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John Blanchette: Firing Don Verlin puts Idaho in contention as college basketball’s No. 1 laughing stock

Too bad for Don Verlin that he wasn’t caught on an FBI wiretap complaining to a sleazy agent’s middleman that his “strong-ass offer” to a basketball recruit was rebuffed.

He’d probably still have his job at the University of Idaho today.

Hey, it worked for LSU coach Will Wade. Even if he was on tape saying that his, uh, strong-ass offer was “tilted toward taking care of the mom” and despite the obvious implication, he’s still out there landing four-star prospects for the Tigers. Same for Arizona’s Sean Miller. His trusty assistant is headed for three months in jail, but Miller’s free to put together another primo recruiting class at the University of Plausible Deniability.

Pretty much anything goes among big-time college basketball coaches anymore, unless the NCAA ever gets around to sweeping up the FBI’s droppings.

But Don Verlin? He’s headed to the gallows for spitting on the sidewalk.

This may be Idaho doing the most Idaho thing ever. So far.

Actually, it was no great surprise that the school cut Verlin loose given the way they’d left him airing out in the public breeze for three weeks, suspended in the wake of a review that found potential NCAA violations – which, upon inspection, amounted to one instance of running a stop sign and twice failing to use a turn signal.

And it was certainly no surprise that Idaho waited until prime news-dump time – Friday, 4:30 p.m. – to make the announcement. That was a half hour before Chuck Staben punched out from his last shift in the president’s office, making Verlin’s firing his final act.

Naturally, interim athletic director Pete Isakson couldn’t return a phone message to expand on the rationale beyond some empty-suit rhetoric in the school’s statement about a “direct responsibility to do what is best for the university.”

What’s to explain? Well, this:

How, exactly, did Idaho get from the self-imposed noogie it offered the NCAA – suspending Verlin for one game next November – to kicking him to the curb?

Indeed, Verlin was even asked at his final meeting to plead his case if he’d accept a suspension of one to five games – something he’d already said he’d do in a written rebuttal.

But that’s presuming the silly-ass violations – allowing a noncoaching staffer to participate in practices and hold up dummy play cards during games, and failing to fill out some forms before working out a prospect – were the reason behind the firing, and not just the front.

Verlin’s Vandals went 5-27 last season – after winning 62 games the previous three. That’s quite a cliff to fall off, and there’s a new arena going up and money to be raised and an interim AD hungry to get that designation removed and a campus administration incapable of a clear thought in regards to dealing with faculty and staff issues and …

So why not use a convenient excuse if he’s going to hand it to you? You even get to call it “cause” in hopes of getting out of paying him.

It’s the coach’s job to know the rulebook, yes, and even a sports writer knows the operations functionary isn’t supposed to coach. And, no, Verlin didn’t score any points when the compliance guy who reported the violation found the window to the practice gym covered when he arrived to follow up the next day.

So dock his pay. Make him go to rules rehab. The nuclear option isn’t necessary.

Not for violations which resulted in no real competitive advantage. No recruiting advantage. No academic fraud. No sexual assault or other criminal activity.

Three low-level violations in an 11-year tenure.

Verlin’s 12th year was not going to be a cakewalk, nor will it be for interim head coach Zac Claus. Two more unnamed Vandals are putting their names into the NCAA’s transfer portal on a team that’s already seen considerable roster churn, and there may be more.

But as misbegotten as Verlin’s firing is, even worse is the suspicion that it may have been dragged out to limit the options of Idaho’s incoming junior college recruits. Three enrolled in summer school this week, meaning that if Verlin’s departure dissuades them from staying, they’ll have to sit out a year under NCAA transfer rules. Two other JC imports are luckier: They aren’t scheduled to enroll until the second summer session.

But then, kids are always collateral damage when the adults can’t get out of the way.

“You know what this makes Idaho look like in the basketball world?” an area coach offered on Friday. “They just fired the winningest coach in school history for having the ops guy play on the scout team in practice.”

Quite a punch line, if it wasn’t so pernicious.

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