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USF's Griffin forced to quit

The action follows months of allegations about racial bias in women's basketball and ew claims of a coverup.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


TAMPA -- After battling allegations of racial discrimination within the women's basketball program for seven months, University of South Florida athletic director Paul Griffin said Friday that he has been forced to resign.

In a phone interview Friday night, Griffin said he did not want to step down from the post he has held for 15 years, but President Judy Genshaft asked him to quit.

"We discussed the issues and she described the struggles we were having and then she asked me to submit my resignation," Griffin said. "It was mutual in that we talked it through, but she asked me to resign. I didn't walk in and say, "I want to give up.' I don't give up. I don't give up on people like that. I wouldn't give up on USF."

Genshaft announced at a news conference Friday that on Thursday she received and accepted a letter of resignation, effective March 13, from Griffin, but she characterized the move as a "mutual conclusion."

Genshaft said she and Griffin, 54, have had several conversations over the past few weeks related to eight federal discrimination lawsuits by black former women's basketball players and allegations from former assistant athletic director Hiram Green that Griffin tried to cover up the players' complaints. She said those conversations led to the mutual decision that Griffin should resign.

"This decision is in the best interest of the university, the athletic program and Paul," Genshaft said. "It is clear, if we are to build on our many successes in athletics, USF must have confidence that its athletic department leadership nurtures a strong environment for diversity. The university must have confidence that this leadership can take us beyond this controversy."

Griffin's contract is a rolling two-year agreement that pays him $142,725 annually. As part of his resignation, Griffin will be paid two years' salary unless he gets another job, a concession he would be entitled to only if he were terminated, according to his contract. Genshaft, however, agreed to give him the two years' pay anyway, USF officials said.

Genshaft said the university will conduct a national search for Griffin's replacement, but she gave no timetable.

"I am convinced we will find a first-rate athletic director very soon," Genshaft said.

In the interim, she said the athletic director duties will be shared by senior associate athletic director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, associate athletic director Lee Roy Selmon and vice president of budgets, human resources and information technology Carl Carlucci.

Friday's announcement comes eight days after Green went public with allegations that Griffin tried to sidetrack an investigation of the players' claims by asking Green to mislead the university's equal opportunity affairs office in a memo.

In a sworn declaration that was added to the players' lawsuits, Green says Griffin ordered him to tell the equal opportunity office in August 1999 that the athletic department "had resolved the problem," even though Green said it had not. He provided documents he believed support his claim.

After receiving the memo, the equal opportunity office decided it did not need to take action.

Griffin has repeatedly denied Green's accusations, saying they are "absolutely not true."

When asked Friday if Green's statements played a role in Griffin's resignation, Genshaft was evasive. "The facts are being disputed at this time, and they are simply that, disputed facts," Genshaft said.

Despite Griffin's resignation and the December firing of women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters, USF officials said the university does not plan to lessen its fight against the players' lawsuits and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint by black former assistant coach Tara Gibson. The university is, however, interested in putting the controversy behind it, officials said.

"We have to look carefully at all those allegations and whether in fact they are true; whether we have a defense; whether legally we are responsible," USF general counsel Noreen Segrest said. "We can't go on anybody else's timetable about whether it would be better to just try to make this go away, so we're evaluating it and going through the process that the law affords us to do. The institution would be willing to pursue (a settlement), but that doesn't mean that would work out because this is a complicated matter."

Tampa lawyer Jonathan L. Alpert, who represents the players, said he took no satisfaction from news of Griffin's resignation because he said the problem is institutional.

"The regrettable resignation comes as yet another unilateral action by the university," Alpert said. "It is impossible to discuss and resolve matters with people who will not talk to us."

Griffin's resignation caught many at USF by surprise, including some of his closest co-workers.

"While he wouldn't come out and just openly say how difficult this really is, I could tell by his demeanor sometimes it was difficult," Selmon said. "Some deep thoughts were having to be thought upon."

Sparks-McGlinchy, who has worked with Griffin for nearly 15 years, said she spoke with Griffin this week before he left for the Conference USA men's basketball tournament in Louisville, Ky., and he was "all business."

Friday ended one of the nation's longest tenures of an athletic director and leaves a troubling ending to arguably the most productive era in USF history. Under Griffin, who came to USF in 1986 from Jacksonville University, the Bulls won 63 conference titles (Sun Belt, Metro and Conference USA) and added several new sports, most notably Division I-AA football in 1997.

That program has grown at a remarkable rate, and next season will compete at the Division I level after just four seasons.

Griffin also had a hand in helping the Tampa Bay area become a host site for three NCAA men's basketball tournaments, including the 1999 Final Four.

In 1999, he was named by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics as the Southeast Region Athletic Director of the Year.

"I've worked extraordinarily hard to build this program over a 15-year period," Griffin said. "There are a lot of things that I take pride in, and a lot of things that I prefer to look at in more positive terms."

Despite the allegations of a Griffin coverup and other recent charges that women's basketball players were allowed by coaches to misuse athletic department phones, several athletic department officials praised Griffin on Friday.

Sparks-McGlinchy said Griffin has "a lot of integrity" and she has "a great deal of respect" for him. Men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg called him a friend. And Selmon called him "an excellent leader."

"I think the results of the growth in the department and the programs speak for themselves," Selmon said.

Griffin said he had no hard feelings toward USF. He said he hopes to seek another position, possibly in athletics, and remain in the Tampa Bay area with his wife.

"I'm going to go to work and I intend to resume my career very quickly," he said. "It's funny. I've only been unemployed for 22 hours and I already have a couple of inquiries."

- Times staff writers Roger Mills and Ernest Hooper contributed to this report.

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