Florida State Basketball Coach Hugh Durham has had splendid recruiting success over the past few years, but according to the NCAA he is not your everyday Little Jack Horner who sat in a corner, put in his thumb and pulled out a plum. No, what a bad boy is he!
When Durham played at FSU a little more than a decade ago, the Seminoles lost almost twice as many games as they won. Since he became head coach at the start of the 1966-67 season, the trend has been reversed to the point where this year Durham has a group of such talented stylists that even a Horner would abandon the corner to pay to come see. Unfortunately, two weeks ago the NCAA uncovered illegal recruiting practices at Tallahassee and cuffed the team with a two-year probation. Now Durham, at 32 a vibrant and extremely likeable sort, is a nice guy who not only will not finish last, he will not finish.
Last week, in what surely was the biggest game in the history of the state, FSU, led by its postmen Dave Cowens and Willie Williams, defeated previously unmarked Jacksonville 89-83 for Durham's most important victory yet. It should finally boost his team to a prominent place in the polls, consistent with its 16-2 record, and to a status heretofore denied it due to considerations that defy all logic.
After the game Durham said he had beaten Jacksonville by challenging 7'2" Artis Gilmore on offense—in short, by "taking it to their strength." In this characteristically blunt fashion, so has Durham been "taking it to the strength" of the white, rigidly conservative and inflexible citizenry of Tallahassee by developing a team of principally black membership. Four of Florida State's five starters are black (the much-publicized "busted flush"), eight of the 12 members of the team are. All five of the freshman scholarship players are.
There is evidence that Durham's popularity—among local residents unhappy with his disregard of the status quo and among coaches who have lost prospects to him—has not been enhanced by all of this. Moreover, some say that precisely because of the predominantly black team, Florida State's basketball program is a glass house in all matters of recruiting—but a concrete fortress where national polls are concerned.
The trouble began prior to last season, when a disgruntled player who had been beaten out of a starting job reported the school to the NCAA. FSU was put on a one-year probation for permitting prospective players to work out on university facilities and for entertaining them outside the normal school area. Early this season new charges were brought by the NCAA regarding "lavish entertainment" of three prospects during an expenses-paid, round-trip visit to Atlanta last May. The players attended two Braves games and watched a show by The Platters. Durham was present, and the bill was picked up by a friend of his, a wealthy Atlanta businessman. Durham claimed he had misinterpreted the rules, that the three had already signed letters of intent to enroll at FSU and were in Atlanta only "for job interviews." (Two of the players, Ron King and Otto Petty of Louisville, are now on the freshman team while the third went elsewhere. Durham says next year's varsity will be the "King high flush.")
Early last month, following a personal investigation that angered him sufficiently to come "this close" to firing Durham, FSU President Dr. Stanley Marshall took punitive measures of his own. He ordered the coach to discontinue all speaking engagements, radio and TV programs, appearances at clinics and plans for a summer camp, and forbade him from engaging in "any and all recruiting activities." This action undoubtedly softened the NCAA sentence, which many people in Tallahassee feared would implicate the entire athletic program at Florida State—including football.
At present, though permitted to fulfill duties on the court, Durham is like a man bound and gagged when it comes to what most people regard as 70% of the college game: recruiting. A capable assistant, Bill Clendinen, will do most of it, and Durham's wife, the vivacious Malinda, will go on the road herself. But there are problems. "I blew one the other day," Malinda said. "A boy from Chicago called and said his next game was in Jacksonville. I said, 'Oh, boy, that's my home town. Maybe I can come see you play.' But then I saw Hugh waving like a madman at me from across the room. The boy meant Jacksonville, Ill., not Florida."
Durham himself is optimistic.
"Sometimes adversity pulls people together," he says. "Up until this season we've had a problem stirring up interest here. There is nothing good about the probation...but at least we're gaining attention."
Cowens, the Seminoles' 6'10" star, has mixed feelings on the matter. "We blame the coach, of course," he says. "The first time—you give him the mistake. On the second probation, you have to question him—for taking such a chance."
Through it all Hugh Durham has maintained his high sense of humor. "We're still in a tournament," he said the other day. "The Pro Bowl. The mythical probation bowl. Last year we had a helluva field—La Salle, St. Bonaventure and us. This year we have Yale coming in and the San Jose track team. If we can stop the San Jose break, we're in."