- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Remember when we were ready to give Dave Bliss a second chance? Remember when Bliss gave a moving sermon at a Dallas church in 2009, when he admitted that his decision to pay players at Baylor -- and attempt to cover up those payments by framing murdered Baylor player Patrick Dennehy posthumously as a drug dealer, caught on tape in 2003 -- "shamed" his family and "blasphemed" his faith?
Remember when Allen Academy, a Texas high school, hired Bliss as dean of students, athletic director and head men's basketball coach, giving him that long-awaited second chance? That was a bold choice. It didn't take long to backfire.
According to the Associated Press, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the state's largest governing body for private high school sports, ruled in November that Bliss recruited two high-profile transfers received "improper inducements" because they were allowed to pay a mere fraction of the $10,000 yearly tuition required of Allen students and their families. The association also ruled that Bliss "forged the signature of the school's headmaster on a transfer form for another player who later decided not to enroll."
For its part, the school "vigorously" disputed that it ever broke any rules. Then, rather than comply with TAPPS's sanctions -- two years of probation and a one-year suspension for Bliss -- Allen Academy simply moved its competitive status to another private school association, the Texas Christian Athletic League. This year, led by the two players whose status was questioned, Allen won the Texas Christian Athletic League's Class 2A state title.
There are, of course, differing accounts here. There's this:
"TAPPS misunderstood why I came here," Bliss said during a recent interview. "Their perception was based on what I'd done before. That's not me now."
But the association's top administrator says the matter is one of the messiest his group has ever dealt with.
"You've heard the cliche 'a can of worms'? This was a can of snakes," said Edd Burleson, the organization's longtime director.
And this from Bliss:
"I have my scarlet letter, and I understand that," he said. "The only thing about it is, from this point forward, I am trying to do the right thing."
But some familiar with Bliss' efforts at Allen Academy don't see him as a changed man.
"He's giving speeches at the Final Four about how he's seen the light, but he's still not doing what you're supposed to do as a Christian," said Kevin Cross, coach at Dobie High School in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, where one of the transfers who received discounted tuition previously played.
"The thing most people have taken issue with is the fact that Coach Bliss had such baggage, a school gives him a second opportunity and then, instead of laying low for a few years, he went out and tried to bring in these ringers," said Jason Jump, who operates a website devoted to private high school sports in Texas.
None of which makes Bliss look particularly favorable, no matter how inclined you might be to take his side.
Truth is, this stuff is small potatoes. Allegations of recruiting shadiness are no stranger to private or public high school athletics. (Is there a successful private school athletics program in the country that doesn't consistently face criticism, oftentimes unfair, about recruiting and tuition breaks?) Were this a random coach in Texas, few outside the local preps scene would have even noticed.
But this is not a random coach in Texas. This is Dave Bliss, the disgraced former college hoops coach who told his players to say their murdered former teammate was a drug dealer in the hope of avoiding NCAA scrutiny. No matter how pure your motives, when you're trying to come back from that, you better make sure everything is deep-space clean. Don't recruit players from local high schools. Don't give even the appearance of tuition impropriety. Don't forge headmaster's signatures.
Frankly, don't win. What good is winning for Bliss now? What's the point of turning the fledgling Allen Academy around so quickly? Why risk any measure of goodwill you fought so publicly to earn?
As with all things Bliss, maybe there is no answer. But if the former Baylor coach was planning on being back in the news so soon, this certainly isn't what he envisioned.