NAU basketball…’environment of fear’ under Mike Adras

We finally know why head coach Mike Adras abruptly resigned just nine games into the season, leaving the Northern Arizona men’s basketball team in the hands of a 70-year-old former women’s coach who was pulled from retirement to finish out the season.

But it took a hard-nosed inquiry by Flagstaff’s Daily Sun newspaper to unearth the story of why Adras, who had been coaching at NAU the past 19 years, suddenly split without even telling his players he was leaving.

A formal request filed by the Sun turned up documents that show that Adras had been under investigation by the school since last summer.  The public records released by NAU show that Adras was responsible for multiple violations of school and NCAA rules.

The investigation was triggered by emails sent from concerned parents to Athletic Director Jim Fallis, outlining infractions that centered on the players being forced to sign inaccurate practice time sheets to avoid being in violation of the limitations set on practice times by the NCAA.

There were also instances of inaccurate per diem expense sheets, which track the players’ expenses for travel.

To make matters even worse, Fallis reportedly also found evidence that players and assistant coaches were working in “an environment of threats and fear”, as retribution from Adras was feared by those who would consider disclosing the violations.

Adras, who had been the head coach for 12 full seasons after serving as an assistant for six season before that, was considered one of the better coaches in the Big Sky Conference.  He ranks third on the conference win list, with 99 victories.

His overall record as head coach is 193-170, since taking over when Ben Howland left for a job at UCLA in 1999.  During that time, he took the Lumberjacks into post-season play 10 times and won consecutive regular-season Big Sky titles in 2006 and 2007.  He was the Big Sky Coach of the Year for the 2005-2006 season.

But recent years have been a struggle.  The Jacks were 9-7 and 8-7 in the Big Sky the last two years, and fourth place was their best finish.

And this season’s prospects were pretty gloomy after Adras lost Cameron Jones to graduation.  He had built his offense around Jones, who left Flagstaff with the school career scoring record (1,563 points).

Last spring, it was discovered that Adras had been on the short list of candidates for the head-coaching job at Lamar University in Texas, a job that went to Pat Knight.  So, when he left this time, it would have been natural to assume Adras had found greener pastures somewhere else.

But the sudden, in-the-middle-of-the-night type of departure didn’t make sense.

Now it does.

So Dave Brown, who has been at NAU since 1983 when he arrived to take over the women’s basketball program, was pulled from the broadcast booth, where he was doing the color commentator for Lumberjack games, and sent back to the court to hold the fort until a new coach could be hired.

He started out with a bang in his first game, adding a huge win to his decades-old resume when the Jacks beat a Division I opponent for the first time on the season, taking down Cal State Bakersfield, 80-67.  But they’re 1-9 in conference play and have now lost nine straight.

Adras left the program in disarray and now the school has to find a head coach who can deal with the recruiting struggles inherent in a small D-I school that plays in an Arizona outpost that features knee-deep snow in the heart of its season.

He won’t have to deal with the issue any longer…and Jim Fallis may also be on the same train out of town.  The AD is reportedly one of four finalists for a similar job at Northern State University.

NSU, by the way, is in Aberdeen, SD – where it’s 17 degrees during the winter and gets its share of knee-deep snow.  Not much of an escape, if you ask me.

But it does beat the kind of heat that comes with an NCAA investigation.