(AP) — Former Tennessee assistant Willie Mack Garza paid for a top recruit and his mother to fly to Knoxville for an unofficial recruiting trip during Lane Kiffin’s tenure at the school, Yahoo! Sports reported Monday night.
Garza followed Kiffin when he took over at Southern California, but the secondary coach resigned Sept. 1, citing “personal issues unrelated to USC.”
A Tennessee spokesman said the university is aware of the issue and neither it nor the Southeastern Conference believes it would cause the program to be subject to the NCAA’s repeat offender rules. The NCAA last month wrapped up a lengthy investigation into recruiting practices by former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and Kiffin that resulted in Tennessee receiving a two-year probation.
“We are aware of the situation as is the conference office,” Tennessee associate athletic director for communications Jimmy Stanton said in a statement. “We’ve been verbally contacted by the NCAA enforcement staff regarding a recruiting issue in 2009 related to the former coaching staff and a student-athlete who never attended Tennessee.
“We believe, as does the conference office, that this matter is not subject to the repeat offender provision.”
Yahoo! Sports reported Garza wired $1,500 to talent scout Will Lyles in July 2009 and the money was used for plane tickets for running back prospect Lache Seastrunk and his mother, Evelyn.
Lyles told NCAA investigators about the transaction in August, according to the website. He said NCAA investigators were examining Tennessee’s recruiting practices.
Neither Garza nor Lyles could be reached by The Associated Press on Tuesday. Garza, USC spokesman Tim Tessalone and the NCAA declined comment when reached by Yahoo! Sports.
After USC practiced Tuesday, Kiffin told reporters: “All I can say on that is that the alleged incident, I had no knowledge of, or knowledge of a relationship at all. I have always been committed, wherever we’ve been, to doing things the right way and cooperating with the NCAA so that’s all I’ve got on it.”
Tennessee, Kiffin and USC officials in June faced the NCAA Committee on Infractions on charges of 16 improper recruiting phone calls and impermissible contact between football interns and recruits and that Kiffin had failed to monitor his staff’s recruiting activities while at Tennessee. No charges were made specifically against Garza.
Investigators concluded in August there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the violations committed by Kiffin and his staff were any more than secondary violations but warned Kiffin his time at Tennessee was “not a record of which to be proud.”
“I’m hoping the NCAA is going to stay consistent with what they’ve done, which is, ‘Let’s target the people that make these mistakes, not the programs,”‘ Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said on Tuesday. When asked how long he had been aware of the NCAA’s interest in the matter, Dooley replied, “Not very long.”
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Seastrunk signed with Oregon out of high school and was redshirted. He transferred to Baylor in August.
Evelyn Seastrunk acknowledged the trip to Knoxville but declined comment when asked by Yahoo! Sports who paid for the plane tickets or where they stayed during the trip.
“I’m so sick and tired of this ‘Willie Lyles said this and Willie Lyles said that,”‘ she said. “I don’t care what Willie Lyles says. I don’t care as long as my son is OK.
“Whatever undercover dirty stuff that they’re doing, I’m pretty sure that Willie Lyles is not the only person. He’s just the only one that’s been caught. This is something that they’ve been doing forever.”
The NCAA is investigating services provided to Oregon by Lyles, who started his own scouting company in January 2009. At issue is whether Lyles helped steer Seastrunk to the Ducks.
Yahoo! Sports said it obtained a receipt for the wired money for the Tennessee flights, and it listed Willie Garza as the sender and Will Lyles as the receiver of $1,500.
Lyles told the website he agreed to speak to NCAA investigators on condition they granted Seastrunk immunity from any penalties associated with this incident.
“I wanted to make sure Lache would be fine, this isn’t about him,” Lyles said. “It’s the NCAA’s rules and the schools not following them. During our meeting it became clear the NCAA already had knowledge of what was going on at Tennessee.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)