In May of 2018, three student-athletes from UMKC softball shared with university officials allegations of sexual harassment by their assistant coach, Greg Bachkora.
Less damning than Bachkora admitting these allegations were true is the fact that the university failed to discipline him until after this story was announced and shamefully dissected by the public. The players complained to administration of repeated incidents where Bachkora would enter the locker room to use the microwave while the athletes were undressing. Rather than analyzing this behavior and investigating for the safety of its student-athletes, UMKC opted to purchase a microwave for its peeping staff member. One of the athletes even reported saying “He’s seen me naked more than my boyfriend has.” The investigation into the truth of these allegations is still ongoing.
I honestly wish I was writing about athletic administrators’ blind eye to the inappropriate behavior of their male coaches as being an anomaly. Unfortunately, it is not. While I blame each of the listed male coaches for their own behavior, equally to blame is the leadership in college athletics who simply look past these repeated resignations and continue employing these men without a second thought to their victims. These victims are the student-athletes.
If you are wondering if I hunted down any examples of abusive female coaches in my research, yes I found a few. However, this is less about proving the guilt or innocence of the coaches in this piece and more about the fact that the handling of each case is so drastically contrasting when it comes to the issue of men being rehired while women are methodically excluded.
Based on the list below, the secret to longevity in the NCAA after you’ve committed missteps or been slapped on the wrist for abusing players, is simple. Your odds are at their best if you are male and even higher if you are a male in a revenue sport like football or basketball.
The below list includes only a few examples of the countless men in athletics who have been removed for athlete physical abuse, inappropriate player relationships and mistreatment yet have successfully landed on their feet before the ink on their previous resignation could dry.
- Mike Leach, former Head Coach Texas Tech, Football
Leach was fired as football coach at Texas Tech after he was accused of sending an injured player into a storage shed as punishment. Leach has since been hired by Washington State and recently had his contract extended through 2023 despite another player accusing him of abusive behavior.
- Ehren Earleywine, former head coach Missouri, Softball
Earleywine was fired over investigation and multiple accusations rolling over from the previous administration that included player treatment and abuse. After AD Jim Sterk reopened the investigation, Mizzou found these allegations to hold weight. Earleywine was sent packing but was hired by the Jefferson County Public School system as an AD in Missouri in less than 45 days after being dismissed from Mizzou.
- Matt Bollant, former Head Coach University of Illinois, Women’s Basketball
The former Illini staffer who had one winning season in five years and was sued two years ago for allegedly abusing players was also marked by complaints of racial tension. Seven former players filed a lawsuit in 2015 accusing Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss of creating a racially abusive environment. A IU report said the claims were unfounded but paid out $375,000 settlement to be divided among the players. Bollant’s garbage was picked up less than 30 days later in a less than lateral move by its neighbors to the south in Charleston, at Eastern Illinois University. Bollant is serving as the head women’s basketball coach of the Panthers currently.
- Sean Woods, former Head Coach Morehead State, Men’s Basketball
In November 2016, Woods was suspended as head coach at Morehead State as result of an investigation into player mistreatment. Woods resigned after being charged with battery of two of his players and was subsequently charged when a player’s father claimed to ESPN that Woods head-butted his son during a game in Evansville. Woods was rehired as an assistant at Stetson less than a year later and is presently the head coach at Southern University out of Louisiana.
- Jim Southerland, current head coach, Idaho State University, Diving
After Southerland’s wife came forward alleging his inappropriate relationship with a female diver prior to his tenure at ISU, she claimed this behavior led to their divorce. Southerland as well as the victim reportedly admitted their relationship to his wife. Southerland was suspended during the investigation conducted by the Center for Safesport. ISU Athletic Director Rob Spear had been recently fired himself, after complaints surfaced that he improperly handled sexual misconduct allegations against a former football player. Southerland was re-instated as head coach of the diving team.
- Greg Winslow, former head coach, University of Utah, Swimming
Winslow molested a young swimmer while at Arizona State University in 2006, but then was re-hired at Utah where he was eventually fired for inappropriate behavior. Utah’s Athletic Director Chris Hill said he should have been fired earlier.
- Hugh Freeze, former Head Coach Ole Miss, Football
Freeze was cited by the NCAA in 2016 for 21 violations while at Ole Miss and earned his program a 1-year department-imposed suspension from the post season. While the violations did not lead to termination, Freeze eventually resigned after an investigation revealed he made over a dozen phone calls to an escort service on a university issued cell phone. Freeze was named head coach at Liberty University under former Baylor disgraced AD, Ian McCaw.
- Ric Seeley, former Head Coach Quinnipiac University Women’s Ice Hockey
Seeley was let go from Clarkson University after an investigation and accusations for abusive behavior toward players. Quinnipiac University then picked up the conference opponent coach and hired him. Seeley was eventually removed once more from coaching at QU in 2015 after 5 years of athlete complaints surfaced during Seeley’s attempt to countersue the university for wrongful termination. Although given a second chance at coaching college hockey, Seeley has not been given a third. Seeley was briefly issued a shot at coaching the Chinese National Women’s Hockey Team in 2015, but was eventually dismissed from that post as well.
- Jordan Stevens, former Head Coach Valparaiso, Softball
April of 2014 Stevens was mysteriously issued a leave of absence after rumors surfaced with the administration that he was issuing inappropriate attention to a certain player. Stevens resigned within weeks of his temporary leave and was hired less than 60 days later by the University of North Dakota where he currently holds the head softball coach post.
- Shane Bouman, former Head Coach Indiana State, Softball
Bouman was released in 2017 after ISU relieved him of his duties. Director of Athletics Sherard Clinkscales made a public statement that Bouman had created an “environment that just wasn’t conducive for student-athletes to able to thrive and excel beyond their abilities” as well as referring to Bouman’s team culture as not yielding kind of environment the department wants. Bouman was rehired by the Christ-centered Northwestern College in Iowa in 2018.
- Matt Heath, former head coach College of Charleston, Baseball
Heath was fired as the College of Charleston’s head baseball coach for alleged verbal and physical abuse of his players. The matter is pending in a lawsuit where Heath claims wrongful termination; but while he waits, he is collecting a paycheck as the pitching coach at the University of Tennessee-Martin.
Lee Dobbins, former head coach Ottawa University Arizona, Softball
This coach’s name popped up absolutely everywhere in the softball community when we asked our coaches to list out consistent resignations under suspicious reasoning. We saved Coach Dobbins for last because while his resume is a mile long it’s actually quite impressive that institutions who typically turn applicants away who demonstrate multiple short term commitments, have no problem recycling Dobbins back in. Dobbins has been a head coach, assistant, GA and recruiting coordinator at the below schools. Dobbins has been one of the most successful coaches at covering his tracks than any coach we have ever researched.
Ottawa University Arizona ’17-’18, MidAmerica Nazarene University ’16-17, University of Buffalo ’14-’15, Southern University ’13-’14, Emory University ’12-’13, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ’10-’11, Austin Peay State University ’08-’10, Texas A&M International, Laredo Texas 07’-’08, Lander University ’05-’06, Tusculum ’02-’04, Tennessee ’99-’0, Chattanooga State Community college ’96-’97
Let’s now refocus our lenses to another list. The following is a list of women who were fired and then won their suit or settlement in a court of law where fault was found to be with the university. While very few coaches in the business of college athletics are able to sustain financially to fight the system, there have been a few women who have fought the decisions of their termination in a court of law. Even when female coaches go to court and cleared of allegations, history provides us little evidence that they will ever be recycled back into the system.
- Petra Martin, former head coach Rutgers, Swimming and Diving
Rutgers fired Martin in November 2017 after complaints over her leadership style. Martin denied the allegations. The university cleared Martin of any misconduct and paid her remaining contract with an additional $200,000 in emotional damages for a total of $725k. Rutgers Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs was required to write a letter of recommendation for Martin as she seeks future employment.
Jody Runge, former head coach, Oregon Women’s Basketball
Runge resigned in the spring of 2001. According to a few of her players, then-athletic director Bill Moos, held a meeting to pry for information against Runge. The hope was to extract dissatisfied feedback on their coach. Runge eventually resigned believing she would have a future somewhere else. Runge’s tenure included great success with the Ducks. The Pac-10 coach led her program to the NCAA tournament in each of her eight seasons, with two Pac-10 titles and victories in 70 percent of her games. Despite her resume, Runge has not been accepted back into college basketball.
- Robin Lamott Sparks, former head coach Quinnipiac, Volleyball
Lamott Sparks was fired by Quinnipiac for alleged abuse. Lamott Sparks was also a Title IX whistleblower at the institution and eventually settled the retaliation and wrongful termination lawsuit. During Lamott Sparks’ tenure, she and five of her athletes filed a Title IX lawsuit against Quinnipiac University to improve the treatment of female athletes and save the volleyball program from elimination. The suit has been one of the most important Title IX cases to have been litigated in many years, and a number of important legal precedents were set in the five legal decisions that they won. The case settled in June 2013. Since then, Lamott Sparks has applied to intercollegiate coaching positions 30 times and counting and not been rehired, despite being exonerated.
- Shannon Miller, Head Coach, University of Minnesota Duluth, Women’s Ice Hockey
The five-time NCAA national championship coach and arguably the most accomplished women’s hockey coach in the history of college athletics was let go in 2014 after the university claimed that her salary was too high. Miller sued the university for gender discrimination and Title IX retaliation and won her case in federal court for 3.74 million dollars in 2018. Miller has not been rehired or considered for a position anywhere in the NCAA.
- Stacey Johnson-Klein, former head coach, Fresno State, Women’s Basketball
Johnson-Klein was fired from Fresno State after the university argued that she was abusive. Johnson-Klein was awarded $19.1 million in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against Fresno. Despite the unanimous jury verdict and Klein cleared of allegations, she has not been rehired in the NCAA.
- Jen Banford, former head coach, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Softball
Despite having positive performance reviews and a successful program Banford’s contract was not renewed at UMD in 2015. Banford publicly stated that she believed she was being retaliated against for supporting Shannon Miller and the women’s hockey program. Banford retained legal counsel to combat the discrimination she alleged against UMD and her case was sent to state court. Banford has not been rehired.
- Beth Burns, current assistant strength and conditioning coach, Louisville, Women’s Basketball
Burns filed a civil suit in San Diego Superior Court in 2014, claiming wrongful termination and whistleblower retaliation for complaining about potential Title IX violations. The California State University system alleged that as the Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Burns had mistreated subordinates and hit one. The case went to trial in the summer of 2016 and a 12-person jury unanimously awarded her 3.35 million. After a four year wait, Burns was hired as an assistant strength coach at the University of Louisville.
- Tracey Griesbaum, former head coach, University of Iowa, Field Hockey
Greisbaum and her partner Jane Meyer were awarded over $6 million in damages after a jury unanimously decided to hold Athletic Director Gary Barta and the Hawkeye department accountable for their discriminatory and sexist practices they exposed these women to.
Greisbaum, a well known, wildly talented NCAA D-I field hockey coach was forced to part ways from the university and despite winning her case hands down, she now holds a post as volunteer assistant field hockey coach at Duke.
One of the most successful and professional coaches in women’s NCAA athletics has been sent down to the minors and despite the jury agreeing that Greisbaum was not at fault for her termination, she will be forced to re-climb the ladder of an entry level 25 year old all over again if she ever wants to coach in D-I athletics.
In attempting to collect voices from the women’s coaching community to share the stories of their elimination from college athletics, many have confided their stories to the Fearless Coach, but remain far too fearful or bound by gag-orders to go on record.
The Reality For Female Coaches
Choosing to fight is rare but winning as a woman against the system and being welcomed back into the business of college athletics – almost unheard of.
Second chance employment in college athletics continues to be evasive for women while the male coaches listed in this piece were all were issued do-overs and rehired back into the system regardless of who they hurt and when.
Let’s not forget the countless women who have been eliminated from athletics but are not listed because they lacked the funds, time or opportunity to fight back in a court of law which is an even more alarming statistic. Continuing to turn our backs on hiring the women who have been eliminated from coaching despite unanimous verdicts and settlements proving they were not at fault, reveals several things about the NCAA and its membership administrators:
- The intercollegiate athletics stage is completely ill-prepared and hypocritical for marketing strong female athletes and college coaches when this is not what the majority of schools are seeking. Active stonewalling of wrongfully accused women in college athletics proves that the athletic leadership in the NCAA prefers quiet and submissive, over brave and relentless.
- The system has perfected its machine that is clear in its manufactured messages that while the system and juries may decide in the favor of these women, it is still not enough to be able to bolster a return for them back into the profession they love.
- The NCAA system is broken for women and until there is any directive or recognition of this issue from the top down, institutions will continue to not only judge and penalize women in contrast to their male counterparts, but we are putting our athletes at risk by exposing them to recycled predators and abusers.
- While the boys club culture is a huge issue in this space, women-led organizations particularly for female NCAA administrators are failing massively to recognize and own their responsibility in this equation.
The NCAA and its members have a genuine chance to heal its wounded image in the wake of what feels like countless, consecutive and damning scandals involving sexual abuse at Michigan State, rape at Baylor, abuse at Penn State etc. Not only will bringing this issue to the forefront help the NCAA deal with its black eye on their inability to protect student-athletes, but hopefully force them to face the truth that the unlawful removal and blackballing of some of our best coaches in the business, all happen to be women.
Gift honoring alumna supports women in Ole Leadership Academy
While there has been an explosion of girls and women participating in athletics since Title IX, only about 40% of them are coached by women. The film explores supporting research, dispels false narratives, celebrates female coaching pioneers at all levels of competition and highlights stories of success and hardship. Their stories are the universal stories of women coaches who fight many battles to pursue their passion to coach. Produced in collaboration between Twin Cities Public Television and the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.
Thank you Becky Carlson for this very important read!
The steady decline of female college coaches over the last 30 years is not an opinion, it is a fact. Among the most detrimental results of female coaches leaving or being forced out of the profession, here is one that many probably haven’t considered:
Athletics may never allow another Pat Summitt.
We can all read about leadership and post as many inspirational John Wooden memes as as we see fit. However, actually practicing, living and re-teaching their lessons comes with its own set of challenges, especially for female coaches. I have read my share of Pat Summitt books and have much admiration for the late fearless leader of the Lady Vols. I’ve even met a few former Tennessee players who would walk through fire for Coach Summitt today without a second thought.
A few years ago, I met one of Coach Summitt’s former players who is currently a successful high school athletic director. She spoke about a particular game the team lost during her tenure at Tennessee and more notably, the return trip home. She talked about how Coach Summitt told them that UT paid for the team to eat but only if the team gave their best effort. She shared that the team knew they had not played up to their own standards and had accepted missing dinner that night.
When I asked the former player what kind of personal feelings she had over this particular memory, she was overwhelmed with nostalgic respect for Coach Summitt and agreed as a leader that she had “every right to teach a hard lesson at that time”. The more we chatted the more we chuckled at the prospect of this method being employed in high school or college today. Both of us agreed we would lose our jobs if we ever chose this lesson to be the one we borrowed from Coach Summitt.
I then asked her directly, “Do you believe if Coach Summitt was reincarnated today and lived her legacy all over again as another female coach, would she ever be able to do it her way with this generation?”
She replied with an immediate “no”.
While I was fascinated by this former player’s story it left me wondering about the athletes of today and how different that scenario would play out in present time under a tough female coach of far less prominence than Coach Summitt.
I’ve heard many stories about other female college coaches such as Vivian Stringer, Dawn Staley and Tara VanDerveer. All of whom are accredited with successfully dishing out tough and notable lessons. These are some of the top names in the business of women’s college basketball where very few fans would bat an eye at some of the most rumored practices in toughness. Male coaches like Geno Auriemma write openly in their books about their direct methods and no-apologies attitude while they are revered for their honesty and passion. So where does that leave the rest of us?
Outside of the big names in women’s college basketball, what about the other 99% of female college coaches who work to have positive coach-athlete relationships but are tough on their players when it comes to the core values? The Summitt mentality is valuable and indeed a proven system but is the average athletic administration outside of D-I women’s NCAA powerhouse basketball prepared or interested in carving out space for new strong, direct and passionate female coaches?
For me, the answer is absolutely not.
The list of women in coaching who have been dismissed is alarming and our percentage of women coaches at 41.7% is actively on a backslide. (Stat courtesy of WeCoachSports.org)
There’s no doubt that somewhere in the population of up-and-coming fired female coaches was the next Pat Summitt. She was armed as a forward-thinker with a winning persona but given the current environment in athletics where strong women are devalued, it’s becoming more probable that we may never meet her.
Many of the changes for student-athlete safety and welfare have been positive additions to the philosophy and missions of departments and universities. However, as the institutions tweak their policies with the vast majority of leadership still being white males over 50, there has also been an abrupt elimination of accountability and ownership specifically for female athletes where the natural tendency is for male ADs to prompt their female coaches to protect rather than teach.
A few years ago, I went to a forum for the then-named Alliance of Women Coaches, now the WeCoach organization. During this seminar we had a breakout session where administrators and coaches were issued roundtable topics. I specifically chose a group where I was the only coach with several administrators. Our topic was dealing with explaining athlete playing time and reducing conflict in that area. As the only coach, I volunteered to go first and proudly explained our methodology for posting in the locker room what each player needed to work on in order to gain a starting position. In the middle of my explanation, a very prominent and respected female AD began to shake her head in disagreement and interrupted.
“Wait, you post it for the rest of the team to see?” she asked.
“Yes, this way it is transparent and it eliminates locker room chatter or drama for the team to know what each player needs to accomplish individually in order to start. It’s worked out well for us with no complaints,” I explained.
“That would never fly in my department,” she replied. “Any coach who did that would not last very long. You cannot embarrass female athletes like that.” she said.
This scenario was a learning moment and a puzzling one given that that very method I had explained and employed was borrowed and slightly tweaked directly from the leadership presentation of 13-time NCAA Champion UCLA coaching legend, Sue Enquist and her “Roll Call”. I had taken notes on this presentation only a few months before and found it amusing that this advice from a hall of fame coach would be so adamantly frowned upon when implemented by a non-hall of fame female college coach.
I think back on it now and wonder how many times the leadership at UCLA could have easily extinguished the bright light of one of the most amazing coaches of our time if they had chosen to see her strength and innovation as a threat, rather than an asset. Thankfully we were all lucky enough to watch Coach Enquist’s journey of unprecedented success but unfortunately, the next generation of female coach superstars are at risk for extinction.
This written piece is still about Coach Summitt and her leadership but is also about the minority of leadership who chooses to stick with these remarkable female coaches early on in their career. There are typically a few athletic directors on the resumes of every coach as they move through their years in the profession and each may have a different philosophy and mindset about what they want to achieve. However, every coach has someone they report to and every GREAT coach has someone who supported their journey to become legendary.
We must support our female coaches in their pursuit of going from good to great. This means we must be respected even when our decisions are unpopular, our faces are not wearing permanent smiles, and our tones fail to deliver a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Keep in mind, these are all among the most common characteristics of the same leadership we praise male coaches for. Great coaches became so because they were permitted to coach in their own skin where enthusiasm, innovation, confidence and courage were ingredients for success rather than a recipe for elimination. Female powerhouse coaches in major D-I sports cannot be the only ones institutions and departments allow to become great.
All divisions of the NCAA, JUCO and NAIA female coaches are much more the future of our sports than even the current big names. The next group of Coach Summitts are somewhere working their way up to great, but if we are not prepared to defend and support them along the way, it is a highly likely we may never get to witness that greatness again.