The decision from University of Georgia president Michael Adams and athletics director Vince Dooley to suspend Jim Harrick with pay only one day after the regular season ended was not as surprising as the strong action to pull the team from the conference and NCAA tournaments.
"This is, I imagine, as bad as it gets,'' Dooley said when asked to place Monday's announcement in the historical context of his four decades as football coach and athletics director at the school. Dooley called the evidence of wrongdoing "cardinal findings.''
Said Adams: "The main issue for me right now, with all due respect to the basketball program, is to ensure that we speak to the academic integrity of the (university). This is the next step. Whether or not this is the last step, we simply don't know right now.''
The moves came only one day after Dooley said investigators provided proof of allegations of academic fraud. The ongoing investigation also has uncovered evidence of unethical conduct, resulting in Georgia declaring two starters on the basketball team - Chris Daniels and Rashad Wright - ineligible.
Daniels and Wright attended a P.E. course with former player Tony Cole, whose allegations of NCAA rules violations in the program - in the form of academic and financial benefits - sparked the investigation. Cole said he received an A in the course taught by Harrick Jr. despite not attending the class.
Dooley and Adams said Monday's action was the result only of evidence found of wrongdoing in the course and did not pertain to other allegations.
Daniels and Wright were interviewed by Georgia officials one week ago about the class, which was taught by Harrick's son, former assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr.
Less than one week after Cole's allegations were first reported by ESPN, Dooley suspended Harrick Jr. with pay. The assistant coach was given a letter of non-renewal last week, ending his relationship with the school when his contract expires this summer.
Dooley said the elder Harrick has not been directly implicated in evidence uncovered thus far. Dooley said Harrick still carries "the ultimate responsibility to this program.''
Added Dooley: "We're not talking about allegations. We're talking about findings of the most serious nature and because of that I thought it was appropriate to recommend Coach Harrick be suspended with pay pending further investigation.''
Said Adams: "This (investigation) continues to move and take twists and turns and I can't predict (Harrick's future). That will ultimately be the decision of Coach Dooley's in a recommendation to me.''
Harrick declined comment when contacted at his home Monday night.
Adams said some may consider pulling the team out of the SEC tournament "excessive'' self-punishment, but he said the decisions were made with the approval of SEC commissioner Mike Slive and NCAA director of enforcement David Price.
Dooley and Adams hope that strong self-punishment will lessen possible sanctions that could come from the NCAA investigation.
Said Dooley: "Hopefully that will show our good faith in what we believe strongly about the rules and regulations and the seriousness of the findings.''
Said Adams: "(Slive and Price) both indicated that they appreciated and respected the response the University of Georgia is taking. This has been a joint process from the beginning.''
The action from Georgia leaves Harrick's long-term future in serious doubt. Dooley said he hoped Harrick's status could be resolved "as soon as possible.''
Assistant coach James Holland will be in charge of the program during Harrick's suspension. Dooley said Harrick could use his office at Stegeman Coliseum but could not represent the university.
Dooley stressed that Wright and Daniels "are 3.0 students'' who did not need the A in the "Coaching Principals and Basketball Strategies'' course taught by Harrick Jr.
"They'll probably end up getting an F in the course, but it has no impact on their eligibility,'' Dooley said. "They are very good students.''
Georgia's action to declare Daniels and Wright ineligible were based on the charge of unethical conduct, not the impact the course had on their academic standing.
Said Dooley: "Unethical conduct can be one of many things, one of which is telling the truth.''
Dooley said Wright and Daniels "definitely'' will be welcome to return for their 2003-04 senior seasons.
"At the proper time we will make an appeal (to restore the players' eligibility),'' Dooley said.