CLEVELAND - The only monument to Kevin Mackey continues to take shape on the southwestern edge of the Cleveland State campus.
The 13,000-seat Convocation Center will never bear Mackey's name, but it already bears his mark. Kevin Mackey made basketball important at Cleveland State - maybe too important. When he arrived from Boston College in 1983, Mackey had big dreams. He wanted Cleveland State to be somebody in college basketball, and soon it was.
When the Vikings beat Indiana in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament, they might as well have beaten the world. Soon, the crowds once counted in dozens began to overflow tiny, 3,000-seat Woodling Gym, necessitating the new facility that is scheduled to open in 1991.
But the growth of the basketball program could also be measured in other ways. With one Sweet 16, two NITs and 144 victories in seven seasons, Mackey thought he was too big to touch, and perhaps for a while he was. Even the recruiting irregularities that led to NCAA probation and rumors of drug and alcohol abuse and consorting with prostitutes could not detract from the program he created.
School officials now say they confronted him numerous times on these subjects, but backed off whenever he would flash that used-car salesman's smile and assure them there was nothing to it.
But had Mackey not been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol near a suspected crack house July 13, and tested positive for cocaine, the Cleveland State administration might never have known for sure about Mackey's double life. And when the glare of the spotlight turned up the heat last week, when Mackey came clean about everything, Cleveland State fired him with more indignation than shame.
In announcing the dismissal on Thursday, Cleveland State President John A. Flower spoke of being shocked by Mackey's admissions, how he had "[made] a mockery of the standards of moral and ethical behavior." But almost in the same breath, other school officials admitted that they had heard about parts of his double life as long as three years ago.
"We just couldn't confirm anything," said Jan P. Muczyk, senior executive vice president. "There were always rumors that disturbed us about Kevin. But he always explained them away."
It seems strange that neither his coaching staff nor his players heard the same talk.
"Coach Mackey is a great coach, but we never got involved in his personal life," said assistant Shawn Hood, who played on the Vikings' Sweet 16 team. "None of us saw him outside the school. We had no idea what he did or where he went."
Two days before the walls separating his two worlds collapsed, Mackey, 43, signed a two-year, $175,000 contract. It seemed like the ultimate vote of confidence after three rocky years of probation, more evidence of his invulnerability. Yet before negotiations began, Muczyk and others sought answers to all the rumors they were hearing.
"We were prepared to break off negotiations if we'd found anything," Muczyk said. "But we just couldn't confirm any of it."
Even Mackey's attorney, David Roth, was shocked by the pictures that led the TV news - Mackey spread against his car being handcuffed and arrested.
"He was a con man's con man," Roth said. "I heard the same things, and I would confront him. But Kevin was very good at covering his tracks. People would come to me and say Kevin has been gone for days at a time without anyone knowing where he was. He would always say he was out recruiting. It was a convenient excuse.
"He would come to me needing money. I would remind him he was making twice as much money as I was. But he would talk about how expensive it was to have two kids in college at once. Kevin is smart. He knew how to fool people, how to slide by with a minimum of suspicion. As it turns out, of course, Kevin had a very sordid and dark side."
Mackey was expected to check into the 35-day drug treatment program headed by NBA star John Lucas this weekend. But legal problems persist. In addition to the drunk-driving charge, Mackey could face a drug-abuse indictment and up to 18 months in jail. His companion, Alma Massey, who has a history of prostitution arrest, faces drug possession charges.
"This is not the kind of thing that surprises us," Cleveland Police Lt. Martin L. Flask said. "We had more than 7,000 drug arrests in this city last year. But it does magnify the problem when it's someone like this. It makes people aware of how pervasive drugs are."
In dealings with the players, Mackey always stressed the right things. More than 70% of CSU basketball players graduate. There have been no reports of drug problems on the team.
After practice every day, in the tiny little gym where small dreams came true, Mackey would huddle his players and remind them to "do the right thing."
"We knew what that meant," said Greg Allen, a junior guard. "Part of doing the right thing meant saying no to drugs."
Copyright 1990 by Keith Dunnavant