Finley’s firing revealing, embarrassing

Shane Wade

Opinion Editor

What do you do with a coach coming off a 25-6 regular season record, a 3rd place ranking in Conference play and a perfect player graduation rate?

Apparently, if you’re VCU’s Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin, you fire them.

Unless there’s some evidence to support the implication that former volleyball Coach James Finley has some moral failings as a leader and character, the termination of Finley does not bode well for VCU’’s administration or McLaughlin.

It appears as if the university’s administration, while obviously aware of Finley’s firing, were initially unaware about the allegations that it was based on Finley’s sexual orientation. Students and supporters of Finley that contacted President Michael Rao’s office early Tuesday morning expecting to hear the standard public statement defending an executive decision instead found themselves breaking the news of the allegations.

For an issue so actually and potentially controversial, the administration should have been prepared for the public backlash. John Sternlicht, Finley’s husband, requested, via Facebook, that concerned individuals contact President Rao. Liz Canfield, an assistant professor in the gender, sexuality and women studies department wrote an open letter to colleagues, urging them to speak out on the “highly disturbing situation.” Local blogs and news outlets, including NBC 12 and GayRVA, all reported on the allegations of discrimination in relation to Finley’s termination.

Coach Finley is a well-respected member of the Richmond and VCU community that has continually represented our school in an appropriate and dignified way. Finley told The CT that McLaughlin simply said that VCU wanted to go in a different direction and never recieved a real explanation for the decision.

No matter what circumstances or personal feelings, McLaughlin should have confronted Finley in a professional manner and taken the time to adequately articulate the reasons as to why Finley was being let go. What direction does McLaughlin want to take our volleyball team? What deficiencies were evident in and under Finley’s leadership that require a change?

McLaughlin’s reasoning for terminating Finley, and consequentially making such a sweeping change, didn’t cite performance, but rather direction and leadership. Although Finley only has a win percentage of 56, with a record of 151-116, when he first came to VCU in 2005, he took a losing, unrecognized team that was 6-21 and turned it around, acquiring 126 wins along the way. VCU Athletics’ website itself praises Finley for “(steering) the Rams toward national prominence.”

McLaughlin’s decision would have been more defensible to the public and VCU community had his press release highlighted specifics in regards to the character necessary to further elevate our volleyball team to “an elite level nationally.”

It’s difficult to prove someone was fired or discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, particularly in a right-to-work state like Virginia, where homosexuals are not technically a protected group. Whether the allegations are true or not, this incident will put a spotlight on future decisions made by McLaughlin, as well as who replaces Finley as head coach.

In my last editorial, I discussed VCU’s need to re-evaluate the way they qualify and discuss diversity in terms of the general student populace. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to do the same in evaluating their selection’s for personnel and administrators. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not representative of the culture, environment or values of VCU.

The national spotlight is on VCU after our academic and athletic achievements in recent years and this controversy is a blight upon both our athletic department and our university as a whole. This goes beyond the accusations of sexual discrimination into the territory of self-sabotage; the VCU community needs to know why a winning coach and a successful individual is being fired.

It’s fine for McLaughlin to make changes, but those changes need to be implemented in a professional and transparent manner.

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