Saunders

Former lacrosse coach bedevils Duke

Staff WriterApril 6, 2010 

I'll take "History's greatest rip-offs for $200," Alex.

The correct question is "What did Mike Pressler just do to Duke University and how much should he be paid?"

Pressler, the former Dukelacrosse coach who was forced out after three of his players were falsely accused of sexually assaulting a woman, reached a settlement with the university last week after dropping a lawsuit that he was unlikely to win anyway.

Neither side is discussing the terms, but if Duke paid that guy more than $200 to go away, they got taken.

Me? I'd have offered him a can of sardines and some soda crackers, a Coca-Cola and a map back to Rhode Island.

Of course, Duke must think any price is a bargain if it'll get Pressler to stay away for good.

Good luck with that. Have you ever known a bloke to go away when he has a soft touch on the hook? Me, neither. Pressler somehow dug into Duke's pocket in 2007 in the wake of his dismissal after the rape allegations and unsavory behavior by his players became public. Terms of that settlement were kept on the Q.T., but it must not have been enough: A year later, Pressler sued Duke and its former mouthpiece John Burness for supposedly disparaging remarks made about him.

Burness merely called Pressler's successor a man of honor - perhaps implying that Pressler wasn't - and said "it was essential for the team to have a change in leadership in order to move forward."

Wow! You can sue somebody for saying that?

Yeah, but you're unlikely to win. Wanna bet that's why Pressler and his attorneys scaled back the scope of their lawsuit from slander against Duke to focus simply on Burness's comments? That way, just getting Duke into a courtroom would ensure some sort of payoff, because the school wants national focus on its championship basketball team, on its academic reputation, on anything but its former coach and the nightmare visited upon the university in 2006 when Pressler's team hosted an off-campus party with two hootchy-kootchy dancers.

Reached in New York on Monday, Burness said he was not permitted to comment on the case. His successor, Michael Schoenfeld, in a e-mail response to questions I sent him, said, "Under the terms of the agreement Duke will have no further comment on this issue."

In a previous prepared statement, Schoenfeld called Pressler "an excellent coach." He was, but coaching wasn't the reason Pressler was put on roller skates and shoved toward the door. That occurred because of what Trinity Park residents near the campus already knew about his lax lacrosse leadership and what a faculty committee reported - that the team was not composed of a bunch of Richie Cunninghams, Ralph Malphs and the whole wholesome "Happy Days" gang. The report concluded that players engaged in underage and excessive drinking, loud noise and public urination, among other things.

A change in leadership? At the least.

OK, Alex. I'll take "Pay me, suckas" for $2 million.

The question is, "What will Pressler be saying to Duke University 20 years from now?"

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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