ELLINGTON — Beau Archibald was nearing the end of a trip to China, where he had coached in a tournament, with plans to fly to Miami for a short stay before heading to Venezuela where he would work at a camp. This was not an atypical swing in a basketball life that was thrown into upheaval after Archibald's abrupt departure from the UConn staff in 2010.
Back home in Ellington, his wife Tiffany was receiving disconcerting news. Results from her monthly blood work had revealed rapidly rising creatinine levels, which signified serious trouble in the transplanted kidney she received from her mother eight years earlier. Doctors said it was imperative to begin dialysis and seek a donor for an emergency transplant.
Her quality of life — maybe her life, period — depended on what would transpire over the next week or two. It was June 7.
Recalling a conversation with her doctor, Tiffany Washington-Archibald said, "He told me, 'You're in failure. You're in fatal mode. I don't know how you're functioning. I don't know how you're walking, talking or thinking because you're at very dangerous levels.' "
Instead of flying to Miami, Archibald landed in Connecticut on June 12, his and Tiffany's three-year anniversary. The next day, he was at Hartford Hospital, starting a complicated process to find out if he was a donor match.
As the ensuing days passed with one piece of good news after another — same blood type, compatibility on various levels — Tiffany grew increasingly pale and was drained of energy. Her creatinine levels had risen toa ridiculous 18.8. At 5.5, kidney transplants are recommended, she said.
On June 21 the couple underwent the three-hour transplant operation, Beau's team of doctors handing Tiffany's team of doctors the kidney from Beau's right side.
"What we did in nine days usually takes two or three months," he said. "She was so sick, and there was such a rush. I went through the whole education process, finding out that I would be OK but also having them tell me, 'You could donate this kidney and it might not take. Are you OK with that?' If you're going to donate a kidney, obviously you want it to work."
Later in the process, the couple was informed that the kidney was expected to work strongly inside Tiffany for 12-20 years.
"They told me all my levels [of functionality] were so high and that having one kidney is not going to be a factor," Archibald said. "At the same time, just going home every night, seeing her getting worse, it was never a question."
Before and after a two-hour conversation last week, Beau, 35, and Tiffany, 34, walked slowly through the grounds of their condominium complex, one of four recommended 10-minute, daily walks that take the breath out of these former elite athletes. It's a delicate recovery, with Beau's body adapting to the loss of a major organ and Tiffany's adapting to the addition of one, a process that forces you to slow down physically and appreciate what's really important.
Archibald, who played three seasons at UConn despite knee injuries and graduated in 2003, has had his share of adversity in recent years – professional adversity, mostly. As an aspiring coach, he had stints on staffs at Florida International, Texas-San Antonio, Jacksonville, Texas Tech and Florida Atlantic. He then spent three mostly rewarding seasons on Jim Calhoun's staff at UConn as the director of basketball operations.
But he lost that job in May 2010, forced to resign in the wake of the Nate Miles recruiting scandal. Charged with making improper phone calls and unethical conduct for "false or misleading" statements during a lengthy NCAA investigation, he was given a two-year "show cause" penalty that essentially banned him from coaching in college during that time.
Archibald went from working at his alma mater for a salary of more than $100,000 to being jobless with a tarnished reputation. This played out as he and Tiffany were about to be married. Since then, Archibald has spent at least half of his time on the road, coaching mostly in China.
The time apart from Tiffany, the hit to his character, the frustration he harbors over the NCAA review process, having to leave his beloved UConn — it's been difficult. And yet it was all put into perspective last month in the face of the truly scary battle his wife fought and won with his help.
"My husband has always been so giving and so devoted," Tiffany said. "I'm so grateful. Going through this has just made our relationship and our bond even stronger. I don't think you can get any closer than having your husband's organ inside your body, allowing you to live and be healthy. It's the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate gift."
The couple met in 2006 when Archibald, on a recruiting trip as an assistant at Florida International, walked into Tiffany's office at a Phoenix-area charter school, where she was the athletic director and boys basketball coach.
Tiffany, a Los Angeles native, played basketball at Southern Cal and her office was adorned with Trojans posters and different awards she had won. Archibald's brother, Damon, had been an assistant with the men's basketball team at USC. That was the conversation starter.
Two dates did not go well and they lost touch. But two years later, Archibald, who was raised in Arizona, was back in the Phoenix area and he called Tiffany again. There was an immediate connection this time over dinner. They maintained a long-distance relationship for about a year before getting engaged, and Tiffany moved to Connecticut shortly after UConn's 2009 trip to the Final Four.
As Beau entered his third season on the Huskies staff for 2009-10, Tiffany settled into the Greater Hartford community. She completed her Masters and took a job as senior director of health and wellness at the Downtown YMCA. During that time, the NCAA was investigating UConn's handling of the Miles recruitment.
On May 28, 2010, UConn called a press conference to address the NCAA's notice of allegations and announced the resignations of Archibald and assistant coach Patrick Sellers.
Archibald and Sellers were shown in the NCAA report to have placed many of the impermissible calls UConn was cited for, and for providing false or misleading information during a series of interviews. Archibald counters that he was operating under the understanding that any calls clerical in nature — for instance, calls to Miles or others regarding transcripts and information necessary for admission to UConn — were acceptable. Uncomfortable and confused, Archibald gave conflicting statements.
"We had an interpretation that I could do it under these pretenses," Archibald said. "They were not recruiting calls. And when the NCAA came in, they just said that, no, every single time that you made a phone call to him or anybody involved with him was a violation. We said that's not the way we interpreted it. And they were like, tough luck.
"That kid had been committed for a year. I was asked to make phone calls. And it wasn't like Coach Calhoun was telling me, 'Beau, make these calls.' I just had an understanding that if they were for enrollment purposes, I could make those calls. Everything, enrollment, NCAA stuff, transcripts, that was all put on my plate. And it was from administration down."
Archibald's penalties were handed down Feb. 22, 2011.
"It's not a perfect system, but it's the system they have," Archibald said. "It's tough to swallow when you know, and everybody around you knows, it wasn't really a fair situation. The NCAA has a hard job. They have no subpoenas. So there's a lot of guessing, but they don't get it right all the time."
Archibald was questioned about contact he had with several people close to Miles, people he had contacted even while at other schools prior to UConn in an effort to recruit different players. When asked why he was in contact with certain people, Archibald couldn't always remember why, or what the connection was.
"At no point did I ever think I was doing anything that could be interpreted as wrong," he said. "[The NCAA] is trying to get you say yes when you should probably just say I don't know. I've never been interrogated. I should have said, 'I don't recall.'
"At some point, I said, 'I don't know who that person is.' And I should have said, 'I don't recall who that person is.' They're asking me why I called this guy, and I would say, 'I don't even know who he is.' … And then they charged me, saying I said I didn't know him but there were phone calls to him. They were coming at me, saying, 'So you talk to people you don't know?' I was like, 'Yes, every single day you talk to people you don't know in this business.'"
An example of the confusion, Archibald said, was the NCAA questioning him over two texts to somone he did not remember texting. As it turns out, Archibald said, he had twice sent a single text to his phone contacts — once in the days after receiving a UConn phone to let everyone know his new number, once to wish contacts a merry Christmas.
The NCAA didn't buy most of it, and did have a record of 114 impermissible calls. Phone records showed Archibald had contact on multiple occassions with central figures in the Miles situation, including associates of Josh Nochimson, the UConn manager-turned-agent who was at the heart of the Miles mess.
So action was taken. This came while Archibald was planning his wedding. He also has a daughter from a previous relationship — Kennadi, 10, who lives in Texas.
"Beau has the biggest heart, he's passionate and he's loyal to a fault at times," Tiffany said. "To have his whole world crashing down three months before we were getting married, it was hard to have him separate that and have him focus on getting married. So you get married, and he's right back onto what he can do next. We're both very smart, financially, so it wasn't a strain financially, but it was a strain emotionally."
Some True Friends
Archibald has been to the UConn campus about 10 times since his departure, usually meeting with Calhoun after every overseas trip. He also speaks to him on the phone about every three weeks. To this day, Archibald speaks of his love for his former coach, his alma mater and the basketball program that was such a large part of his life.
No, there are no hard feelings on either side regarding 2010.
"I won't go into details but it was an unfortunate time," Calhoun said. "Beau didn't get the best end of the stick, but that happens sometimes in situations. Things happen and it's not always about what happens; it's about how you respond. Beau, and it's understandable, had some bitterness but has responded well. Clearly, we were not cast in the best of light, and all of it was not necessarily true. Nobody wanted Beau not to be able to coach college basketball, but it happened. Beau did a great job for us, a lot of good work. He'll always be a part of the UConn family because we want him in that family and he wants to be in that family."
Of Archibald donating his kidney, Calhoun said, "I shouldn't say I'm surprised because he's an incredible, young guy. He gave a lot. I talked to him before [the procedure] and he sounded so anxious to get this done for [Tiffany]. A lot of people talk the talk, but he stepped up and really got it done. But that kind of typifies the kind of guy Beau is. Sometimes in the public life, sometimes when you're in a situation like UConn basketball, all of the good things people do aren't always recognized. Beau is a terrific young, guy from a terrific family."
The fallout from the Miles case included the program being placed on probation and Calhoun being issued a three-game suspension during the 2011-12 season.
Everyone involved besides Archibald — son of the late Lynn Archibald, who was head coach at Utah and Idaho State — could basically get on with life, with some adjustments. Sellers spent a season coaching in China, during which he was cleared of wrongdoing by the NCAA, and then accepted a job as an assistant at Hofstra. He is now an assistant at Creighton.
When Sellers returned to the U.S., he recommended Archibald for the vacant assistant coaching position with the Shanxi Dragons. Sellers and his brother, Rod Sellers, were among the first to reach out to Beau when word of his kidney donation spread. Sellers' father underwent a kidney transplant when the boys were young.
"So I've kind of lived that life and I've experienced people going through that," Sellers said. "I feel really connected to Beau and his wife. Beau and I worked together and went through a whole bunch of stuff together. I'm happy for him turning a negative into a positive because he went over and embraced the basketball in China. Beau's a great person and it's a tremendous thing he's done for [Tiffany]."
Archibald has kept in touch with scores of people from UConn, from Calhoun to Sellers to Andre LaFleur (now associate head coach at Providence) to Kevin Freeman, Karl Hobbs, Tom Moore and many others.
"I'm in awe of him, really," said LaFleur, who visited Beau and Tiffany in the hospital. "I'm incredibly proud to have a friend that is so selfless and loving. It's inspiring. My wife and I we're both taken aback. Knowing the road they've had, I am so proud. When they got married there was just a whirlwind of events, but to see them both doing so well, it makes everybody happy."
Tiffany now has four kidneys — her own two, the one from her mother and now the one from her husband. High blood pressure, which puts a strain on kidneys, and kidney problems ran in her father's family. Sure enough, during preseason examinations at Southern Cal when she was 19, high blood pressure was detected.
She initially managed it with medication, graduated from college, played professionally overseas for two years, returned to the United States and settled in Seattle and then Phoenix.
"Eight years ago, I was active, working out, and I had gone in for surgery on my toe," she said. "And doctors come in and start asking me all these questions. They told me my kidneys were only functioning at 26 percent."
Within a year, they were at 10 percent and a transplant was needed. Tiffany's mother was the first to get tested and was a match. As was the case with her most recent transplant from Beau, if a match hadn't been found quickly Tiffany would have been put on dialysis while waiting – perhaps for years — for an organ from a cadaver.
"They give you a medical out," Archibald said. "Every day, [doctors] were like, 'Do you want to do this?' There is a lot of pressure on people. Someone might think, 'I don't want to give my kidney up,' but they feel obligated because they are a match. In our family it became a joke, 'I might use that medical out! You never know!"
Beau and Tiffany have been told their recovery is going well. Life is slowly returning to normal. Soon, Beau will consider his next career move. He's considering a return to China as an assistant coach. He also might have an opportunity to be a coach in the Middle East.
What about the NCAA? The "show cause" has expired, but the repercussions can extend beyond the length of the penalty.
"That initial [NCAA] job has to be the right situation, with the right coach, someone who knows me," he said. "The toughest part is going through that process and disagreeing with everything that is being said. You learn a lot about yourself. Some coaches I've spoken to want that experience. There's an education there. There's value in that.
"The NCAA doesn't get to determine how people feel. Anybody close to the situation or who I've worked with at UConn, no one says anything bad about me because I've never put myself in a situation where people could. I've treated people nice."