Willie Lyles speaks; Oregon’s silence leaves questions unanswered
What have we learned about Willie Lyles?
He’s the 31-year-old man whose name keeps coming up due to his involvement with the Oregon football program and its ongoing investigation with the NCAA.
The man who provided Oregon with an essentially useless recruiting package in exchange for $25,000 — which jump started yet another offseason of turmoil when Yahoo! Sports first reported the unquestionably large payment on March 3 — shook things up even more this past week.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports on July 1, Lyles made an attempt to clear his name and let the public hear his side of the story. According to that interview, Lyles was issued a $25,000 payment for “what (Oregon) saw as my access and influence with recruits.”
That access and influence is what the NCAA is looking to clear up. By most indications at this point, it seems Lyles played the role of a booster for the Oregon football program and helped guide several prominent recruits — LaMichael James (Texarkana), Darron Thomas (Houston), Lache Seastrunk (Temple) and Dontae Williams (Houston) — all from the state of Texas to Oregon.
Yet, in a follow up interview with The Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder that same afternoon, Lyles said he did no such thing.
“I did not steer players to Oregon,” he told The Register-Guard. “… It wasn’t something where I funneled money to the players to go to school. That never happened.”
The documents Oregon released on June 20, detailing the national recruiting package provided by Lyles and his Texas-based company, Complete Scouting Service, were out of date by two recruiting classes, while the game films (an essential piece of the recruiting package, one would think) were never released.
The documents that were released came to Oregon just a few months earlier. When Oregon’s assistant director of football operations Josh Gibson frantically called Lyles in mid-February of this year, asking Lyles to come up with retroactive documents from 2010 (when Oregon would have been pursuing Seastrunk), he was certainly taken back.
In an attempt to justify its $25,000 payment for essentially nothing in a hard copy return, “They asked me for this stuff last-minute,” Lyles told The Register-Guard of the 143-page packet of old recruiting files. “I wasn’t prepared.”
On June 21, Oregon released more documents that were somehow overlooked the day before, which provided more details for the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, though Lyles said that series of documents was actually part of the 2011-12 package. Lyles said he still expects his $25,000 payment for the 2011-12 package, but Oregon, struggling to tread water at this point, has shied away from Lyles for obvious reasons.
“I would ask, like, you know, when am I going to get paid?” Lyles said in his interview with Yahoo! Sports. “I asked those questions, and they just kind of just kept pushing me back, pushing me back, pushing me back.”
Lyles is expected to do a follow-up interview with the NCAA, and Oregon will surely have to do the same, though they’ve maintained the same stance since the news broke several months ago.
“The University of Oregon athletic department has and will continue to fully cooperate with the NCAA inquiry,” Oregon Director of Athletics Rob Mullens said in a press release. “Our department is committed to helping the NCAA in any way possible and until their work is complete, we are unable to comment further. Oregon athletics remains committed to operating a program of integrity.”
So what does this all mean for the Oregon football program moving forward?
That’s the million-dollar question, and the biggest debate that arose over the weekend was the job security of head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly openly lied about his relationship with Lyles in the early goings of the investigation and has remained silent throughout the process.
Columnists and several media outlets have already knocked Kelly down a peg for holding his tongue, but it seems extremely presumptuous to question Kelly’s position at the head of the Ducks football team, if looking at nothing other than the $20.5 million contract he inked two years ago, which runs through the 2015 season.
Should the NCAA take a deeper look and see it fit to label Lyles as an Oregon booster, would it be a situation of his word against Kelly’s and the athletic department?
If the Oregon athletic department believes it operated within NCAA rules — and it’s clear now they’ve been operating in the gray for quite some time — and Lyles wants to maintain what credibility he has left while players like James are willing to defend him, how will the NCAA formulate its case?
“Him and me are really close,” James said of Lyles in an April 2 interview. “I talk to him all the time. He has never steered me wrong or given me bad advice.”
There doesn’t seem to be any malicious intent on anybody’s part, and at this point everyone is looking to save face, whether it be a 31-year-old Texas man, or the face of one of the nation’s emerging elite football programs.
Lyles was trying to salvage his name in the Yahoo! interview last week after several failed attempts to reach him over the past few months, while Oregon is still playing its cards close to the chest. Eventually the athletic department must address the recent news, but there’s nothing forcing them to do so any time soon.
The NCAA is the only authority Oregon needs to keep happy, not the media which leaves the rest of us with lots of questions left unanswered.
“I feel very uneasy about how the situation was handled,” Lyles told Schroeder.
Yeah, Willie, so do we.