By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN -- As Virginia assistant football Coach Bob Pruett helps prepare the Cavaliers for the upcoming season, he might be looking over his shoulder because ghosts from his past are chasing him.
Allegations in depositions in a civil lawsuit against Pruett put the former Marshall coach at the center of a major cheating scandal at the Huntington institution of higher learning rather than on the periphery, which had been the story until now.
The NCAA busted Marshall in 2001 for a series of rule violations, including academic fraud and a scheme where players were paid up to four times the prevailing wage for jobs with a firm owned by mega wealthy and ultra-personable Marshall booster Marshall Reynolds.
The school was put on NCAA probation for four years and lost five scholarships a year for three years. The school also was required to have no association with Reynolds for five years. (The very instant the five years was up, the school welcomed its big time benefactor back with open arms.)
Pruett, who abruptly stepped down in the spring of 2005, remained virtually unscathed personally.
Ex-Marshall official David Ridpath, whose job it was to make sure that Herd athletic programs complied with NCAA regs, contends he was made the scapegoat.
Ridpath, who has since moved on to Ohio University, sued Pruett and others in an attempt to repair what he says is his tarnished reputation.
Now the case is about to come to trial (Oct. 21) in court, so depositions are being taken. And it's the testimony in several of those depositions that seems to put Pruett's fingerprints squarely on the violations.
Former players Sam Goines and Charlie Tynes swore they were paid $25 an hour to work for Reynolds' Chapman Printing Co., well above the going rate for menial labor.
Both players testified Pruett told them that if they wanted to play, they had to sign statements saying they were paid $12.50 an hour, not $25.
Pruett, in his deposition, has a different story. He said that never happened. And Reynolds testified that he paid athletes and non-athletes the same rate--$100 a day--to work for him.
Then there's the allegation by former Marshall strength and conditioning coach Mike Jenkins, who said in his sworn statement that Pruett guided certain players to a particular physical education class because they were guaranteed to get A's.
Pruett, who like Reynolds is a charming, down home, southern West Virginia guy, also says that's untrue.
I guess many Marshall fans would argue that the on-the-field success of Jim Donnan (the coach before Pruett who started the jobs program) and Pruett wasn't tainted by the "mops for props" shenanigans.
We shall see.
It is possible that the new information that has emerged in the depositions could prompt the NCAA to take another hard look at goings-on in the MU athletic department under the previous coaching regime.
Frankly, it was always hard to believe when Marshall got caught cheating that Pruett didn't know what was taking place under his nose.
The questionable payments to players started under Coach Jim Donnan and continued under Pruett, with players even picking up their checks at the football office.
Meanwhile, there remains the matter of the civil suit by Ridpath against Pruett. "Hopefully, one day you'll get your day in court, and we'll see what happens," Pruett told reporters.
Currently, that day in court is scheduled right smack dab in the middle of the Virginia football season, and could pose quite a distraction for the Cavaliers' defensive coordinator.
Ridpath says his reputation has been tainted.
Unfortunately, tainted as well is the record of unprecedented football accomplishments that Marshall enjoyed under Donnan and Pruett.
Kercheval is vice president of operations for MetroNews and the host of Talkline, which has become a signature program of the network.