Dave Bliss talks about his fall from coaching, finding grace

Former Baylor University basketball coach Dave Bliss talks about his dramatic fall from coaching amid scandal and how he found redemption through his faith. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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Former Baylor University basketball coach Dave Bliss talks about his dramatic fall from coaching amid scandal and how he found redemption through his faith. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

Northeast Tarrant

Ex-Baylor coach Dave Bliss: ‘I lost my mind’ during 2003 scandal

August 31, 2016 09:56 PM


Dave Bliss strolled to the center of the stage as an old news clip played on the screens above him. It showed Bliss embroiled in controversy, and then a reporter asking him about the negative coverage attached to his name.

“They were wrong about me,” Bliss said on the clip. “I was far worse than that.”

Bliss, 72, then told the crowd at White's Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake how in 2003 “I lost my mind for a period of time.”

Back then, he was a successful men’s basketball coach at Baylor. But when one of his players killed another, Bliss tried to paint the victim, Patrick Dennehy, as a drug dealer. He knew an investigation of the killing would reveal the illegal tuition payments he provided Dennehy.

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In the fallout, Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned, and the school’s president, Robert Sloan, stepped down to the role of chancellor in part because of the scandal.

“I panicked and attempted a cover-up,” Bliss told the congregation Wednesday night. “All I could see is my face on Sportscenter. I was a national disgrace, I humiliated my family, I lost a tremendous income, I ruined my reputation, and I blasted my faith.

“How's that for a good day at the office?”

Bliss, now the coach at tiny Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City, was in town on invitation from the church to share the story behind his book, Fall to Grace.

For about an hour, Bliss talked about the scandal at Baylor and its aftermath, but also the years leading up to it.

At one point, he began pulling out the dozens of commemorative watches and rings he earned from coaching over the years. Then he turned to three balloons and popped them, symbolizing the way the Baylor scandal abruptly wrecked his career.

“I was so full of myself,” he said.

After resigning from Baylor, he moved his family from Waco to Colorado, where he lay low, didn’t work and mostly spent his time reading the Bible.

Then, “God did an autopsy on me,” he said.

“What I found out was that my character flaws were directly related to my belief flaws,” Bliss said.

With his faith strengthened, he wanted to return to coaching. He applied for a few high school jobs — and got turned down — before landing one at a prep school in Texas.

After a few years, a friend at Southwestern Christian asked him if he would be interested in the school’s open coaching position. It was Bliss’ chance to return to the college game.

“I reached a point where there was nothing I could do except get back and try to finish up doing it right,” he said.

In May, Bliss’ scandal at Baylor was brought into the spotlight again. The school’s mishandling of sexual assault accusations against football players led to the firing of football coach Art Briles and the resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw. And, like Sloan in 2003, Ken Starr was moved down into the chancellor’s role briefly before parting ways with the school this month.

Media quickly compared Briles with Bliss, two disgraced coaches at the summits of their career and at the same Baptist university

On Wednesday, Bliss said he hurts for Baylor, but he hesitated to pass along any wisdom to Briles, who has said he believes he could be coaching again soon.

“I really try to stay away from giving advice, because I think that talks down to people,” Bliss said. “I hurt because I think what we are missing in education and in coaching is that our job isn’t to make money. It’s to train young people.

“But in the chase for the almighty dollar, and everything else, sometimes we are stumbling blocks more than we are coaching figures.”