Disgraced former Baylor coach Dave Bliss makes a series of inflammatory comments in a new Showtime documentary that threatens to change the narrative on the school’s 14-year old murder/NCAA scandal.
Bliss says he now believes that at the time of former player Patrick Dennehy’s murder in 2003, that Dennehy “sold [drugs] to all the white guys on campus.”
Bliss resigned at Baylor in August 2003 after it was determined he concocted the drug-dealing story to deflect blame as law enforcement and NCAA investigative officials were closing in. But now he’s saying he didn’t concoct anything, doubling down on his claims about Dennehy.
Dennehy was never charged with a crime and is remembered as an innocent victim in an NCAA case that ended in 2005 with Baylor nearly being handed the death penalty.
Bliss also claims in the documentary that Dennehy’s “parents also knew he was a druggie.” Dennehy was a Santa Clara, California native who transferred from New Mexico in 2002.
Bliss also intimates that the Baylor administration and local law enforcement officials knew Dennehy was a drug dealer.
“I don’t want to be absolved from anything,” Bliss said when contacted by CBS Sports. “The only reason I said it on the documentary, it’s been 15 years. The story needs to be told accurately.
“I’ve got no reason not to tell the truth.”
Bliss contended his assertions about Dennehy were “old news.” Whatever the case, the accusation is sure to open new wounds at Baylor, already reeling from the current sexual assault scandal.
“I’m not exonerating myself but everything I said was true,” he said.
“All of this has been shared with the authorities. I shared this with everybody that investigated … None of this is new information. All of it has been shared.”
During a 30-minute phone interview with CBS Sports Bliss gave different versions of how he got the information about Dennehy. He said he heard from players but also read about it in the Dallas Morning News.
A Morning News story from August 2003 says then-interim Baylor president William Underwood “acknowledged” investigative committee questions could have caused Bliss “to conclude that drug dealing was a plausible explanation for Mr. Dennehy’s money.”
Bliss said at the time that Dennehy used the drug money to pay his tuition.
There is no record in the NCAA public infractions report or evidence with law enforcement officials that Dennehy was selling drugs.
“There was never one person that said they actually saw Patrick selling drugs,” Waco police detective says in the upcoming Showtime documentary “Disgraced.”
Bliss’ new comments regarding Dennehy are made in the documentary that debuted Sunday at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The film will debut on the cable network March 31.
Bliss makes the most damning claims in an off-camera exchange with producer Patrick Kondelis. Again, there has never been evidence that Dennehy dealt drugs.
“I think Dave is very intelligent,” Kondelis told CBS Sports. “He understands how much he can actually say to get the benefit of the doubt to get the emotional response he’s looking for from people.
“He will apologize just enough but when pressed, the more he gets angry.”
At the end of the documentary Bliss concludes, “Of course I shouldn’t be forgiven.”
Bliss received a 10-year show cause penalty from the NCAA in 2005. Among other violations, he admitted to paying Dennehy’s tuition (the same tuition he originally said Dennehy paid for by selling drygs). Bliss has not worked at an NCAA school since that time, instead writing a book and giving inspirational speeches on his redemption.
“Redemption usually requires some remorse,” said Abar Rouse, a Bliss assistant at the time. “When you feel like this has happened to you, you’re not expressing remorse.”
In that interview with CBS Sports, Bliss called himself a “pariah” and “reprehensible” but stands by the Dennehy allegations.
“When the murder happened I called all my players in because I didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “During the conversations they shared with me the stories that divulged the things I have stated.”
Dennehy’s body was found July 25, 2003 near Waco, shot twice in the head. Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson later pleaded guilty to murder. He is currently serving a 35-year sentence.
On secretly recorded tapes played in the film, Bliss can be heard telling at least one Baylor player, “I think if we can prove that Dottie [Dotson] and Dennehy were selling drugs we’ll be out of the woods.”
At the very least, the comments will once again bring into question Bliss’ ethics. He has been the head basketball coach at Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Okla. for the past two seasons.
“I have entertained the questions, I have entertained the hate mail,” regarding Bliss, said school president Reggies Wenyika. “He has turned his life around.”
Wenyika added, “We stand behind him. I think that the Dave Bliss that we know today and stand behind is not the Dave Bliss from Baylor.”
Coming at a time when Baylor is dealing with the 10-month old sexual assault scandal, this won’t exactly burnish the school’s reputation.
“I don’t want to see anything bad happen to Baylor,” said Rouse who has a degree from the school. “But at some point, winning versus producing good people has to be measured.”
The case broke in 2003 after Rouse secretly taped conversations with Bliss. In them Bliss is heard coercing Rouse and players into the narrative about Dennehy to create “reasonable doubt” for investigators.
“The words are clear in my ears,” Rouse told CBS Sports. “It took everything I had to maintain my composure. I knew that it would be important for the NCAA investigation but also for the legal investigation.”
“They thought [Dennehy] paid for his scholarship because he was selling drugs because you know – this is off camera – he was selling drugs,” Bliss tells Kondelis during a sit-down interview in the film.
Kondelis then says: “Patrick Dennehy was selling drugs?
Bliss: “Oh yeah, he was the worst.”
Kondelis: “No I never found that out at all.”
Bliss: “I know but I’m telling you. But that’s why but you’ll never be able to use it.”
Bliss then acts out how Dennehy greeted visitors at his apartment and sold them drugs.
That would be news to Brian Brabazon, Dennehy’s stepfather, who says of Bliss in the film, “If I ever meet him in public. I don’t care how old he is, I don’t care how weak I am. I’m going to knock his teeth in.”
Bliss says at one point, “Again, this isn’t right. I’m bad for doing it.”
Still believing his comments aren’t for the camera, Bliss adds, “I apologize. I just can’t go there. I ended up settling with the Dennehys. They made a civil suit against me. It’s not for a lot of money or anything like [but] it was easier to make it go away …”
Bliss would not elaborate on that statement Friday with CBS Sports.
Bliss says he believed Dennehy was, in reality, selling drugs because Underwood “was chasing it.” Underwood is now the president at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Through a spokesman he refused comment.
“When I heard [Underwood] was chasing it I just dovetailed my excuse right in with him,” Bliss said.
Kondelis went on to ask: “So they were thinking that was the case with Patrick so you just jumped on the bandwagon?”
Bliss: “I jumped on that bandwagon. I don’t mind saying that. The reason I jumped on it I wanted the players to come in. That’s when I told them about the talking points, ‘You guys just tell these investigators what you know.’”
Bliss’ role in the scandal has always portrayed as a cover-up. But in the film he says, “That’s why the police never went after me with a felony. He [Dennehy] was rampant and all the players knew it.”
Bliss was never charged with a crime.
“Bob Fuller thinks that [Dennehy] got the money from dealing drugs,” Bliss says on the tapes.
“There were people who said they saw him smoke marijuana,” Fuller said in the film, “but selling drugs? No.”
Kondelis was asked if he had any reservations about using the passages when Bliss believed they were off-camera.
“If we didn’t show that, we were going to be a mouthpiece for Dave’s redemption story …,” said the Austin-based filmmaker. “I was very, very honest with Dave and open with him. I spent a lot of time telling him, ‘Don’t lie.’
“I feel like that is the real Dave the audience can see. There is far more damaging things we could have in the film that we did not.”
Bliss says during the film, “What I did was, I got in the mud with the pigs. I paid a price and the pigs liked it.”
Rouse was basically blackballed from the coaching profession after he gave the tapes to investigative reporter Danny Robbins who published their contents. Rouse remains at peace with himself and what he did.
“It makes it crystal clear to me that [I was glad] I had those tapes,” Rouse said. “Who knows what stories would have been spun which way? [Bliss] is now in charge of mentoring young men again.”