Parting shots

Town Crier File photo
Women’s basketball coach Jody Craig has left Foothill College for a position as an assistant coach at a four-year school. She said the environment in Foothill’s athletic department is “toxic.”

Jody Craig has taken a one-year leave from Foothill College, but don’t expect her to return as women’s basketball coach and physical education instructor. Not as long as Susan Gutkind is the athletic director.

“I will never again set foot on the Foothill campus with her in that position,” Craig said last week in an exclusive interview with the Town Crier.

Craig’s relationship with Gutkind, dean of Foothill’s Kinesiology & Athletics Division, has deteriorated steadily since the latter arrived at the Los Altos Hills community college in January 2012. It is to the point that Craig refused to divulge which four-year college hired her as an assistant coach last week for fear that Gutkind would track her down.

“I don’t want her to find me,” said Craig, who disclosed only that she is working at a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school somewhere in California. “She’ll harass me.”

Craig added that Gutkind is “revengeful” and has “tried to destroy my professional reputation.”

Butting heads before

This isn’t the first time that Craig, who guided the Owls to 14 Coast Conference titles and two state tournament finals in her 17 years as coach, has publicly criticized Gutkind.

In January she told the Town Crier that Gutkind was primarily responsible for the coach being placed on paid administrative leave for more than four months as school officials investigated a possible violation involving her program. She said Gutkind “chose to view me in a very negative light, going so far as actually attacking my integrity as an educator” after learning a returning player who participated in a tournament last summer was not enrolled in a PE class (as required), due to what Craig described as a “clerical error.” Gutkind alerted the California Community College Athletic Association, according to Craig, and its board voted to ban Foothill from the playoffs for one year.

Craig said she was not only shocked to receive the harshest penalty – it was the program’s first violation on her watch – but also with the way the matter was handled by the Foothill administration, which declined to discuss the case with the Town Crier.

“It was never made clear to me that there was an error in (the player’s) enrollment and that this error was so significant that it would result in a potential violation with consequences up to and possibly including postseason probation,” said Craig, adding that she was walked off campus by a vice president Aug. 27 and not permitted to speak to anyone at Foothill until her Nov. 9 hearing. “If our side had been heard, we would have been able to explain prior to being turned in that a clerical error must have been made.”

Relationship worsens

Reinstated in early January, Craig coached the Owls the final six weeks of the season and resumed her teaching duties. Craig’s relationship with Gutkind worsened. She was convinced the athletic director was out to get her.

“When I proved there was nothing to go on (to fire me), that’s when it began,” Craig said. “She was really embarrassed. She started to harass me and it led me to take medical leave for a month.”

That harassment, Craig added, included Gutkind requiring that the coach meet with her every few weeks. Craig brought a faculty representative each time.

“(Gutkind) tried to set me up to say something that could be used against me and poked at my integrity,” Craig said. “Her intent was to document, document, document and get enough paper to fire me.”

‘Toxic’ environment

Craig described the environment in the athletic department as “toxic” and claimed several coaches are unhappy but won’t speak out because “they’re afraid of the ramifications.”

Craig is the second long-standing coach in recent months to take a one-year leave with no intention of returning – men’s basketball coach Shanan Rosenberg left for Linfield College in April to take what he called “my dream job” – and she believes others may exit if changes aren’t made.

“The whole athletic program is in trouble,” Craig said. “The culture has changed the last few years. It’s sadly apparent by who they have hired as dean of the department, but it goes beyond her – it goes all the way to the top.”

Craig noted that recent cuts to tutorial, outreach and other programs show a lack of support for underrepresented student-athletes.

“It’s sad that I built a program, as did other coaches, that helped under-advantaged minority students, and Foothill no longer cares about that,” she said. “Diversity is no longer their passion, and I can’t work at a place like that.”

Gutkind’s reaction

Although Gutkind refused to respond to comments Craig made about her – other than saying, “I disagree with her interpretations” – she did address the budget cuts.

“This is a tough time for community college PE and athletics throughout the state,” Gutkind said. “In the past few years there have been sweeping changes at the state level about access to classes and funding, and related to those, there have also been new rules/regulations added at all levels (state, CCCAA and district). At the same time, there’s been an overall increase in scrutiny and accountability. … We’re all impacted and it definitely has taken adjustment from everyone – students, faculty, staff, administration.”

Gutkind added that many members of the department are making the most of a difficult situation.

“Despite how hard it’s been, and definitely not fun sometimes, you can look all over the division and see faculty working together to make those adjustments,” said Gutkind, formerly the assistant athletic director at Fresno State. “For every ‘Now we have to do what?’ there’s been a ‘Hey, I can help with that,’ which is what strong teams do and is what every administrator loves to see.”

Gutkind maintained that Foothill is “committed to the same priorities I shared with you back when I started – student-athlete academic success, competitive athletic opportunities and building citizenship and personal accountability in a noticeably rules-compliant and fiscally responsible department.”

As for why two of the school’s most successful coaches took one-year leaves within three months of one another, Gutkind said, “I really don’t know what specific causes motivated them. In my experience, the desire for a new opportunity and the availability of another job usually set the course.”

Vacancy remains

Foothill has replaced Rosenberg with Matt Stanley, hired as men’s basketball coach last month, but Craig’s position remains open. Gutkind said she hopes to have someone in place by mid-September.

Craig, granted her leave in June, doesn’t expect any of her assistant coaches to apply for the job or any players on last season’s team to return.

“Foothill put itself in this position,” she said. “For me, it’s a blessing in disguise. It was time to go; I had nothing left to prove and I’m excited about taking on a new challenge. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful to get this opportunity and to be out of that hell.”

Foothill president Judy C. Miner did not respond to a request for comment on Craig’s criticisms of Gutkind and the administration before the Town Crier’s press deadline.

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