Player dissension played a significant role in the forced resignation of head coach Cliff McCrath, Athletic Director Tom Box and several players on the SPU men’s soccer team said on Monday.
"We faced an exodus of team members who would leave the program or transfer if McCrath continued coaching," Box said in an interview.
However, former players and alumni denounced the university’s action. Also, coaches from competing programs in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) have discussed dropping the SPU men’s team from their schedules.
Moreover, an anonymous source close to members of the athletic department said multiple coaches at SPU are upset to the point that more than one "feels like resigning in protest." Coaches could not be reached to confirm the claim.
SPU announced on Nov. 19 that McCrath was retiring after 38 years at the helm of the men’s soccer team. However, two hours before President Philip Eaton informed campus of McCrath’s retirement, the coach told KIRO radio host Dori Monson he had been pressured to resign.
McCrath repeated his assertion in interviews with The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Falcon last week. Columnist Art Thiel of the P-I criticized the university’s handling of the situation, saying they told McCrath to "get out, with no second chance, and make sure to lie about it."
Eaton defended the university’s decision in a Nov. 21 e-mail to faculty and staff.
"After intense hours of face-to-face conversation with Cliff about serious concerns about the program, finally we asked him to retire, and we mutually agreed it was time," Eaton said.
"We have tried to do this with integrity," Eaton said Monday at a faculty and staff forum. "I stand by the decisions we’ve made."
On Tuesday, returning players from the team issued a statement supporting the university.
"We appreciate all that Cliff has done for this program in the past, and for the game of soccer throughout the years….Still the team feels that it is time for new leadership and completely supports and appreciates the coaching change recently made by the SPU administration."
In an e-mail forwarded to The Falcon Tuesday, junior Ben Lovelace elaborated on player concerns.
"As a player under Cliff over the last three years I have experienced little of what I was promised from soccer, the college experience, and the Seattle Pacific University mission statement," Lovelace said. "Over the last three years I felt like myself and a majority of my teammates have been misled and underdeveloped as people of faith, players, and young men."
Another player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect scholarship and team standing, added: "People threatened the administration to not come back if he was here coaching next season."
In its statement Tuesday, the team expressed excitement about assistant coach Mark Collings taking over the program.
"Mark Collings is the new leader of the men’s soccer program here at SPU," the statement said. "We are all extremely excited to play under Mark and look forward to his leadership, guidance and vision as we all continue the strong traditions and goals of the Falcons men’s soccer team."
While frustrated that players threatened to leave, McCrath said Tuesday he does not believe this was the main reason he was asked to step down.
"Players are not by any means the real solid thing behind it," McCrath said. "Having a problem with players is not some heinous crime; it’s a sociological part of the job."
He added, "There are players on that team that couldn’t have stayed without me going to bat for them. I wasn’t the best coach for them because I didn’t tolerate some of the things I saw…I hate to put it this way, but sometimes you just have to graduate your problems. I still love them even if they put a spike in my back."
McCrath said that, during a Nov. 2 meeting, Box and Eaton asked him to step down because of over-commitment in other activities, the direction of the soccer program, his unwillingness to take counsel and player dissatisfaction.
However, McCrath said Tuesday that a number of other reasons were at play, but he would not elaborate.
McCrath leaves 10 wins shy of becoming the winningest coach in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer history. McCrath said he asked to coach one more season to break the record, but Eaton and Box said, no.
"I have personally desired for many years to see the record broken for most wins by any coach," Box said Monday. "Finding the scenario for Cliff to capture the wins record is not our priority; our focus is students."
In an e-mail to Eaton, Sonoma State University head coach Marcus Ziemer suggested that McCrath be given the chance to pursue the record at SPU.
"I wanted to let you know that unless I hear reason(s) which justify the forced retirement of Cliff McCrath (ten wins before holding the all-time record for most wins by an NCAA soccer coach) then I am not going to schedule games against the Seattle Pacific Men’s Soccer team," Ziemer said.
Ziemer is not alone in considering such an action. California State University Stanislaus head coach Eric Mild and Chico State University’s Mike O’Malley confirmed their disappointment in the handling of the McCrath situation during telephone interviews Tuesday.
Both said coaches in the CCAA have discussed dropping SPU from the schedule, though nothing is definite.
Alumni, including many of McCrath’s former players, have also been outspoken in support of the coach.
Alumnus Peter Hattrup, part of two Division II championship teams in 1983 and 1985, said he is not in favor of the way the SPU administration has handled the forced resignation of McCrath.
"Coaches are unfortunately hired to be fired," Hattrup said. "But for someone who spent 38 years at the university, I think he just deserves to go out in a better manner. His departure should have been celebrated."
Others spoke in stronger terms.
Lon Randall, former SPU executive vice president under President Dave McKenna, wrote in a letter to Box, "I have managed thousands of people, and in my opinion you have made the most colossal mistake I have ever witnessed, whether in the Christian College, the United States Government, or other organizations on whose Board of Directors I have served."
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Title: Opinions clash over McCrath | Author: Daniel Miller | Section: News | Published Date: 2007-11-28 | Internal ID: 6163