Hurricanes coach Al Golden's staff used booster's associate in potential recruiting violations

·NFL columnist

Less than one week after the University of Miami hired Al Golden as coach, members of Golden's coaching staff began using Sean "Pee Wee" Allen – a then-equipment manager and onetime right-hand man of convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro – to circumvent NCAA rules in the recruiting of multiple Miami-area players, Yahoo! Sports has learned.

Golden, hired by Miami in mid-December 2010, had direct knowledge of Allen's improper involvement with Miami recruits, according to a former Hurricanes athletic department staffer and federal testimony given by Allen in Shapiro's bankruptcy case. Additionally, multiple sources interviewed by NCAA investigators have told Yahoo! Sports that Allen has become a focal point in the association's probe into Miami athletics. The sources said investigators focused on Allen's role in providing impermissible benefits to Hurricanes players, as well as his contact with Miami recruits.

"I have been a college football coach for more than 18 years and I am proud of -- and I stand by -- my record of compliance over that span," Golden said in a statement. "As my colleagues and players on all of my teams can attest, I believe strongly in doing things the right way with the best of intentions.

"The inferences and suggestions in the Yahoo! Sports story that my conduct was anything but ethical are simply false. I, like all of us at UM, have cooperated fully with the joint NCAA-UM inquiry and will continue to do so, so that our program and our university can move forward. Because the process is on-going, I am unable to address any specifics or answer questions on the matter."

Allen declined comment when reached by Yahoo! Sports.

The latest issues involving Allen are twofold – his having provided improper benefits to players dating back to early in his career at Miami; and his continued improper contact with Miami recruits, which allegedly lasted through his final days working for the Hurricanes in the summer of 2011.

One former Hurricanes staffer told Yahoo! Sports that Allen was used specifically by members of Golden's staff as an "off-the-books" recruiter. As part of those duties, the staffer said Allen kept tabs on Miami-area kids, including making calls about their recruitment, and on some occasions, supplying improper transportation to and from campus that aided Miami in its efforts to gain a commitment from some prospects.

[Related audio: Y! Sports' Charles Robinson discusses Miami probe]

Allen "was directed to call those kids and would have never done it without the coaches pushing it," the former Hurricanes staffer said.

NCAA rules stipulate that anyone who improperly "assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families" triggers the association's booster clause under bylaw 13.02.14. Allen said in federal testimony in connection with Shapiro's bankruptcy case that he provided improper benefits to players as far back as the mid-2000s. The NCAA's rules also state that equipment managers such as Allen cannot engage in recruiting calls or assist in off-campus recruiting unless they are designated and counted as an assistant coach under Bylaw 11.7.

If Golden knew that Allen was impermissibly recruiting for the Hurricanes during Golden's tenure, it would contradict the message the Miami coach has sent repeatedly in recent months: That his staff was cleaning up problems from the Shapiro era – not taking part in them. As Golden framed it for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in a Feb. 1, 2012, story, "We weren't responsible for [the problems], but we are responsible enough to fix it."

But according to Allen's federal testimony and the former Hurricanes staffer, Allen's recruiting infractions occurred almost immediately after Golden's tenure began and took place with the participation of at least two other former or current coaches – former assistant Aubrey Hill, who left Miami's staff three weeks into Golden's tenure, and current assistant coach Micheal Barrow.

[Related: Renegade Miami booster reveals illicit benefits to players]

One former recruit, former Miami Northwestern High School wideout Elston Lane, said Allen showed he and then-cornerback recruit A.J. Leggett around Miami's facilities at the request of Barrow.

"He's just the type of person when you get around him, you feel comfortable with him," Lane said of Allen. "He did a lot of little stuff for us. Sometimes he'd give us like a pair of gloves that maybe a University of Miami player used. Like, say Lamar Miller or something.

"I didn't think he was a recruiter. He was just like, a UM fan. He would just be like, 'This is the best place for you.' He was egging on for UM. I had a couple of schools recruiting me, and he was like, 'Yeah, I like this school for you, or that school for you, but the best for you I think is UM.' He was a fan. Of course he was going to say UM was the best place."

A holdover from the Shapiro era who also worked for the booster's sports agency between stints with the Hurricanes, Allen is already under NCAA investigation for connecting recruits with Shapiro and providing benefits to both recruits and players. In his December 2011 deposition in Shapiro's bankruptcy case, Allen turned over personal records and testified to witnessing or playing a part in multiple Miami players receiving improper benefits.

Yahoo! Sports reviewed Allen's phone records and testimony, and found contact with at least 10 Miami-area prep players being recruited by Golden's staff. Although text messaging records were not available, Allen had calls to prep recruits ranging from Dec. 17, 2010 – less than a week after Golden's hire – to July 2011. Allen ceased working for Miami in August 2011 after being named in a Yahoo! Sports report for his alleged role in a multitude of NCAA violations over the previous decade.

The former Hurricanes staffer and a handful of sources at other schools alleged that Allen played a significant role in a number of recruiting violations during Golden's tenure. Among the incidents detailed:

• On Dec. 17, 2010, five days after Golden was hired as Miami's coach, Allen testified that he was summoned to the restaurant Dan Marino's in South Miami to pick up Miami Northwestern High school quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater had withdrawn his commitment to the Hurricanes earlier in the month and Golden's staff was attempting to reverse his decision.

Allen testified that Bridgewater, Golden and other Miami coaches were at the restaurant during an unofficial visit and that a member of the coaching staff asked Allen to pick Bridgewater up. Allen testified that "I sat with Teddy and – actually that might have been the first time I met coach Golden, and they talked and I drove Teddy home from there."

Allen's phone records show eight calls exchanged with Bridgewater that afternoon and early evening, as well as four calls exchanged with Hill. The former Miami staffer told Yahoo! Sports that Hill, a then-Miami assistant, was present at the restaurant and arranged for Allen to pick Bridgewater up and transport him home – a violation of NCAA rules. The staffer also said Golden was aware Allen was there to take Bridgewater home.

[Phone records: Sean Allen calls to Aubrey Hill]

Hill left Golden's staff two weeks after this alleged incident, joining the University of Florida's staff as an assistant. Bridgewater eventually committed to Louisville on Dec. 20. Allen's phone records show he received calls from Bridgewater the day before and the day after his commitment to the Cardinals. According to a source at the University of Louisville, Bridgewater interviewed with the NCAA about the incident involving Allen at Dan Marino's restaurant.

Louisville spokesperson Rocco Gasparro said Bridgewater declined comment. A spokesman for the University of Florida said Hill also declined comment.

• On Jan. 3, 2011, a little more than three weeks after Golden's hire, Allen allegedly aided Barrow in attempting to convince Florida State commitment Devonta Freeman to withdraw from the school in favor of playing at Miami – the day before Freeman was set to begin classes at FSU as an early enrollee.

Allen's Jan. 3 phone records show repeated phone calls to or from the hotly recruited Miami Central running back, as well as the player's mother, Lorraine.

Allen's phone records show six calls to Freeman and four calls to the prep running back's mother, intertwined with 17 calls with Barrow, who was Miami's lead recruiter on Freeman. According to a source at Florida State, Freeman was questioned by investigators about his Jan. 3 contact with Barrow and Allen.

Allen's phone records show calls to Freeman and Freeman's mother four times in the early afternoon. After the fourth call, in which Allen spoke to Freeman for 32 minutes, he then placed six consecutive calls to Barrow's cell and office lines in a span of 18 minutes. Later that evening, Allen's records show he attempted to conference Barrow in to a call to Freeman's mother. That call lasted only one minute, and Allen then conferenced Barrow in to a second unlisted number.

Phone records between Sean Allen and Micheal Barrow and recruit Devonta Freeman.
Phone records between Sean Allen and Micheal Barrow and recruit Devonta Freeman.

Four other times during the course of the night, Allen connected with Barrow and then immediately called Freeman or Freeman's mother. At 10:02 p.m., Allen conferenced Barrow into a call with Freeman. That conference call between Allen, Freeman and Barrow lasted for 13 minutes, and upon its conclusion, Allen immediately called Barrow for a call that lasted four minutes.

After 11 p.m. that same evening, Barrow called Allen's cell again for six minutes. Following that call, Allen placed a call to an unlisted number, and then a second call to Durell Eskridge, a prep recruit who was known to be a close friend of Freeman's and also his teammate at Miami Central High School. Allen was connected with Eskridge for six minutes, then called Barrow again. Before the night was over, he would speak to Eskridge one more time, then immediately to Barrow, before placing a final one-minute call to Freeman.

[Phone records: Sean Allen calls to Micheal Barrow]

A spokesperson for the Seminoles and Freeman declined comment, standing on the school's policy that players aren't currently available to the media. Eskridge, who plays football at Syracuse, did not return a message left on his cell phone voicemail.

• On the evening of Jan. 22, 2011, the former Hurricanes staffer alleged that Allen arranged for Hurricanes defensive end Olivier Vernon and visiting recruit Anthony Chickillo to gain entrance to BT's Gentlemen's Club in Coral Gables. The former Hurricanes staffer said Allen paid for Chickillo's drinks and entertainment at the strip club. Allen's phone records show that between 6:49 p.m. and 11:10 p.m. that night, he traded 12 phone calls with Vernon and two with defensive tackle Marcus Forston – the two players who were hosting Chickillo on his official visit that weekend.

Having previously de-committed from the Hurricanes, Chickillo reversed course and ultimately became Al Golden's highest-ranked recruit of the 2011 class. On Jan. 23, Chickillo told Y! Sports' of his visit, "On a scale of 1 to 10 it was a 12. I'm 200 percent committed to Miami. The recruiting process is over for me."

• On Feb. 9, 2011, the former Hurricanes staffer alleged Allen picked up then-Florida State commitment A.J. Leggett and delivered the nationally acclaimed cornerback recruit to the Hurricanes' football building. Allen then allegedly took Leggett to a meeting room, where Golden and other coaches allegedly pitched him on changing his commitment to Miami. Allen's phone records show one call to Leggett on this day, as well as subsequent calls on February 17, 19 and 21 of 2011.

Leggett did ultimately change his commitment to Miami on Feb. 9, telling that day, "There's nothing against FSU, but I got caught up in the moment at the time when I said I was committed there. I have always wanted to be a Cane. I grew up a Miami fan since I was five. I want to stay close to home and be with my family. The combination of everything makes Miami right for me. I'm really relieved now that I know for sure what I am doing."

Former Miami Northwestern High School recruit Elston Lane told Yahoo! Sports that Allen had once given Lane and A.J. Leggett a tour of some of the school's facilities after assistant coach Micheal Barrow invited the pair to campus.

"Me and A.J. Leggett, we played together at Gulliver Prep [school], and coach Barrow used to tell us to come by UM together or whatever and we would see Sean," Lane said. "Coach Barrow was like, 'Hey, Sean can show you around.'

"When [Allen] took us to the school, he showed us the buffet and things like that. He would show us the uniforms and say you can wear these uniforms. Because he was the equipment guy, he would show us some players' uniforms. But he also told us the downside, too. Like the downside of the school or the coaching staff or whatever. He was pretty fair with the whole situation."

Lane also appeared in Allen's phone records on June 8, 2011, and July 31, 2011. Leggett would later de-commit from Miami because of qualifying issues and commit to Marshall. Lane was only briefly recruited and eventually signed with Texas Southern.

Among the other prep players whose numbers appeared in Allen's phone bills:

• Class of 2011 recruit Thomas Finnie. Finnie was committed to South Carolina before a change to Miami on Jan. 7, 2011. Finnie and his family told reporters that Golden's staff won him over during the week he made the change. The day before the change in his commitment, Allen's phone records show Finnie calling Allen at 1:54 p.m. At 7:27 p.m. the same day, Allen's records show a one-minute call to Barrow immediately followed by a two-minute call to Finnie.

• Class of 2012 recruit Herb Waters. Allen called Waters seven times on June 11, 2011, and received one call from Waters on the same day. The former Hurricanes staffer said Allen was working the third session of Golden's summer football camp on this day and was tasked with making sure Waters attended the practice. The staffer said Miami was vying for a commitment from either Waters or Amari Cooper for one open recruiting slot at receiver. Waters committed to Miami in July of 2011.

• Class of 2012 recruit Amari Cooper. Allen called and/or received a total five calls from Cooper on June 13, 2011, and July 4-5, 2011. Cooper committed to Alabama. A spokesperson for Alabama declined comment, citing Nick Saban's policy of barring freshmen from speaking with the media.

• Class of 2012 recruit Randy "Duke" Johnson. Johnson called Allen on June 15, 2011. Johnson committed to Miami and became Golden's second-highest ranked recruit in the class of 2012.

• Class of 2012 recruit James Burgess. Allen called and/or received a total of six calls from Burgess. Burgess initially committed to Miami in July of 2011, but later de-committed and headed to Louisville. Cardinals spokesperson Rocco Gasparro said Burgess declined comment.

• Class of 2011 recruit Eli Rogers. Rogers called Allen on May 29, 2011. Rogers ultimately signed with Louisville. Cardinals spokesperson Rocco Gasparro said Rogers declined comment.

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