By Erin Sherbert
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Her hire at USF as the school's first female athletics director was touted as a coup. But sources at the university say that, behind the scenes, her selection was fraught with drama. Numerous USF coaches and other faculty were displeased by what they had heard about her tenure at Stanford. They went to Macmillan, the university's chief fund-raiser, who had been placed over the athletics department about a year before Hogan's departure, to insist that he open the process and consider other candidates.
Gore-Mann's last months at Stanford were rocky at best. In June 2006, after being passed over for the athletics director job when Leland left to go to the University of the Pacific, she was demoted, surrendering her position as the school's top women's athletics supervisor.
At Stanford, she had been the target of a lawsuit by former athletics department bookkeeper Sheryl Kanzaki, who claimed that Gore-Mann had unfairly retaliated against her for disclosing alleged irregularities. Among other things, Kanzaki accused Gore-Mann of attempting to cover up an incident in which several Stanford football players were revealed to have taken prospective recruits to a San Francisco strip club using athletics department funds.
The university denied that Gore-Mann or anyone else in the department had acted improperly. But several of her former associates at Stanford said that the lawsuit, filed in late 2005, along with complaints from other subordinates, had damaged her career there. In March 2006, sources say Gore-Mann applied for the top women's athletics supervisor job at Santa Clara University, but wasn't chosen.
Then came Macmillan.
That same spring, USF officials contracted Leland to conduct a performance evaluation of the USF athletics department. Leland brought in Gore-Mann to do much of the work. It was during that process, sources say, that Macmillan became enamored of Gore-Mann's assessment of what was needed to turn around USF's financially struggling athletics program, and pushed for her hire without opening the process to competition. USF announced her appointment the same week that Stanford and Kanzaki settled the lawsuit, with the terms subject to a confidentiality agreement.
"The process was a huge mistake," says Rick Franceschini, an attorney and longtime USF booster. "It was a critical juncture for the athletics department, and it amounted to a lost opportunity."
Yet, despite the discontent surrounding Gore-Mann, one person appears solidly in her camp: university president Privett. Although he declined to be interviewed for this article, his office referred a reporter to McDonald, USF's vice president for public affairs, who issued the following statement: "Debra Gore-Mann is the person hired for the job, and Father Privett believes she is capable and competent."
The uncertainty remains over who will be USF's coach once Sutton leaves, to the consternation of the school's boosters, who fret that no effective recruiting can take place while the program is in limbo. Evans, while technically still the coach, refuses to say whether he may pursue legal action if matters are not settled to his satisfaction. Gore-Mann says only that the Evans issue "will be resolved after the season."
Meanwhile, even though he is — for a couple more weeks, at least — the face of USF basketball, Sutton clearly has no dog in the hunt when it comes to the controversy brewing around him. It's a fight from which the legendary coach is pointedly keeping his distance.
Although he acknowledges having met Evans a time or two — "probably through Lute [Olson] at Arizona" — Sutton declines to be drawn into a discussion about the deposed coach or the flak directed at Gore-Mann. His energy is focused on eking out a few more victories before this unlikeliest of USF experiments ends. (As of press time, Sutton was 3-12, with two regular season games plus at least one conference tournament game to play.)
"It's been fun," he says, even if it hasn't necessarily been easy. He says he's been living out of a suitcase at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf, has consumed too much fast food, and has spent too many 12-hour days inside War Memorial Gym. That schedule leaves little time for anything but work, and his faithful attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
"I really wouldn't have done this at all if it weren't for my sons," he says, a reference to Sean, the head coach at Oklahoma State, and Scott, the Oral Roberts coach. "The 800 wins thing — it was more important to them than it was to me. But I'm glad I did it."
And when it's over?
"I've told Debi [Gore-Mann] that I have some ideas about how they can improve their basketball program and that if she wants me to, after the season, I'll be glad to share them with the board of trustees or anyone else," he says.
But such advice won't include who the next coach should be.
“No, no, no,” Sutton insists. “That’s something they’re going to have to figure out for themselves.”