So I’m “on assignment” here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, trying to get away from all the scandal and stuff that we’ve been covering so far this off-season. Little did I know that I was walking into Mordor… Sorry ’bout that, Duck fans.
Following their story that Ohio State was working with the NCAA regarding Jim Tressel’s need for a Gmail account, the guys at Yahoo said that they were working on two other stories this summer… one a “7″ and one a “10″ (with OSU being an 8). So, we knew the “summer of love” would continue… and wow, has it delivered.
Yahoo today released the results of their “wide-ranging, multi-day interview” with the man at the center of the storm, “Scouting Guru” Will Lyles. Their documentation is pretty concerning if you love your ducks, and it’s joined by several other media outlets.
(Although, it should be noted that ESPN was late to cover this story- Please try to harness your surprise.)
The article starts with a pretty damning charge, and holds that Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s relationship with Lyles was more than just someone who provided scouting services. Rather, Kelly seemed to be paying Lyles to broker relationships and conversations with student athletes, particularly those in Texas-
Embattled scouting service owner Will Lyles told Yahoo! Sports that University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly personally approved a controversial $25,000 fee that sparked an ongoing NCAA investigation and was in constant contact as Lyles provided the Ducks with recruiting assistance that may have violated NCAA rules.
In a wide-ranging, multi-day interview, Lyles said Kelly “scrambled” in late February and asked Lyles to submit retroactive player profiles to justify the $25,000 payment to his company, just days before the transaction was revealed in a March 3 Yahoo! Sports report.
(Lyles) now says Oregon did not pay him for his work as a traditional scout, but for his influence with top recruits and their families and his ability to usher prospects through the signing and eligibility process. That dual role as mentor to prospects and paid contractor to Oregon is believed to be a focus of the NCAA probe.
The article goes on to say that assistant director of football operations at Oregon, Josh Gibson, may also have been involved in ways that are concerning for the NCAA.
According to Lyles, both Gibson and Lyles were instrumental in making sure that 2010 recruit Lache Seastrunk was able to petition to have his grandmother co-sign his letter of intent (rather than his mother, who was against Lache attending The University of Oregon). Once this process was completed, Kelly told Lyles to bill him equal to the best paying scouting service, and Lyles did to the tune of $25,000. Kelly then approved this payment.
Yahoo answers the question that we had earlier about the quality of the “Scouting Package” received by Oregon and released to the media as a part of various inquiries. In it were listed a number of recruits who had already attended other Universities, and were a part of the 2009 recruiting class. This was due to the following, according to the article-
The mood began to change on Feb. 17 when Lyles said Kelly and assistant coach Gibson called him and expressed concern about the lack of printed scouting material he had provided to the school. Lyles said they requested printed reports on Class of 2011 prep prospects, ones that had already signed letters of intent, as soon as possible. Lyles’ phone records show a 12-minute call from Kelly and an eight-minute call from Gibson that day.
“It was like, ‘Hey Will, we need to get some player evaluations and send it as soon as you can,’” Lyles said. “I didn’t really know why, but they were like, ‘Get everything you have and turn it in.’ They were on my ass about it.
“So I just threw it together.”
Lyles said he took old profiles off a computer, copied some information from elsewhere and tried to accumulate a last-minute recruiting package. He said he never bothered to consider the quality because he felt Oregon didn’t care, they just needed to show something, he assumed, to some bean counter in Eugene.
On Feb. 22 he sent in his “2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet” which featured 140 player profiles, 133 of them from Texas. Almost all the players were from the Class of 2009 and had already chosen colleges.
“One of the kids is dead,” Lyles said. “I didn’t know he was dead.”
Lyles believes Oregon was trying to retroactively comply with the rules. He says in mid-February the football staff became aware of a pending Yahoo! Sports investigation into its payment to Lyles and the Dallas-based scouting service New Level Athletics.
“They were covering their tracks,” Lyles said. “They were covering their asses. They were scrambling.”
Lyles was also instrumental in very non-traditional ways with several other college prospects. First, he assisted Jeff Wood at receiving tutoring at Sylvan at the request of (and payment by) Jeff’s father. Lyles says he received $4k for this; it is unclear what impact this had on Wood’s decision to attend The University of Texas, although the article says there was no connection.
Lyles was also connected to other Oregon recruits, in addition to Seastrunk. Defensive Back Marcus Davis contacted Lyles when he was looking to transfer from the University of Texas; he eventually transferred to Oregon for a brief stay. In the fall of 2009, Lyles transported Seastrunk, eventual Duck Dontae Williams (who has since tranferred), Auburn signee Trovon Reed and another recruit to Eugene for an official visit which included that season’s USC game.
Most famously, Lyles worked with current Duck running back and Heisman candidate LaMichael James to ensure that he’d be eligible for college, and advised a transfer that would excuse him from mandatory Texas State testing. Lyles says that Chip Kelly (at that time, Oregon’s offensive coordinator) supported this idea.
In fact, it was Lyles’ relationship to James that led to the connection to Kelly; as Lyles was the one that referred James to the Ducks staff based on their offense and his talents.
Lyles served as Kelly’s unofficial connection to the Houston Area, including driving him and arranging meetings with various coaches.
According to Yahoo, Kelly and other Duck coaches were grateful for his assistance in connecting students athletes with the University, and Lyles didn’t think there were any concerns regarding his relationship with them. The NCAA felt otherwise, and met with Lyles for six hours earlier this year.
Lyles’ relationship with Seastrunk was also significant, to the point where Lyles was staying at Seastrunk’s house overnight on numerous occasions during the past year. Seastrunk was initially headed to Southern Cal, according to Lyles, but decided to commit to Oregon once Pete Carroll left for the NFL. However, this required some maneuvering to get around Seastrunk’s mother’s opposition; that led to the arrangement with his grandmother mentioned earlier.
Yahoo outlines in great detail how this came to be, and the level of involvement from the Oregon staff (although only a few of the documented conversations from that time- much was done via phone). It is of note that Seastrunk’s mother was not aware that any of this had occurred.
The Oregonian has a great timeline of contact between Lyles and Kelly, including commentary regarding what else was happening in the NCAA and Oregon Football program at the time. It’s well worth scrolling through, and very interesting.
Other schools who are mentioned in Yahoo’s report- Cal and LSU have both paid Lyles for his information on student athletes, and it has been speculated for a while that the NCAA might also be looking into Lyles’ relationship to LSU’s Patrick Patterson. It should be noted that LSU always had very specific things they wanted from Lyles, much more than Oregon and Cal requested.
Sports Illustrated’s Steward Mandel has weighed in on the matter (although we’re waiting for a 6 week investigation), saying-
The very high-profile head coach of a very high-profile program — one that played in the national championship game last January and has largely been portrayed as a feel-good story — has been caught in writing acknowledging his relationship with a guy who manipulated a player’s graduation plans and another’s guardianship status, both to the benefit of Oregon. It’s abundantly clear by now that he signed off on a $25,000 payment to a guy that had no business getting a dime from the school.
Oregon — with the generous help of Nike and Phil Knight — has spent more than a decade carefully crafting its aura as the cool school with the slick uniforms and the flashy offense. Kelly was the charismatic mastermind that took the program from good to great. Both are suddenly taking on a more dubious image. How long until Kelly’s superiors admit this isn’t “the right way?”
Lyles also realizes now that his relationship with Kelly and Oregon may not have been healthy for either side-
While he said he never thought he was acting improperly, he understands lines may have been crossed. Whether any NCAA rules were broken that could affect Oregon hardly matters to him. Lyles has lost his business and reputation.
“But those aren’t my rules,” Lyles said. “Those are the NCAA’s rules. Those are Oregon’s rules.”
Lyles said his chief regret is not studying the NCAA bylaws to avoid mistakes that created this scandal. That and trusting that Oregon was chiefly interested in his role as a talent scout, not a recruiting facilitator.
“I felt like my throat was cut and I was left to bleed to death. I felt that there would be some sense of loyalty to me, because I felt I provided a great [recruiting] service. In retrospect, it might have never been about the service.”
To be fair, we should give Will Lyles’ statements the same amount of credibility we gave to Ed Rife and “Ellis”- there are reasons to be suspicious regarding his willingness to come forward.
And again, we Buckeye fans are in no position to throw any rocks and so forth, but you’ve got to wonder how this will all fall out.
Jason will be bringing a closer comparison between Jim Tressel and Chip Kelly later this week, but an quick comparison would be that one coach lied to cover up potential violations by his players, the other (in the words of our friends at ATO) “worked to cover-up NCAA violations committed by the institution itself.” And that gets doubled if Kelly signed a compliance document at any time as well.
We’ll keep you posted.