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Time for White to right Alleva's bogey

It's been a long, strange and difficult year and a half for Duke Golf.

From losing their coach of 34 years, Rod Myers, to cancer, to being sued by Andrew Giuliani to getting dumped by their new coach of 18 months for a higher profile job at Washington, the Blue Devils have seen more than their fair share of struggle.

Fortunately, new athletic director Kevin White has the chance to make right what his predecessor, Joe Alleva, got so woefully wrong.

In dissecting the Alleva Era, many cite his handling of the Duke Lacrosse debacle, the Gail Goestenkors departure and the entire football program as some of his greatest failures.

But to me, what happened in the months following Myers' death is quietly the most embarrassing Alleva blunder of all.

Myers was an institution at Duke, where he produced 16 All-Americans, nine Academic All-Americans, 24 All-ACC selections and three ACC individual champions. And he was a legend in the game of golf.

Trust me, I'm not using the word "legend" lightly.

In my freshman and sophomore years, I had the privilege of being the men's golf beat writer for The Chronicle, to spend time with Myers and his players and to get a deeper look at the make-up of his program.

In April 2007, though, I found myself in the most difficult position I likely will ever face in my journalistic career. I had to cover Myers' death, the death of a man who not only had been so kind to me, but whom I also knew was a father figure to generations of Duke golfers.

When a memorial service was held in his honor in the Duke Chapel, several top administrators were forced to stand in the back because so many people, from former Blue Devils to opposing coaches to Mike Krzyzewski and his entire coaching staff, had already filled the pews.

The standing-room-only crowd watched with tears as a processional of the 2007 roster walked slowly to the front of the Chapel, each carrying one of their late coach's clubs. The man leading them was Brad Sparling, Myers' associate head coach and mentee.

Sparling was hired in 2004, and as Myers' assistant, played a significant role in recruiting and also with the development of the Karcher-Ingram Golf Center, Myers' dream facility that opened the season before he died.

Those close to him had known he had been sick for several years, and that timing combined with how closely he worked with Sparling before he fell ill leads me to believe Sparling was his chosen successor.

And it was Sparling who guided the Blue Devils to 13th place in the NCAA tournament just weeks after they had lost their second father. It was Sparling who had left a note of inspiration and confidence in the golf bag of then-senior Michael Schachner the morning before he fired an NCAA championship record-low round of 60.

But it was UCLA's O.D. Vincent to whom Alleva gave Duke's top job in June.

Sure, Vincent had the right credentials for the job-a pair of Pac-10 titles and four top-10 NCAA finishes in the five years prior to coming to Durham-but he was not the right choice.

More than anything, Myers turned Duke Golf into a family. And family was Myers' top priority. His players were vitally important to him, from the ones who went on to PGA careers, like Joe Ogilvie, to those who just walked on, like Giuliani. Thirty-four years of a family culture were basically disregarded when Alleva decided to hire someone who had already proven himself on the big stage.

Sometimes, it's not about the best hire in terms of prestige, it's about the right hire in terms of values.

Sparling, who is currently an assistant at Ohio State, might never find success as a collegiate head coach. But he at least deserves a shot.

Besides, he did learn from the best.

Dr. White, if you're reading this, there's a man in Columbus who merits a phone call.

Duke owes that to him, the program and perhaps most importantly, Rod Myers.


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