Biancardi resigned as head coach of Wright State in March 2006 after the NCAA banned him from recruiting for violating rules while an assistant at Ohio State. After his Show Cause penalty expired, he was hired as an assistant at St. Louis University, and in 2008 joined ESPN as the national recruiting director.
“I know exactly what Jorge is going through, and it’s brutal,’’ Biancardi said by phone on Friday. “For two years, he’s been stressing about the unknown, wondering how it’s all going to play out, sitting in no-man’s land wondering if his career is going to end. You feel defenseless ... I’ve known Jorge since 1989 and he’s as loyal and hard-working as anyone in the business, and a great evaluator of talent. I believe he’ll bounce back. My advice to him was, ‘It’s over. You can’t change the outcome. Can’t change what was true or not, or what people said about you. Don’t get bitter, get better. Move on.’”
Fernandez said he felt some shame in how he was portrayed, especially in his hometown, where he played at Miami Killian High and coached at Coral Park High and Southridge High. His father, after reading about the investigation in the newspaper, asked if he could end up in jail. “I said, ‘No, Dad, I’m not a criminal.’ You almost want to hide.’’
When Haith left for Missouri, he did not take his staff with him. Fernandez got a job at Marshall University, where he said he was treated very well. But as the UM scandal escalated, he decided to resign for fear he’d become a distraction for the Marshall team.
“I feel bad for the guy I’m working for, he has to indirectly deal with this, too, which is why it’s so hard to get a job after a Show Cause,’’ Fernandez said. “The media and fans start saying `What kind of guy did you hire?’ People start questioning your integrity.’’
“The Show Cause is as close to a career death penalty as you can get, especially if you’re an assistant,’’ said Van Gundy. “The head coaches seem to do OK, like when Eddie Sutton had the scandal at Kentucky, he was hired right away by Oklahoma State. Assistant Dwane Casey took the brunt of it. He had to coach in Japan for a while. The anonymous assistant has no recourse, no resources to fight, and nobody takes up their cause. It’s a travesty what happened to Jorge, an overwhelming penalty for a minor offense.’’
One longtime former college basketball coach who did not want his name used said “the lowly loyal assistant gets whacked the hardest. The head coach will get a four-, five-game suspension. The assistant gets two or three years.
“Don’t tell me a head basketball coach doesn’t know what his assistants are doing. You are talking about a four-man staff recruiting maybe a dozen players. You travel together, eat together, ride rental cars together, have meetings together. If something happens, you as the head coach are either directly responsible — you asked your loyal assistants to do it and they did it — or you found out about it soon thereafter and didn’t do anything about it. You should be held accountable in all three scenarios.’’
The pressure to land the big recruit and keep players happy has intensified in recent years, as college sports become more and more of a big business. Players come out of high school with their hands out, and expect to be pampered. If you don’t take that kid, your competition will. If you take him and don’t give him early playing time, he and his handlers complain.
“When there’s a lot of money and the pressure to win, things are going to happen. It’s unfortunate but that’s just part of the business,’’ Fernandez said. “We all have to make decisions sometimes. What road are you gonna take? Are you gonna break a rule or not break a rule? When you see a violation, you’re supposed to report it to Compliance. If you do, you’ll probably be fired and other coaches will view you as a rat.
“At the end of the day, you have to fall back on your values and the values of your program. Recruiting is the key in basketball, because a couple guys can make a difference. There are going to be situations, depending who you’re recruiting, who the circle is around that specific kid. There are always signals if they want favors, what they tell you, the questions they ask. Some people have asked for money, some a little more tactful than others.’’
The assistant coach wants to please his boss and deliver the player. He wants to please the player so he’ll commit to the school. It isn’t always easy.
“I got into coaching because I love basketball and I wanted to help direct young men, many of whom don’t have father figures,” Fernandez said. “But at the end of the day, at most Division 1 universities, your job depends on if you win or lose. Obviously you want them to graduate, that all sounds fine and dandy, but a lot of times, you don’t get judged on that, you get judged on wins and losses.’’
Finding a new profession has proven difficult. He tried car sales. Didn’t work out.
“When you look at my résumé, I’ve been a basketball coach for 25 years, period,’’ he said. “You just don’t reinvent yourself that easily. Everyone kept telling me, `You’ve got to reinvent yourself.’ Well, that sounds fine in theory, but the reality is it doesn’t work that way.’’
Through his brother, he landed a job at OLC Solutions, a sporting goods company owned by Dave Benson, an assistant football coach at Cardinal Gibbons High. He drives around Miami-Dade and Broward, peddling sporting goods. On the side, he does private coaching for youth basketball players. His wife is a manager at a dentist office. Between them, they are scraping by.
“I don’t think Jorge sleeps much,’’ Benson said. “He worries a lot about his wife and kids and how he’ll provide for them. His life has been on hold for two-and-a-half years, and you can tell it’s taken its toll. He admits he made a mistake, but the punishment definitely doesn’t fit the crime. He doesn’t deserve what he’s gone through. The only salvation for him has been the extra time he gets to spend with his daughters.’’
There are days Fernandez craves the return to coaching. Other days, he’s not so sure.
“Part of me says, ‘You’re a coach. That’s what you love. That’s what you’re good at.’ But I also know what it’s like out there. After what I’ve been through, I won’t let that happen again. The price you pay is too high.”