Over the weekend, plenty of top seeds had a bad NCAA tournament and said goodbye. But the Cal Golden Bears fell into a special distressing category.
It's positively stunning, really. In a blink, Cal was transformed from an upbeat trendy pick to reach the Final Four into a first-round-exiting program with more cloudy questions than firm answers -- many of them revolving around head coach Cuonzo Martin.
The hangover of these last seven days will last a while. And Martin's role in clearing up the headache is pivotal. Some voices in Berkeley think that at the end of the process, he might even be coaching elsewhere, although Martin has given zero indication of that.
On the other hand, Martin also has not officially signed his Cal contract. He instead continues to operate under the terms of the offer sheet to which he agreed in 2014 when he took the Bears job. Presumably, this means he could walk away any time.
Confused? You should probably be more disturbed than confused. If you are a taxpaying resident of California, then you help fund the university system and have a stake in the Cal campus landscape. And right now ... well, let's just say the landscape may need a good fumigating.
The ugliness began last Monday when the school dismissed Cal assistant coach Yann Hufnagel. A university investigation concluded that Hufnagel had sexually harassed a female reporter assigned to cover the team during the 2014-15 season. Arriving in the wake of two other well-publicized sexual harassment cases involving Cal faculty members, Hufnagel's case was especially troubling.
Hufnagel has said he will seek legal help to clear his name. He is an Ivy League guy with a Cornell degree and four years as a Harvard assistant coach on his resume. But according to the Cal official investigative report, Hufnagel ignored the female reporter's continued signals that she wanted to keep their relationship professional. Hufnagel even admitted that he tried to "trick" the woman into coming up to his apartment by luring her into the building's parking garage behind a closed gate.
Following Hufnagel's dismissal, Martin paused in the preparation for the Bears' NCAA game to give reporters this oddly vague assessment of the story: "You're talking about a guy who's part of your staff and a family member. We take a tremendous amount of pride in that. We push forward. There's always bumps in the road."
Later on, still vaguely, Martin referred to the situation as a "university issue." This, despite the school originally announcing that Martin himself had made the choice to fire Hufnagel, who served as Cal's chief recruiter.
Then came the miserable NCAA first-round game itself, in which Hawaii upset Cal. The Bears experienced some rotten luck with injuries to starters Tyrone Wallace (broken hand) and Jabari Bird (back spasms). But they also played poorly. And now it's almost a given that hot-shot freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb will soon declare for the NBA draft.
Wait, there's more bad news. In the wake of Hufnagel's departure, incoming four-star recruit Tyson Jolly of Florida has asked Cal to release him from the letter of intent he has signed to attend the school.
When you connect all the dots, we're not exactly looking at a cheery picture. But above all, it is Martin's handling of the Hufnagel matter that raises the most sober questions.
If you read the entire 23-page university report on the case, you discover that Martin (referred to as "Witness 1" in the paperwork) was contacted by the female reporter on May 23 of last year and informed of her sexual harassment complaint. Martin told her he took the situation "very seriously" and promised to speak with Hufnagel about contacting the reporter to apologize and clear the air.
Over the next six weeks, this apparently did not occur to the female reporter's satisfaction. So on July 5, she again contacted Martin and provided explicit text exchanges between her and Hufnagel to back up her story.
At that point, Martin finally contacted his superiors about the accusations, saying he had not previously understood their entire scope. On July 7, the athletic department reported the matter to the university's Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. It took eight months for school investigators to issue their findings.
Early last week, Cal's athletics department said that Martin had followed proper procedures and issued this official statement: "Our head coach is one of the highest character individuals not just in college basketball, but period." But others questioned whether Martin should have reported the accusations when they were originally made in May, as university policy seems to require.
In response, last Wednesday the school launched an official review of the matter to confirm protocol was followed properly but emphasized that the head coach was "not a target of an investigation."
"We firmly believe the results will support our confidence in Coach Martin," athletic director Mike Williams said in a statement.
In the end, that could well be the outcome. But that still leaves Martin's unsigned contract hanging in the air. And will he now be under greater scrutiny, especially when hiring assistants? This is likely just an unfortunate coincidence, but Martin's immediate previous stop was at Tennessee -- where six women have recently filed a lawsuit claiming that the athletic department created a culture that enabled sexual assaults by male student athletes (principally football players).
Martin has been at Cal just two seasons. You can hardly call him entrenched. Given the current turbulence and official "review" of his actions ... plus the likely departures of Brown and Rabb ... plus the fallout of recruits such as Jolly deciding to de-commit ... well, is it possible that Martin might just flee Berkeley for a more peaceful location?
Ten days ago, that would have been a ridiculous thought. After last week, anything is possible.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top recruit asks to be released from Cal. PAGE 2