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Rocky road to the big time

After a year the ever-hopeful athletic bosses at the University of Detroit are still searching for a smooth route up

A year ago the University of Detroit was anticipating the start of a glorious adventure. The Jesuit school had Spencer Haywood, Olympic hero, unpacked and settled in. Fred Shadrick and his 10-member athletic board expected the cash register would ring away the $100,000 deficit in the athletic budget. Shadrick, who doubles as dean of student affairs and is, by his own admission, "visually oriented," smeared Memorial Building, where the Titans play their basketball, with fresh paint, colored the 9,600 seats red, white and blue and dressed the ushers in red vests and white bow ties. He hoped to bring Detroit's 8,000 students out of their athletic apathy and the city's 18,000 alumni back to the arena. All that was needed was a winning year from Haywood and company.

Well, there was not one, at least not against good opposition. The solution to the dilemma seemed simple enough to the athletic board: remove Bob Calihan as coach, give him a substantial raise and extend his present contract as athletic director to 15 years. But what followed was hardly a cakewalk. Some of the faculty, in fact, memorialized the situation with a new dance, the Shadrick Shuffle. "It's easy," a teacher said. "You take a step forward and fall flat on your face."

The board stumbled first with the defrocking of Calihan, a popular man locally after 21 years of coaching. There was no press conference or statement from the school. Next, the board passed over Calihan's logical successor, Will Robinson, an esteemed Detroit high school coach who as Haywood's legal guardian had sent him to Detroit and who, like the majority of the Titan team, is black. "Sure, Will is a fine man," said Shadrick. "But we wanted someone with a big-time college background, someone with national contacts."

The man chosen from 45 applicants was Don Haskins, coach at Texas El Paso. He had led the Miners to the national championship in 1966, but his relationship with his five black starters was not always the smoothest. The Detroit press leapt at Haskins. "I think these people are prejudging me," he said after his first meeting with Detroit reporters. Later in the same day he said to Shadrick, "Fred, I'm afraid I've made a terrible mistake." Just 48 hours after Haskins was appointed coach, he quit.

Humiliated, but still searching for the big time, Shadrick turned next to Jim Harding, a man with a background as contentious as Haskins'. A ruthless driver, Harding shouts his athletes into respect. At LaSalle in 1968 he managed, with the approval of the athletic department, to have a player's scholarship revoked. An NCAA investigation followed, and LaSalle was put on probation for two years. Harding then coached the ABA's Minneapolis Pipers. He began by teaching the likes of Connie Hawkins the art of dribbling and pass catching. "The players will do what they are told or they may find another means of making a living," he said. In one quarter of one game he jumped off the bench 16 times and in another he drop-kicked a chair 30 feet while leading by 30 points. Harding's temper exploded professionally for the last time when he took a poke at the Pipers' chief stockholder. He was fired.

"We are not babes in the woods concerning Harding's background," said Shadrick, "but he's a great coach, a winner. He has won 80% of all the games he's coached. And anyway, I don't believe what I read in the papers."

Neither, or so it seemed for a while, did Spencer Haywood. As summer came, the superstar remained enrolled and Shadrick, greatly relieved, negotiated a national TV game with LaSalle—worth $40,000—and four regional telecasts. Then one quiet Saturday afternoon in August there came a telephone call. "Fred," the voice at the other end said, "Channel 7 says Spencer Haywood is in Denver signing a contract."

"You've got to be kidding," said Shadrick.

It was a case of no kidding. Haywood did sign with the Rockets, and life with Harding at Detroit has been anything but serene. The coach listened to, but did not heed, complaints by the team about hard three-hour practices, Sunday workouts and penalty laps. Six players quit, including the captain, Dwight Dun-lap, who said, "His yelling made the players jittery. Basketball was like working in a factory." At 9 o'clock on Thanks-giving morning Harding had his team on the floor preparing for the opener against Michigan. The Titans lost that one and six of their first eight games, usually before a handful of spectators. The cash registers have not been ringing.

In his office Fred Shadrick has a sign that reads, "Come on in, My Day Is Ruined Already." He sits behind his desk, pipe in hand, eyes sparkling, and says, "What happened to Fred Shadrick is funny. If I'd sat down and decided how best I could mess up my plan, I couldn't have done a better job. As Sam Johnson once said, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' "