koetter's contract because he was moving the football team in a positive direction -- and doing so with integrity.

"The complete scope of our program continues to strengthen under his leadership," Love said during the December press conference announcing Koetter's $172,000 annual pay raise.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty