Dan Fitzgerald, one of the most popular, respected and influential sports figures in the Spokane area, stepped down Monday as Gonzaga University’s athletic director.
The startling development followed a six-month university investigation into Fitzgerald’s collection and disbursement of athletic department funds without the knowledge of the university’s controller’s office.
Harry Sladich, the school’s acting president, announced Fitzgerald’s resignation at a press conference in GU’s main administration building. Sladich read a statement saying he had accepted Fitzgerald’s resignation, but he refused to take questions from the media.
“This is an in-house personnel matter,” he said. “Dan and the university have mutually agreed not to provide further details.”
Despite the school’s description of Fitzgerald’s departure as a resignation, it does not appear Sladich was willing to welcome him back as athletic director. Sladich said Fitzgerald was offered reassignment to another university position, but turned it down.
Fitzgerald, who was not present at the press conference, refused later to comment on Sladich’s announcement in detail, but said the reassignment offer “just wasn’t something that fit me, either financially or professionally.”
Gonzaga is a private institution and Fitzgerald’s salary at the time of his resignation is not public record. But his annual salary as coach and athletic director was reportedly in excess of $70,000.
Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave in early July when the university launched its investigation. At the time, the school said it had found nothing to indicate the funds in question had been used for anything deemed illegal by the NCAA, the governing body of major college athletics.
Sladich confirmed as much again, saying the completed investigation revealed no evidence the university gained a competitive advantage with the money in question.
But the mere existence of an unaudited monetary fund is in violation of NCAA rule 126.96.36.199, which says all expenditures for, or in behalf of, a Division-I school’s athletics programs shall be subject to an annual financial audit, conducted for the school by a qualified auditor who is not a staff member of the institution.
Fitzgerald has claimed all along that none of the money was used to pay players or for his own personal gain.
“If I made some procedural errors, I’m a big boy and I’ll face the tune,” he said earlier this year. “But I’ll tell ya what, money didn’t go to players and there’s no yacht in my back yard.”
Fitzgerald had been GU’s athletic director for the past 19 years and served two different stints as the Bulldogs’ men’s basketball coach during that time. He resigned his coaching duties at the end of last season after posting a 15-year record of 254-169.
By jointly agreeing to issue no further comments on either Fitzgerald’s departure or the investigation, Fitzgerald and the university left several troubling questions unanswered.
Among them were the origin, use and amount of the unreported funds. It is also unknown how the school found out about the funds and whether any of the school’s other coaches or administrators knew about them.
Sladich said the results of the investigation would be forwarded to the NCAA, but gave no indication whether he expected any sanctions to be handed down.
Fitzgerald, 55, said he has no immediate plans, but indicated he and his wife, Darlene, would try to stay in the area.
“Somehow, I’ve got to get back on my feet,” he said. “I can still do a lot of good around here, I know that. And I’m going to do it. I owe it to my family and to the people who have supported me.”
Fitzgerald spent the past several months serving as GU’s representative to the United Way’s loaned executive program and said he has not been looking for work.
“I don’t have a resume out,” he said, “because until recently, I was hoping that I could return. But now I’ve resigned, and I have to get on with my life.”
Fitzgerald added that he would leave the area if the right opportunity presented itself. And he refused to rule out the possibility of getting back into coaching. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo