A Shakey Machine

FIU hoops coach Shakey Rodriguez has surrounded himself with coaches and players with bad raps and worse reps -- and it's a losing combination

Changing grades is not unheard of; that's why FIU has a change-of-grade form. One athletics administrator says the system is set up so a professor has the discretion to correct an error in grading, or in some cases, give a kid a break. This practice is not confined to athletes, but in reference to the men's basketball team, the administrator, who asked not to be identified, says Rodriguez's players have received more than their share of grade changes. Specifically five changes involving three players over three years. "That's abnormally high, and some of them have been as late as six months after the fact," the administrator says.

Gallagher notes the basketball team as a whole currently has a 2.2 cumulative GPA: dead last among all sports teams at FIU. Rodriguez's players also rank last in the number of hours spent in study hall.

Jose Ramos's bad temper and worse judgment got him kicked out of two Division I college basketball teams as a player
Steve Satterwhite
Jose Ramos's bad temper and worse judgment got him kicked out of two Division I college basketball teams as a player
After leaving a defrocked Miami High program, Bernard Wright (standing, center) went back to work for his old pal Shakey
Steve Satterwhite
After leaving a defrocked Miami High program, Bernard Wright (standing, center) went back to work for his old pal Shakey

Assistant coach Jose Ramos has many things in common with Carlos Arroyo: Both are (or were) six-foot-two point guards, and both are of Hispanic descent (Ramos is a Miami-born Cuban American). Judging from their respective conduct during the past year or so, they also are foul-mouthed hotheads. "When Ramos first came to FIU, he was very humble, very happy to be a part of something," says an ex-FIU employee. "But that kinda changed after a while. He got cocky."

His temper surfaced in public after an away game at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock last year. Rodriguez approached one of the two officials and began screaming at him about calls made in the game. According to one witness, Ramos pulled Rodriguez away, then proceeded to scream at the official himself. A Little Rock supporter in the front row jeered at Ramos; the assistant coach turned and swung on the fan, without hitting him. Players and coaches swarmed to separate the two. Ramos faced no official consequences, but he did not accompany the team on its next road trip.

He also, according to several sources close to the team, has had a tendency to use the word nigger, sometimes directly in reference to black players.

Word of this got back to Gallagher, who wrote a stern memorandum to Rodriguez on November 15, 1999. "Any further incidents involving the use of the word 'nigger' by one of your assistant coaches will result in severe action," he wrote. "It matters not how such language 'may be used on the street,' it is totally unacceptable at Florida International University."

Shakey Rodriguez remembers that letter from Gallagher quite well. "We discussed the situation, and [Ramos] wrote a letter in response," Rodriguez says. "I never in my life heard that word from him. I met with the players, and every one of them said no one had ever heard that from him. Any kind of slang based on nationality or the color of a man's skin, I wouldn't have that in my staff, but I've known this guy for years, and I never heard him say that." New Times has interviewed six people who confirm that Ramos routinely has used the "n-word."

Rodriguez considers that issue closed, but Ramos's temper has created still another public-relations nightmare. The team travels on commercial flights through agreements with Delta and American airlines. While the team was en route on an American Airlines flight from McAllen, Texas, to Dallas-Fort Worth on January 25, a male flight attendant either bumped into or stepped on Jose Ramos. The assistant coach began yelling at the steward, accusing the man of kicking him on purpose. According to one witness, the flight attendant didn't back down, instead "getting in [Ramos's] face." They appeared ready to come to blows when another passenger -- not anyone in the FIU party -- separated them. Shortly thereafter, according to the flight attendant, the captain came back and admonished Ramos, telling him if he heard another outburst from the coach, he would have Ramos arrested when the plane landed in Dallas.

On February 8 FIU president Modesto Maidique and acting athletic director Jose Sotolongo received a letter from the flight attendant, informing them of Ramos's conduct, and stating that the airline and the flight attendants' union had been notified of the incident. The fallout from this has yet to be determined. "I'm in the process of looking into that right now," says Rodriguez. "I was in that airplane, but I don't know anything."

Paul Gallagher says the university's inquiry into the matter is still going on, but he's received information that leads him to believe the flight attendant exaggerated his story. Even so, this type of behavior sounds exactly in character for Ramos, especially given his track record as a college basketball player.

Jose Ramos certainly looks the part of a Division I men's basketball coach. One night he's wearing the sharp, pale-gray suit over a black T-shirt, with a glint of gold from the neckline. Other nights it's a wheat-color suit, with a shirt and tie of barely deeper shades of brown, a nice monochromatic effect. And every night the 30-year-old Miami native's dark hair is slicked straight back, Pat Riley-style.

"Although he has been in the coaching profession a relatively short time, he has quickly become one of the most talked about and respected young coaches in the nation," the FIU men's basketball media guide states.

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