Decision on Harrick could prove costly to Georgia

ATHENS, Ga. - The finance committee of the Georgia Athletic Board met Wednesday to finalize an annual budget to be presented for approval at the board's regular spring meeting in two weeks.

It is possible room will have to be found in that budget to pay another coach who in two weeks may not be employed by the association. Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley says there has been no evidence uncovered in the ongoing investigation of the men's basketball program that directly links Coach Jim Harrick any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, Harrick already is suspended with pay and Dooley says a decision will have to be made on the coach's long-term future with the program within 10 days.

Said Dooley: "It's important to have a decision prior to the (April 5-7) Final Four.''

If the decision is to fire Harrick, the move could cost Georgia at least $1.8 million - Harrick's salary for the next three years.

The Final Four, to be played in New Orleans, is the annual meeting place for job interviews between administrators and prospective head coaches. While any coach search at Georgia could be hampered by the investigation, which seems likely to continue long after the Final Four, Dooley said it is important a decision is reached on Harrick "one way or the other'' within 10 days.

Despite the newly announced deadline, it does not appear likely Dooley will announce any decision on Harrick this week.

Dooley is scheduled to leave Athens today for annual meetings in Jacksonville to discuss plans for the annual Georgia-Florida football game. He is scheduled to return to Athens Friday afternoon.

On March 10, Dooley and University of Georgia president Michael Adams announced that Harrick had been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation of charges of academic and financial benefits given to players in possible violation of NCAA rules.

Georgia is cooperating with the NCAA in the investigation. Already the fallout has been dramatic, as the team was pulled out of the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. Harrick's son, assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., was suspended and then fired, and two players, Rashad Wright and Chris Daniels, also were suspended.

Harrick's contract, which runs through June 30, 2006, stipulates the coach can be fired without further pay if found guilty of a "deliberate and serious failure to comply with an applicable rule or regulation of the NCAA, SEC or the university.''

If Harrick is fired but it is not found that he violated his contract, he will be owed the $600,000 per year for the next three years, unless another financial settlement is reached.

In the last 10 years, football coaches Ray Goff and Jim Donnan continued to earn lucrative salaries long after they were fired by Georgia.

Already Dooley has specifically said that Harrick was not found to be directly involved in the findings of academic fraud or unethical conduct surrounding a P.E. class taught by Harrick Jr. Wright, Daniels and former player Tony Cole received grades of A in the course without being required by Harrick Jr. to attend the class.

Also, Dooley has said Harrick has not been found to have been directly involved in the $300 sent from two men in Rhode Island to Harrick Jr., who then forwarded the money by wire to Cole.

Finally, Dooley has said there is no link from Harrick or anyone in the basketball program to a former Colquitt County guidance counselor, Ernest Shanks Jr., who allegedly plotted to have a student take a standardized test for former Georgia recruit Alexander Johnson of Albany.

Shanks told the Albany Herald he has no ties with Harrick, Harrick Jr., or Georgia.

Despite that lack of evidence directly implicating Harrick, Dooley already has bemoaned what he called extremely serious findings of academic fraud and unethical conduct in the program.

Even those close to Harrick admit that those findings of wrongdoing in the program, combined with the negative publicity generated by the ongoing investigation, would make it difficult for him to return as coach.

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