Despite appearances, no discord in athletic department

Since December 2016, six of MSU Denver’s 11 total athletic head coaches have either been fired, resigned or moved on to different schools.

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MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan (right) is honored by Athletic Director Anthony Grant (left) and the athletic department before the game against UCCS at the Auraria Event Center on Feb. 18, 2017. Roadrunners won the game 65-59. Photo by Kenny Martinez | kmart143@msudenver.edu

The women’s soccer and golf, tennis, track and field, and men’s basketball and baseball programs all have had head coaching changes in the past 10 months, which has fueled speculation that things aren’t so peachy on the fourth floor of the administration building. However, Director of Athletics Anthony Grant wants to set the record straight. There is no discord in the athletics department.

“The coaching changes within the athletic department over the past year can be attributed to numerous individual scenarios that occurred in relatively close succession of each other,” Grant said. “There is nothing going on within the department that is causing these coaches to leave. Transition is common in intercollegiate athletics.”

Grant’s statement is reasonable. Career-minded coaches consistently use schools as stepping stones to higher paying, more visible jobs. One needs only to look at the situation of Lane Kiffin, a football coach who famously and consistently eschewed his previous commitments when a better opportunity arose. When he was hired at the University of Tennessee, he signed a six-year deal worth millions. When the University of Southern California came calling for his services, he unceremoniously quit at Tennessee after only one season at the helm. Fans felt so betrayed that they rioted in the streets.

It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates that transition is indeed common in athletics. But career advancement isn’t the only reason coaches move on.

“The reasons for the coaching changes range from family decisions, promotion within the department and opportunities for career advancement,” Grant said. “In the midst of these changes, our department is strong and continues to progress in the right direction. I am excited about the new coaches and staff that we have hired over the last year and look forward to their future success.”

Former MSU Denver baseball coach Jerrid Oates took a promotion to assistant director of athletics on May 31, 2017. Of the six coaching changes made in the past year, Oates is the only former coach still with the school. Photo by Geoff Ziegler | gziegler@msudenver.edu

The first of the six coaches to depart was women’s soccer coach Adrianne Pietz. After nine seasons, Pietz resigned on Dec. 2, 2016. She cited family as the reason for her resignation.

“My decision to step away from the Roadrunners women’s soccer program was a difficult one,” Pietz said. “I am an alumni and almost all my coaching career has been at MSU Denver. This is a very special place to me.  With the birth of my daughter last year, I have decided that I want my next position to be as a mother to her.  It was not an easy decision, but I know it is the right one.”

Nothing fishy there. Most new parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children, so Pietz’s decision was an understandable one.

The athletics department announced on the same day that track and field coach Nick Maas was moving on to Division I school Western Illinois to be the assistant cross-country coach. This one falls under the category of career advancement. It may be a step down in title, but it’s a step up in competition level and visibility.

The next one to go was men’s basketball coach Derrick Clark. The circumstances surrounding his departure are unclear, but what is clear is that he was fired by the department on March 30. All that is known is that he was suspended for three games late last season, and when he was supposed to return, he took an indefinite leave of absence that extended to the end of the season, when he was terminated.

Former head baseball coach and current assistant director of athletics Jerrid Oates was placed in his current position on May 31, and it was phrased as a promotion. Oates said that it had always been his goal to transition into an administrative position, so it seemed like this was a win-win for both parties.

Former women’s golf head coach Ben Portie took the opportunity to move to a Division I school just like Maas. However, unlike Maas, Portie kept his title as women’s golf head coach when he moved to the University of Northern Colorado on June 15.

The new women’s golf coach, Stephanie Ferguson, was hired on Sept. 27, three weeks after the team began competition. While it’s very strange for a program not to have a coach during their season, student-athletes like golfer Lindsey Gullikson took it in stride.

“I understand that the world of college athletics is always changing,” Gullikson said. “People are always getting different jobs. We’re not an Alabama or an LSU, we’re not having coaches getting paid millions of dollars.”

Lastly, Daniel Hangstefer moved on from his position as head tennis coach on June 29 to take the same position at another Division II school. In reality, this is the only peculiar career move. It’s a lateral move division-wise and he didn’t get any type of promotion title-wise. But, one peculiar move doesn’t make a conspiracy.athletic

One thing that the turnover might indicate is a certain lack of stability in the department’s programs. Barrett Elkins, the new tennis coach, was hired only two days before his team began competition. The late hire caused him to face some unique challenges.

“They were mentally ready,” Elkins said of the players’ readiness upon his arrival. “They wanted to do it, but I think the preparation they were doing on their own was the wrong kind of preparation.”

Logistical issues aside, from all accounts, the athletic department is operating business as usual. While it may seem like coaches are leaving at an alarming rate, it just so happens that all of the turnover is due to reasonable, grounded decisions. No cause for alarm.

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