Former VCU head volleyball coach James Finley says his relationship with VCU’s new athletic director, Ed McLaughlin “was non-existent”. So it came as a surprise to Finley when McLaughlin sat him down on Nov. 19, after the team’s season was over, and informed him VCU would not be renewing his contract.
Finley told The CT that McLaughlin told him that VCU wanted to “go in a different direction,” saying he was only in McLaughlin’s office for three or four minutes and never received an explanation for the decision.
“I was shocked that it happened and very surprised,” Finley said.
He said the two had hardly ever spoken since VCU announced McLaughlin took the position on July 24. Finley’s players informed him that McLaughlin told the volleyball team that VCU wants someone who “would represent the university well,” a statement that didn’t sit well with Finley, who is openly gay.
“As a gay man, I’m used to all the code where people are doing stuff against you but they don’t want people to know they are,” Finley said. “You can’t have a good record and good grades on your team and just get let go for no reason.”
Finley is coming off a 25-6 regular season record, a 3rd place ranking in conference play and a perfect player graduation rate.
Finley said he met with Velma Jackson-Williams, an assistant vice provost, saying she told him VCU was going to launch an investigation.
VCU is limited in its ability to comment on the issue but VCU spokeswoman Pamela Lepley did reiterate VCU’s commitment to diversity in a statement.
“The employment action was taken in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies,” Lepley said.
McLaughlin said in his statement that he did not make his decision based on Finley’s sexuality.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Finley feels the decision not to renew his contract was based on anything other than previously stated concerns about the volleyball program,” he said.
Finley said that McLaughlin has displayed a pattern of discrimination, demoting the only other openly gay member of VCU’s athletic department staff. Pat Stauffer is a 30-year employee of VCU Athletics and was demoted from Senior Women’s Administrator to Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Administration.
He said many of the biggest donors of VCU’s athletic department, for volleyball and other sports, are familiar with him and his husband John Sternlicht. Some even attended their wedding.
Finley says university donors are calling VCU President Michael Rao’s office and other departments saying they won’t donate unless Finley is re-hired.
“People are saying that they’re not going to give any money until this is taken care of,” Finley said. “Some of our biggest donors for volleyball have said ‘This is crazy, we’re not putting up with this.’ I’m blown away by the support I’ve gotten.”
Camilla Hill, a graduate assistant with the VCU Office of Multicultural Affairs sent an email around noon yesterday, which included a message from Finley, to many students and faculty in an attempt to raise awareness and support for the former coach.
“We’re trying to help James in any way possible. We’re just trying to facilitate the discussion,” Hill said.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs is encouraging students and faculty to call or email messages of support for Finley to the offices of Rao and Vice President for Diversity, Wanda Mitchell.
Finley said the first thing senior captain Kristin Boyd said to him after he was let go was in regards to his sexuality. Finley said Boyd asked, “Coach, you’re getting fired because you’re gay, didn’t you?”
“I was really shocked, considering our record was so good,” Boyd said. “I think (the fact that he’s gay) had a big part in (his being let go).”
Boyd says that regardless of anyone’s views on gay-rights, “nobody should be treated differently because they like the same sex.”
In the 15 years before Finley’s arrival, the volleyball program never finished with over a .500 record. This season, the team came in at 25-6 overall. Finley won his 150th game this season but said he never got a call or thank-you message from the athletic director, saying that he feels it has been a “hostile environment.”
Finley also said that McLaughlin had no basis on which to evaluate him as a coach.
“I’ve never had a meeting with me to talk about my program. He never introduced himself to my players and he never met my staff,” Finley said.
Finley said his being let go should not be because of his sexuality and that he just wants his job back.
“I’m disappointed that someone in this place of power could behave in this way,” Finley said.
Gay RVA first posted about the issue yesterday on its website and posts popped up on social media sites like Reddit. Finley said he been speaking with many members of the media and has more interviews scheduled for today, including one with the Associated Press.