Idaho Vandals

Idaho men’s basketball coach fired after inquiry into possible NCAA violations

University of Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin has been terminated for cause, the school announced Friday in a press release.

Verlin was placed on paid administrative leave May 23 after the school self-reported three potential violations to the NCAA.

“As with all personnel matters, we weigh many factors before we make a decision,” Interim Athletic Director Pete Isakson said in a statement. “These are not easy conversations or decisions, but we have a direct responsibility to do what is best for the university. Our fundamental goal in U of I athletics is that each sports program be a source of pride for the Vandal community — pride in our competition performance, in how we educate our student-athletes and in how we run our department. Foundational to meeting that goal is an absolute commitment to compliance and excellence.”

Zac Claus, who served as an assistant under Verlin, has been named interim head coach. A search for a full-time coach will occur next spring, according to the release.

Verlin had been the Vandals’ men’s basketball coach since March 2008. He led the Vandals to a 5-27 record in 2018-19 and had an overall record of 177-176 with Idaho. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a salary of $260,563 for 2019-20, but he could be fired for cause according to his contract for NCAA violations committed by employees “for whom coach is administratively responsible ... if coach knew or should have known of the violation and could have prevented it by ordinary supervision.” He doesn’t receive the money remaining on his contract if fired for cause.

The Idaho Statesman obtained a copy of university emails and the violations report submitted to the NCAA. According to the documents, men’s basketball staff was warned of potential NCAA bylaw violations by the university’s director of compliance but continued to commit similar violations in later months.

Then-Director of Compliance Jordan Hall wrote emails that detailed two instances in which he learned of potential NCAA violations and informed Verlin. Hall spotted one of the violations while peering through the window of a locked gym. When he tried to observe practice two days later, the windows were covered and the doors remained locked, he wrote.

“This seemed very intentional and passive aggressive,” Hall wrote in an email to the university’s deputy general counsel.

In the emails, Hall recounted a conversation with Verlin. Verlin, Hall wrote, said that former Athletic Director Rob Spear informed him he could be “lenient” with one of the potential violations, which involved illegal participation of a noncoaching staff member in practices and games.

Staff was made aware of the potential violation and subsequent rules in September 2018, Hall wrote, and the basketball program was found to have potentially committed more violations of the same kind in October, December and February.

Every member of the athletic department was sent rules on what noncoaching staff members could and couldn’t do as early as February 2016 and as recently as spring of 2018, according to the emails and report.

Despite that, Verlin told Ice Miller — the law firm that conducted the university’s inquiry into the violations — he “did not recall specific compliance education” on that topic. Spear was fired by the State Board of Education in August following an independent investigative report that detailed mistakes his department made in handling a sexual assault allegation made by a female student-athlete.

The NCAA violation detailed in Hall’s emails involves then-Director of Player Development Brooks Malm. According to the report, Malm, a former manager for the men’s basketball team as an undergraduate student, was found to have participated in on-court activities with the team during the 2017-18 season, the following offseason and the 2018-19 season. Malm’s participation was a violation of NCAA bylaw 11.7.3, which forbids noncoaching staff members from participating in practice.

According to the report, Malm served as a rebounder and passer during practice and also held up play cards during games. He also occasionally played on the scout team.

Malm told Ice Miller he was unaware that his conduct was not permitted until the fall of 2018, and he was found to have stopped for the most part after the early portion of the 2018-19 season.

In February 2019, Malm participated in scout team walk-throughs while on a road trip at Montana and Montana State, according to people interviewed by Ice Miller. Malm also admitted to participating.

Prior to his decreased role later in the season, Malm had scrimmaged with the team five to seven times over the last few years and “performed other coaching duties at practice” nearly every day, per a January 2019 email from Hall.

The second violation outlined in the report is almost entirely redacted, including which NCAA bylaw was violated.

The third involves members of the coaching staff evaluating prospective players during pickup games with current players on campus, which is a violation of NCAA bylaw One of the prospects wasn’t eligible for such an evaluation because of medical paperwork that hadn’t been completed; another was a local high school player who occasionally played pick-up games with the Vandals and was seen in action by coaches.

Idaho has implemented a series of penalties in response to the violations, including recruiting and practice limitations through the 2019-20 season. The NCAA could add to those penalties.