Comeback: Former Cal Hoop Coach Todd Bozeman Discovers Right Fit At Morgan State

By David Steele
Updated: April 27, 2006

BALTIMORE — When Morgan State introduced Todd Bozeman as its new men’s basketball coach Thursday morning, there were some people around the country who assumed that a couple of NCAA investigators will be present, disguised as office plants. Nothing less should be expected for one of the most seriously penalized coaches in recent collegiate history and the school brave enough to hire him.

That won’t be the case, as Bozeman himself will remind you. For one thing, once his punishment for paying one of his players at California ended last June, he was free to pursue coaching jobs without having his name run past the NCAA. For another, anyone who would try to even bend, much less break, NCAA laws after what he has been through the past decade would be, in his words, “a complete idiot.”

“My hand already got caught in the cookie jar,” Bozeman told The Sun during a 90-minute conversation Wednesday, recalling what he told a school thinking about hiring him a few years ago. “I learned the NCAA rules the hard way. If there’s one person you don’t have to worry about committing NCAA violations, it’s me.

“I’ve been down that road. I’ve already bitten off that forbidden tree.”

Which brings up the other assumption: that Morgan State, with a wretched record for more than a quarter-century (4-26 last season, one winning season since 1978-79, none since 1988-89), took a dangerous bite itself by hiring Bozeman. At 42, he is just emerging from the purgatory of his “show-cause” punishment, eight years removed from being a head coach anywhere, even for his son’s AAU team.

“Someone sent me an article saying that [this hire] will put Morgan on the map,” Bozeman said, aware of the good and bad connotation of that. “I’ve always told people [considering hiring him], ‘You might get some publicity that might not necessarily be great.’ But it will give me an opportunity to talk about Morgan and the great institution it is, giving kids an opportunity to get an education and be in a city like Baltimore with all it has to offer.

“It took some courage. And I thank them for that.”

It is a unique fit. Had Bozeman – on the fast track with a Jason Kidd-led Cal team he inherited at 29 in 1992-93 – never made that fateful decision (paying a recruit’s family $30,000), he would be well out of Morgan’s range. On the other hand, after his ordeal, he’s eager to be close to home (he’s from Prince George’s County) and take on a program that’s struggling as badly as any in the nation and get some of the local talent to take a chance on it.

Both sides, then, are ecstatic to have each other.

Bozeman neither showed bitterness about his fate during his years in limbo, nor stopped believing he would get back into coaching at this level. He recognized fairly early in his banishment that he’d still be a young coach when it was over, with the same coaching and recruiting skills he had before. The eight years of life experience, he realized, made the difference.

“I made a judgment decision that I didn’t have to make,” he said, referring to the payoff to the player. “But maturity helps you with that. So I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a remade person. I’m not a remade person; I’m the same. I’m older, wiser and more mature than I was then.”

Throughout, his personal mantra, he said, was to “be patient.” Much of that was because impatience led him to cross the line last time: “That racing, that feeling like I’ve got to get this done, it’s life or death. As a coach, I always felt like if I didn’t win, I wouldn’t be able to get another job.”

That sense eventually turned him against his own better instincts, he said: “That’s the crazy thing; my gut was telling me not to do it. Up until that point, I’d always stuck with my gut, and ever since then I’ve stuck with my gut.”

While paying the price for that choice, Bozeman bided his time, staying active at every level of the game besides the colleges. Even after his sanctions were lifted, he didn’t panic when nothing happened for the 2005-06 season.

In the middle of that season, though, came his other lesson about patience: the death on New Year’s Day of his father, Ira, from lung cancer.

“That’s the only thing that doesn’t make this thing complete,” he said, stopping to wipe away tears. “This is the right time, the right place, the right situation for me. Everything else is right.

“[But] I believe God charts your path. I’m not upset about not getting an opportunity before this. If people were to ask me, ‘Would you take the next 10 years and spend them with your dad, then go back to college basketball?’ I’d say, yes, I’d take that.”

It all will serve to bring a rare perspective to his new charges at Morgan, Bozeman said.

“I think my example of perseverance and the adversity that I’ve gone through will serve them well,” he said. “It’s not like I’ll be talking to them about a hypothetical situation. I’ve actually done it. So when I encourage the kids to be patient, I know exactly what that entails.”

Now, Bozeman said, he can tell his players: “If you make a mistake, you can correct it. Life ain’t over.”