BRYAN, TX -- Fully acknowledging his checkered past but calling him the best person for the job, Allen Academy in Bryan has hired former Baylor men's basketball coach Dave Bliss to lead that school's sports teams and help educate its students.
Bliss will hold the titles of Athletic Director, Dean of Students and Varsity Men's Basketball Coach following a unanimous vote by the Allen Board of Trustees.
“I am excited about the return to working with young people," Bliss said in a statement released Friday. "From the moment I laid eyes on Allen, I was impressed with the positive environment, and the history of the school. The opportunity of working with John Rouse and the Trustees, as well as the coaches, parents, and students only enhanced that feeling. This is a great time to be at Allen and our goal is to provide an athletic program commensurate with the great academics.”
Allen is the oldest private school in Texas.
“Bliss was Allen’s top choice from an extensive list of strong candidates from throughout the region," said Rouse, Allen's head of school, in that same statement Friday. "He is a testament to the commitment we have to maintaining our position as one of the best college preparatory schools in the southwest."
Bliss has a long history in basketball. He has headed up the men's programs at the University of Oklahoma, Southern Methodist University and the University of New Mexico before becoming Baylor's coach in 1999. He has 526 career wins.
But his stops at Texas' universities have generated controversy. Bliss left SMU in 1988 after an NCAA investigation found major infractions within the program, including booster payments to star player Jon Koncak. SMU received no penalties from the NCAA. A memo leaked later stated the NCAA stopped its investigation, feeling SMU had been punished enough after its scandal-ridden football program was heavily sanctioned.
"It was at a point where there could have been another major (infractions) case, but, back then, cases would take two, three years to complete," Robert L. Stroup III, the NCAA enforcement representative who wrote the memo, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It was just kind of decided, 'We gave them the worst (penalty). What more can we do?'"
Then, in one of the biggest NCAA controversies in recent years, it was revealed that Bliss had paid part of two Baylor players' tuition, including Patrick Dennehy, who was shot and killed by teammate Carlton Dotson in June 2003. It was also reported that Bliss knew of drug use by his players and hid positive test results. He resigned in August 2003.
After stepping down, it was revealed that Bliss had told players and staff to lie about Dennehy and paint him as a drug dealer.
"If there's any way that we can even create the perception of the fact that Pat may have been a dealer...even if we had to kind of make some things look a little better than they are, that can save us," Bliss was recorded as telling an assistant coach, as reported by Sports Illustrated.
Bliss was banned from coaching in the NCAA until 2015 unless his hire was approved by the NCAA infractions committee.
"The aspect of a cover-up is in so many sins," Bliss told a group at an Athletes in Action Sports Ministry function in 2008, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "The aspect of my cover-up was so disgusting." Bliss has repeatedly expressed regret and remorse for his actions.
Despite his checkered past, friends are calling Bliss a good man and a quality hire by Allen. He has been running Game Plan Ministries, described by Allen as "a coaches program aimed at helping coaches and players deal with the immense pressures to win at all costs." He has also served as a representative for Athletes in Action.
In their announcement of the Bliss hiring, Allen officials released a bevy of praise-filled quotes from friends and former associates of the new AD.
“I’ve known Dave for a long time and he is a great coach and a great Christian," said Dennis Goehring, former Allen trustee. "He made a bad decision and has suffered tremendous consequences as a result. I commend the Board and John Rouse on a great choice. He is a great asset for the school.”
Former A&M women's basketball coach Lynn Hickey, currently the UTSA athletic director, said, “What happened at Baylor was an unfortunate situation in an otherwise sterling career.
"During this past year, Dave has been to our campus numerous times to visit with our administration and coaches, and to speak to our Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle," Hickey continued. "I have been very impressed with his message and his sincerity. He wants to be of assistance to both coaches and young people - - he wants to give back to others.”
Added Ed Burleson, the president of TAPPS, “I expect that Dave Bliss will use his background and experience to make a very positive impact on the students, faculty, and the families at Allen Academy."
Dr. Robert Sloan, the former president of Baylor who accepted Bliss' resignation, provided the longest statement:
“Dave Bliss’s story is one that is marked by great success, followed by personal and professional failures (NCAA infractions). But those serious mistakes are not the last chapter in Dave’s life.
“For the last seven years, Dave Bliss has worked openly and tirelessly to help others – coaches, players, and anyone who would listen – to avoid the painful tragedies he was part of.
“Dave Bliss has rediscovered why he went into coaching to start with: to help young people be successful adults, people of character and worthy accomplishments. His has been a journey of loss and a slow, painstaking path toward recovery and service. Dave’s experiences of failure are as old as the human race; but his willingness to turn his story into good for others is very inspiring.
“I commend Allen Academy for hiring Dave Bliss. I admire Dave for his desire to help others. The real measure of Dave Bliss’s career will be found not in the scandal of the past, but in the service he has been doing for several years, and the work that he will do in the future, to mold the lives of young men and women toward discipline, character, and moral courage.”