With allegations behind him, Nick Lackovich returns as Aliquippa boys basketball coach

Friday, July 24, 2020 | 10:05 AM

This was more than a job opportunity for Nick Lackovich, who was rehired Thursday as Aliquippa’s boys basketball coach.

To him, this felt like vindication.

Lackovich resigned as the Quips coach in 2016 when a dog-fighting investigation led to child pornography charges against him. Eight months earlier, he had celebrated an undefeated state championship in Hershey, but now he was facing ugly accusations.

He maintained his innocence but said he quit nonetheless. He believed his Aliquippa days were over.

“There’s no way you could have convinced me then that I’d be back in this position,” Lackovich said. “At the time when everything broke bad on me, it was like everyone had me buried. I was saying, ‘Look! Wait! This isn’t me. I didn’t do this stuff.’

“I’ve been battling that for four or five years.”

The dog-fighting investigation never advanced beyond allegations, and the child pornography charges were dismissed. But the legal trouble impacted his job as a Beaver County probation officer and almost ended his career as a basketball coach.

He applied at other schools with no success.

“One thing I did have in the back of my mind was that if I ever was going to get another chance, ironically, it was going to be at Aliquippa,” Lackovich said. “They were there from the start. They know the story, and the support there has been great for me. Anybody who knows me knows that’s not what I’m about.”

An Aliquippa graduate, Lackovich, 58, was the Quips’ coach from 2013-16, a three-season stretch that included two WPIAL titles, a state championship and a state runner-up trophy.

The team went 20-7, 29-1 and 30-0.

Lackovich was hired to replace his former assistant, Dwight Hines, whose contract wasn’t renewed. Hines went 63-39 in four seasons as head coach.

Aliquippa received nearly 20 applicants and interviewed five.

“Collectively, we thought he was the best candidate,” superintendent Peter Carbone said. “The criteria we kind of decided on was someone who’s familiar with the kids, somebody who’s experienced and somebody we know who has connections to the community.

“He fit all three.”

The previous allegations against Lackovich weren’t an issue, Carbone said.

“He had a few reference letters from some former players who had gone on and been pretty successful, not necessarily just athletically, but academically,” athletic director Brandon LeDonne said. “Overall, his continued relationship with the guys he coached really made some of our board go ‘wow.’”

Lackovich’s legal troubles first surfaced in October 2015, weeks prior to Aliquippa’s undefeated season. The Quips became only the 13th WPIAL boys team to win a state title with a perfect record, but a cloud hung over the season. Their coach was under investigation on suspicion of breeding dogs to fight and holding fights in his house, according to a search warrant unsealed in 2015.

“Nothing happened,” Lackovich said. “They filed no charges. Nothing. This goes on for like a year and a half. Nothing. Just leaving me hanging.”

Months passed, and investigators hadn’t returned items taken during the search of his home, so his attorney filed a motion asking for the property. It was during that hearing, Lackovich said, that he was told about the other allegations.

“My attorney came out (from talking with the judge) and said: ‘There’s obviously no dog-fighting case here, but the state police said they did find this on your computer: Images of child pornography.’ … My jaw hits the floor.”

In November 2016, Lackovich was charged with two counts of sexual abuse of children by knowingly possessing child pornography, Beaver County’s district attorney said.

“It was like two things on a computer that I had nothing to do with,” said Lackovich, noting that others had access to those devices. “Anybody could have been on it.”

The charges were dropped in July 2017.

“The computer report said ‘possible’ child pornography,” he added. “You know how reckless and crazy that is? We kept trying to get them to go to court. They kept continuing the case and dragging it out until we finally got our chance. We went to court, and they dropped everything.”

Lackovich now works construction at the Shell Chemicals cracker plant in Beaver County. He said he’s willing to show the clean criminal background clearances that prove the allegations were unfounded, but he knows that’s not enough for everybody.

He discovered that to be true while searching for a new place to coach.

“I applied for probably five or six jobs around the WPIAL, and it was the same every time,” he said. “I couldn’t even get an interview. They’d turn around and hire a young kid who’d never coached before. That was very frustrating.”

Now that Aliquippa has welcomed him back, he’s optimistic he can put the past five years behind him.

“I needed this,” Lackovich said. “When this happened, I lost a lot. And I’ve gained everything back. This was the final thing that I needed. I needed this for me.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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