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

Helping a troubled kid find a second, third, and fourth chance as a player is one thing. Offering a coaching job to a guy who has twice violated NCAA rules is another. Why did Rodriguez hire Ramos in the first place? "I know Jose Ramos well enough to know he's a person of character," Rodriguez says. "I know him more than anyone. I know his family, his parents. I know who he is. All of these things were allegations. I don't know if he did them or didn't do them. I know people are going to make mistakes. I'm not interested in what looks bad or looks good; I'm interested in what kind of character he is." Despite the "nigger" memo and the letter from the flight attendant, and the fact the team is having a near-.500 season, Rodriguez declares that Ramos "has done a wonderful job at FIU."

Others are not as willing to overlook Ramos's flouting of the rules. (Violations that Rodriguez dismisses as mere "allegations" also cost the University of Nebraska one basketball scholarship for the 1991-92 academic year.) Upon hearing that Ramos was on Rodriguez's staff at FIU, one Lincoln, Nebraska, sportswriter who covered Ramos's brief-yet-eventful career as a Cornhusker cracked, "What is he, the extra-benefits coach?"

Shakey Rodriguez has led his team through what he calls his most difficult year in coaching
Steve Satterwhite
Shakey Rodriguez has led his team through what he calls his most difficult year in coaching

Traffic court was typically packed on Thursday morning, February 10, 2000, in courtroom 5-1 of the Richard E. Gerstein Building. Judge Caryn Canner Schwartz was cruising through her calendar with all due alacrity.

At roughly 9:30 a.m., a silver-haired, gray-suited figure glided among the prosecutors and public defenders at the tables in front of the judge. After a murmured conference with prosecutors, the attorney declared to Schwartz: "Your honor, I'm here on behalf of Bernard Wright."

Almost as quickly as he stated the name of the FIU assistant men's basketball coach, a fresh-faced, blue-suited assistant state attorney droned, "State announces nolle pros." As in, the state has dropped the petty-theft charge against Wright. Miami cops had stopped the 41-year-old coach in his 1987 red Nissan truck on December 12, 1999, near NW 154 Street and 82nd Avenue, because his tag was listed as having expired in 1998. The 1999 decal on the truck had been reported stolen from another vehicle in 1998. According to the police report, at the time Wright "stated unknown persons placed the decal on his truck, but he drove it anyways."

Judge Schwartz offered sardonic kudos to Wright's legal counsel. "Boy, you are some great lawyer," she said with a wry smile. "Great job." With a friendly chortle, the attorney sidled out of the cramped courtroom as quickly and silently as he had entered. (Reached later, Schwartz couldn't remember who the attorney was, and noted that his name was not in the case file. She added that prosecutors routinely drop stolen-decal cases, because intent is almost impossible to prove.)

Thus ended Bernard Wright's latest brush with the law. Last year he was charged with two misdemeanors. Although his record was clean in June 1998, when he applied for the third assistant men's basketball coach position at FIU, even a token effort at due diligence should have raised serious questions about his fitness to coach college basketball.

Like Jose Ramos and Shakey Rodriguez, Bernard Wright is a Stingaree, though his sports were football and wrestling. He went on to attend Grambling State University, graduating in 1980. He returned to Miami, where he spent three years coaching the Bucktown Buckaneers, a semipro football team. In 1984 he became an assistant basketball coach at Miami Carol City High School, under head coach Ernie Bell.

Those Carol City teams gave Rodriguez's Miami High squads some stiff competition, becoming state champs in 1988 after beating MHS in the playoffs. The Stings got the better of the crosstown rivalry the following year. Then in 1990 Ernie Bell was charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident causing the death of a three-year-old pedestrian. Bell was acquitted of the homicide charge, and pleaded no contest to the lesser charge; he spent a month in Dade County Jail and a year on probation. He continued to teach at Carol City High before moving to his current post at Carol City Middle School, but never returned to coach the basketball team. The high school squad never regained its former glory.

In 1993 Bernard Wright returned to his alma mater, joining Shakey Rodriguez as an assistant coach for Miami High boys basketball. Oddly enough, for a man of his stature (a homuncular five feet five), Wright worked mostly with the frontcourt players; according to Rodriguez he continues in this role with FIU. But two sources say he played a far more important part in the Stingaree juggernaut: He was a recruiter.

"He always would come up to me and tell me, 'Got a chance of getting another kid,'" says one former FIU athletics employee. "'Got a chance of getting this kid for Miami High.' That was his whole thing. That was all he was supposed to do. I heard people say he would start at five in the morning, and he'd be picking up everyone on the damn team, driving them around." Another source contacted by New Times, who demanded anonymity, confirmed that Wright would, in fact, make recruiting trips to meet promising basketball players within other schools' boundaries.

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