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How Getting Fired for Reporting Payments to SMU Football Players "Perked Up" Paul Hardin's Career

When Paul Hardin took over as president of SMU in 1972 after a stint at tiny Wofford College, his youth and frankness made him a favorite of the media. Not so with the school's well-heeled supporters and alumni. A 1976 article in D Magazine gives an example:

One influential SMU graduate recalls meeting Hardin and introducing himself by saying "I'm an SMU alumni."

"No, you're not," Hardin snapped back. "You're an alumnus."

Relations between the two never recovered.

It was largely on account of his contentious relationship with the Board of Governors, the magazine concluded, that led to his resignation in June 1974. But that wasn't the whole story.

As Hardin related last year, it was his involvement in the football program that ultimately cost him his job. He recounted the sequence of events on Monday to a radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the University of North Carolina is in the midst of an athletic scandal.

"It began with a relatively minor athletic infringement which I discovered by the telephone call of the parent of a player," Hardin said. "I had been there for two years and, after this occurrence, I was elected for a third year but then I discovered that some of the trustees were the malfeasants, were the people who were putting some money into some illicit prizes for football players."

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Hardin reported the prizes, cash incentives for big plays during games and practices, to the NCAA. Most people applauded the decision, he said, but not the people who mattered.

"I think some people flinched and they were the people who later got that university into such trouble that they incurred the only death penalty in the history of the NCAA," he said. "So I tried to curb this before it got under way and they really suggested that I go elsewhere. And that's when my career really perked up."

Thirteen years later, when Hardin had just been named chancellor of UNC, a member of the search committee told him his handling of the SMU situation was what sealed the deal. At UNC, he told his interviewers, it was clear that athletics were secondary to academics -- so much so that, when he told legendary basketball coach Dean Smith to disclose his contract with Nike, "I didn't lose a wink of sleep" he said.

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