AFTER SCRATCHING out a hard-fought victory in the courts, David Ridpath now throws the book at Marshall University and its all-time winningest football coach, Bob Pruett, as well as the NCAA.
More than a decade after losing his career as part of the 2001 NCAA sanctions against the MU athletic program, Ridpath has released his book Tainted Glory: Marshall University, the NCAA and One Man's Fight for Justice.
The book is published by iUniverse Inc. of Bloomington, Ind., and can be downloaded as an e-book for $3.03, or bought in paperback for $13.96 through Amazon.
If you're connected to Thundering Herd athletics to any degree, this book doesn't just open old wounds; it rubs them with 24-grit sandpaper.
Emotion aside, Ridpath's book seems to be well-researched and contains richly detailed endnotes. It needed another layer of editing - I mentally had my red pen out at times, such as when an extra "s" was added to the word "as" in an endnote.
That aside, the writing is generally clear and focused, with good transitions from chapter to chapter. I never got bored with the book, finishing it in maybe a half-dozen sittings.
Then again, when the author is holding nothing back and you know - or know of - everybody he mentions, you'll pay attention. In his introduction, Ridpath says the story "could be about Penn State, Ohio State, St. Bonaventure" and a host of scandalized schools, but it's definitely about Marshall, and the dark side thereof.
A former Army officer, Ridpath entered the wild world of college athletics by way of the sports administration graduate program at Ohio University.
He went to Weber State as a marketing intern and parlayed that into a full-time job as compliance coordinator, cleaning up an NCAA infractions mess and establishing that program's first compliance program. In 1996, assistant AD Steve Rackley moved on to Marshall and in 1997, Ridpath followed.
As one can guess, the bulk of the book deals with Ridpath's Marshall tenure, its problems with the NCAA and the legal aftermath. He sets the tone at the end of Chapter 4, when he declares, "It was apparent from the start that I had inherited one of the worst, if not the worst compliance programs in the country."
NCAA rules compliance is not for the faint of heart, and he establishes those pitfalls in describing his Weber State tenure - for example, football coaches aren't eager to "waste" their time on the subject, especially when they think their rivals aren't doing the same.
I can identify with Ridpath on many levels. A compliance officer won't win popularity contests to begin with, and Ridpath wasn't afraid of ruffling feathers if he felt his cause was just. Sometimes you just have to tell somebody what they don't want to hear, and dig your heels in to defend it.
Ridpath doesn't just detail Marshall's descent into the two-pronged NCAA scandal - academic fraud and an impermissible "jobs for props" program - he delves deeply into the many personality conflicts in a dysfunctional athletic department.
He describes athletic director Lance West's consistent failure to lead, which didn't surprise me. President J. Wade Gilley's promotion of West to the AD job is one of the most colossal blunders in the history of a university that often operates in spite of itself.
What did surprise me was Ridpath's skewering of Beatrice Crane. As Ridpath describes it, the associate AD for Olympic sports/senior woman administrator encouraged him to come to Marshall, but eventually fought him at every step.
Ridpath all but calls her the Wicked Witch of the West. Occasionally, my jaw dropped.
(Crane, now married and known as Beatrice Crane Banford, remains at MU and is probably the only person in the Shewey Athletic Building I have not even crossed paths with in a decade on this beat. Not good or bad, just odd.)
But make no mistake: Pruett is Ridpath's No. 1 target.
Ridpath tells of his first meeting with the football team, introducing players to the NCAA agent affidavit required for postseason play. He tells of having to bring the team to order himself, and then having to tell Pruett and Randy Moss to stop chatting in the back of the room. He expressed his displeasure with Pruett afterward.
"Pruett was stunned," Ridpath writes. "He now knew he had an administrator that would not back down to him and grant his every wish."
It's impossible to adequately summate Ridpath's case against Pruett. He says the coach expertly cultivated his power base with boosters, administrators in the Shewey Building (where shockingly, Ridpath's office was not located) and other quarters, including the "sycophantic, lazy media."
On the latter, he makes special mention of Chuck Landon, a Charleston columnist during the MU scandal's eruption: "Landon was a quintessential jock-sniffer who felt empowered by his almost creepy fawning association with Pruett ..."
Ridpath repeatedly assaults Pruett's veracity. In an eye-popping endnote, he tells about a 2010 conversation with Bob Marcum in Athens, Ohio, in which the former MU athletic director allegedly called Pruett a "pathological liar" and "someone who is incapable of telling the truth."