Last week former volleyball coach James Finley was informed that his contract would not be renewed after eight years with the program. Finley had just finished one of his most successful seasons as a Ram, 26-5 and an appearance in the Atlantic 10 semifinals in his first season in the conference.
Yesterday, a letter surfaced on our forum, found by a poster on Reddit.com. Shortly after, I spoke with former coach James Finley who confirmed that he had in fact written the letter posted below.
First let me say thank you to everyone for your support. Second, let me give you a short update of events. I have been the head women’s volleyball coach for the past 8 years. We have run a very successful program, completing this season with a 25-6 record.
I am also an openly gay man who is married to wonderful man. Together we have three sons, one who is still in high school. I have been open and accepted with my husband in the VCU athletic department and university community since the beginning of my tenure. Now begins the change. VCU hired a new director of athletics, Ed McLaughlin. He started at VCU in August, 2012. Since his arrival he has never asked to meet with me, or introduced himself to my staff or to our student athletes within the volleyball program. In addition, he has been uncomfortable even avoiding me in public settings, like booster, donor socials and even in the hallway or on campus.
In early October the only other openly gay staff member in the athletic department, Patricia Stauffer, an employee of over 30 years, was stripped of her title as Senior Women’s Administrator. She has been asked to continue doing the work, but now has no public visibility within the athletic department, university or community.
After returning home from the A 10 championships last Sunday, I was asked to meet with Ed in his office. It was simply stated that he wanted to go in a different direction and therefore, was not renewing my contract. I would no longer be employed by VCU after December 31, 2012.
To my knowledge these are the only two negative personnel moves Mr. McLaughlin has made in his 4 months with VCU. My team informed me that Mr. McLaughlin stated in his short meeting with them later on Monday, that he wanted someone who would represent the university well.
He then alluded to something about character. Then again said, ” I just want to go in a different direction”. Many of us will recognize these statement as code to attempt to disguise anti gay motives.
One cannot help but question why the only two openly gay staff members have been removed from a position of being a public representative of the athletic department.
I have requested to meet with Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Rao on Monday to discuss the apparent disregard for the VCU anti discrimination policy.
I believe it is important at this time to let Dr. Rao and Dr. Mitchell know you are aware of this situation and paying attention to their response. Thank you again for your time and support in assuring our staff and students at VCU have a safe and accepting environment to simply be themselves.
Finley said Tuesday that he met with the university and they started an investigation of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Nobody could give me any reason why I was being terminated”, Finley said.
He said his first meeting with the newly appointed Athletic Director was the one in which he was fired by McLaughlin.
“I had no idea that’s why I was going in”, said Finley. “I was in there maybe three or four minutes, and it was just like “bye”, that was it”.
Finley said he was told that VCU wanted to hire a coach that “represented the university well”. He went on to tell me that he had felt ignored by McLaughlin throughout their brief relationship at VCU.
McLaughlin was unavailable for comment, but in a statement on Finley’s release told The Richmond Times Dispatch, “our program needs a different direction and different leadership to attain our goals of achieving at an elite level nationally.”
VCU Athletics had no comment, as the situation has been handed over to University Relations.
VCU’s Executive Director of University Relations, Pamela Lepley, told GayRVA.com that the university could not comment on matters dealing with personnel because they are confidential via federal law. In a press release, she said “The employment action — non renewal of the contract — was taken in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies.”
Graduating senior and volleyball team standout, Kristin Boyd, said in the article, “all of the teammates were very surprised and some were upset. We did really well this year, he had no reason to get fired.”
The article goes on to say the teammates asked Finley if he was fired because of his sexuality.
The full article can be found at http://www.gayrva.com/news-views/vcu-coach-fired-for-being-gay/
Finley’s 26-5 record this season was the highest winning percentage of any fall sports team.
In his eight seasons at VCU, Finley advanced to the NCAA tournament once, winning the CAA tournament in his first season as a Ram. He posted a 151-116 career record at VCU, played in three CAA tournament finals, won one regular season CAA crown, and most recently finished third in the Atlantic 10 conference this past season.
UPDATE: Statement from VCU AD Ed McLaughlin below:
“A core value of Virginia Commonwealth University – and one that I personally share – is diversity. I came to VCU because of how the university embraces diversity and inclusive excellence and fosters a community where differences are valued and respected. 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. As I said earlier this month, the VCU volleyball program needs new leadership if it is to achieve athletic and academic success at an elite level nationally. I am confident about the path ahead and the upcoming search for a new head coach.”