One Of Miami's Most-Successful Coaches Faces Recruiting Controversy
Shakey Rodriguez seemed to be on his way to another state championship.The cheers, always accompanied by a downbeat of whispers, were building again this season for Rodriguez, the most colorful, accomplished and maligned high school basketball coach in Miami history.
But Rodriguez’s pursuit of the title ended suddenly – not on the court, where the scoreboard was his source of absolute validation, but in a courtroom, where a judge disqualified No. 1-ranked Krop High from the playoffs on Wednesday for using an ineligible player.
Rodriguez had been accused during his Miami High reign 20 years ago of recruiting players. Then there were allegations he bent the rules at Florida International University. But he had never been formally charged and kept his stellar record intact. Not this time. Rodriguez and his team were busted from 22-3 to 1-24.
Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez was nicknamed at age 15 for his hyperkinetic body language. Over the years, the name acquired a different meaning for critics who felt he had a wavering regard for ethics.
Rodriguez’s voice, roughened from decades of sideline yelling, turns plaintive as he defends himself.
“My career has been controversy galore,” Rodriguez said. “When you spend your life in a competitive, dog-eat-dog arena and you are successful, you will have detractors.”
His school is under investigation by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Guard Bryan Delancy, 19, a senior who grew up in the Bahamas, was missing paperwork required of all foreign-born students who play sports. Delancy listed a home address that doesn’t exist, and his legal guardian, Bernard Wright, a former assistant to Rodriguez, lives in Hialeah, outside the Krop attendance zone. If two other players used fake addresses as has been alleged, the fines could exceed $150,000.
Rodriguez and Krop athletic director Mike Kypriss insist they committed no wrongdoing and are forbidden by the Miami-Dade School Board from inquiring about any student’s immigration status.
“Coaching kids is my passion and my calling,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very discouraged by all that is being said. The team is saddened and Bryan is devastated. We’re trying to help him get to college and live his dream in America like we did, you did, your parents did.
“They just wanted a chance to win.”
Rodriguez, 57, has done a lot of winning in 26 years. He’s also taught five or six history classes every day throughout his teaching career. He earns a $2,860 salary supplement for his countless extra hours in the gym. So, he was contemplating taking the school system’s early retirement option had Krop won the title. He may come back for another shot; he doesn’t want his career to end in infamy.
“I’d like to keep coaching somewhere as long as I’m healthy,” he said. Bangs pressed against his forehead, sunglasses perched atop his head, the blocky Rodriguez shifted from the ball of one foot to the other as he talked inside the gym. “But now to be a high school coach evidently you also have to be an immigration agent and a detective.”
Rodriguez’s critics say he is finally getting what he deserves after years of manipulating regulations and stealing players for the sake of championships, thus setting a bad example for the teenagers who look up to him. The FHSAA said Krop administrators were warned about infractions.
“We all make mistakes but what about a pattern of issues?” said Bob Zell, Ferguson High athletic director and a former track and cross country coach. “It’s easy to recruit the studs, and then you lose the even playing field.
“High school sports reflect a greedy society, and it’s gotten worse with kids jumping ship back and forth and parents who think their son is the next Alex Rodriguez. That’s when you stop and ask: ‘What is our purpose? What do we want to provide for all kids, not just superstars? Why is it important for everyone to follow the rules?’”
Those who are loyal to Rodriguez say envious rivals have targeted him as a cheater, obscuring the legacy of a caring man that includes 90-plus players he sent to college. A remarkable number of them are now teachers, coaches, athletic directors and principals.
“It happens with most successful programs – there’s jealousy and suspicion that you’re doing something wrong,” said Marcus Carreno, who played for Rodriguez at Miami High and FIU. He coaches the Miami High team that would have played Krop on Thursday if Krop hadn’t been forced to forfeit. “He’s pure hard work and one of the best coaches in Florida. He was like a second father to me. He’s had a lasting impact on his players.”
Alabama coach Anthony Grant played for Rodriguez in the early 1980s, got a scholarship to Dayton, then returned as an assistant when Miami High won three state titles. He said players and parents sought out Rodriguez, not the other way around. Just as a talented musician would seek the school with the best music program.
“We got national exposure and the team attracted guys with aspirations to be great,” said Grant, who lived in Brownsville and attended Belen with his brother until transferring to Miami High. “Any time a player is coming from out of area and a coach is losing that player, it creates controversy. But that’s not Shakey’s fault. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what he did for me and other students.”
BORN IN CUBA
Rodriguez was born in Cuba and sent with his brother to live with an uncle in Jacksonville in 1962. He moved to Clayton, Ga., then reunited with his parents two years later at a house on Southwest Fifth Street. As a boy, he spent hours shooting baskets at nearby Miami High, pretending he was Jerry West, Oscar Robertson or Rick Barry.
He played guard at Miami High under the revered Vince Schaefer. He got his nickname from assistant coach Bob Kaufman, who noticed a fidgety kid who couldn’t stand still.
“Grab that shaky guy,” Kaufman said, and the name stuck.
Rodriguez played two years at Biscayne College and got his education degree from FIU. Schaefer hired him to coach junior varsity and he succeeded Schaefer in 1981.
Coaching the Stingarees inside the cramped, rocking gym known as “The Asylum” was Rodriguez’s dream job. Miami High, the city’s oldest school, mirrored Miami’s changing face as it became a predominately Hispanic school. Students and alumni reveled in the five state titles Rodriguez won, plus his six top-10 national rankings, his 22 All-County players.
But there were questions about how all that talent wound up in Little Havana. The Edwards brothers from Overtown – Doug, Steve and Allen – were among many who got Majority to Minority transfers. Another controversy erupted when the SAT scores of Doug Edwards, Jose Ramos and Cesar Portillo were invalidated. Portillo, a Venezuelan, looked like he was at least 20 years old.
“Cesar was moved into the area by a college that wanted to sign him,” Rodriguez said. “He did look old, but we had the birth certificate and a newspaper article from his home. I asked him again recently and he said, ‘Coach, I swear to you I was the right age.’”
After 14 years, Rodriguez left the ornate hallways of Miami High and went west on Calle Ocho to the struggling nine-year-old program at FIU. In his second game, trailing Florida State 50-12, Rodriguez asked his players, “Do you want me to call timeout so you can get their autographs?”
In a profession of personalities – Jerry Tarkanian, P.J. Carlesimo, Rick Pitino, Bob Knight – the blunt, funny, intense Rodriguez fit right in, carried FIU to the cusp of two NCAA bids and sent two players to the NBA.
“Given enough time, FIU would have been Gonzaga – we had it going,” he said.
But in his fifth season, he ran into problems with assistants and players: Carlos Arroyo, now with the Heat, punched a manager; another player stole a hubcap; another misused a meal card. There were allegations of grade-changing, which Rodriguez denies.
Burned out, in the middle of a divorce and longing for more time with his three children, Rodriguez resigned. He received two college coaching offers, but turned them down to become vice president of a mortgage company for four years.
Meanwhile, his protégé Frank Martin won three state titles at Miami High. But the school was stripped of the last one in 1998 for recruiting violations involving boosters. Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake were among the players with bogus addresses. Martin was fired. Rodriguez’s name is still associated with that scandal.
“It kills me that he is unfairly lumped with me for something that happened under my watch,” said Martin, coach at Kansas State. “He’s never been investigated, no violations. All he’s done is win. He’s done more for basketball in that community than anyone.”
Recruiting allegations are nothing new in public school sports, where ambitious parents, players and coaches, meddling alumni and shadowy middle men try to skirt boundaries. The biggest scandal occurred in 1974, when the undefeated “Jackson Five” of Jackson High won the state basketball title. Four Bahamian players were later declared ineligible and their names are accompanied by asterisks in the record book.
Inside Krop’s “Thunder Dome” gym, where the Lightning basketball team should be playing, the volleyball team practiced instead last week. Faced with the greatest disappointment and censure of his career, Rodriguez was combative, as if he were on the sideline in overtime.
“I’m sure I rub some people the wrong way,” he said. “They think I’m arrogant because as a coach I’m pretty self-assured. You beat people and they resent you.”
He’s tired of the rumors and insinuations, including one that his star player Angel Rodriguez – who is from Puerto Rico and planning to play at Kansas State under Martin – lives with him.
‘GIVE ME A BREAK’
“Some of the [expletive] I hear, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “Now we are being held accountable because a kid lives with his aunt or somebody else? I’m not visiting homes. It’s enough what we do.
“Give me a break. Anybody with common sense knows that there’s tons of [international] kids in Miami-Dade who are playing. But because they don’t play for Krop and Shakey Rodriguez they don’t want to know all this stuff – where does he live, who is he living with, where is his visa. We try to follow rules the best we can with the knowledge we have. It may be shocking to people, but I teach kids the Constitution, teach them the right way to live.”
“They can kiss my ass,” he said.
He sounds like he feels fed up, unappreciated, defeated. If he was only about winning, then why would he have dedicated 30 years to nurturing youngsters?
“I could make more money selling flowers on the corner,” he said.
But it’s hard to believe Shakey Rodriguez would go out a loser. Besides, he’s never been capable of standing still.
“I love coaching and I love kids,” he said. “That love will never die.”