More than four months after being placed on paid administrative leave by Foothill College, Jody Craig is back on the bench. Last week she was reinstated as women’s basketball coach and physical education instructor at the Los Altos Hills community college.
Rumors swirled about Craig’s absence – from her being suspended for the season to being fired – and the most successful coach in the program’s history is ready to refute them. In an exclusive interview with the Town Crier, Craig explained what led to Foothill’s action – or, in her opinion, overreaction – and expressed her frustration with the process.
“Poor communication and a snap judgment took me out of my coaching position and away from my kids for 133 days,” Craig said. “I was never made aware of or allowed to address any of the concerns that were brought forward, and our side of the story was never heard until November.”
The Owls’ 17-year coach said she was placed on leave Aug. 27 because administrators were investigating a possible violation involving her program. A vice president walked her off campus that day, according to Craig, and she was told not to return until authorized. It wasn’t until Nov. 9 that Craig said she was allowed back on school grounds, and that was only to attend a hearing on the matter with administrators and her union representative.
Other than acknowledging Craig was put on leave and has been reinstated, Foothill officials refused to discuss the details of the case with the Town Crier.
“Anything related to her leave is confidential and a personnel matter,” said Kurt Hueg, the interim dean of the Business and Social Sciences Division who was associate vice president of external relations when the actions were taken against the coach.
The lack of information about Craig’s leave – and what led to it – compelled the coach to go public.
“Rumors are flying across the entire state that I was fired, and I am unable to defend myself,” she said. “This is the first time my story has been heard.”
Craig said two incidents that occurred over the summer – one on the court and the other off it – led to her being put on leave.
It all began July 21 in Pasadena at what Craig described as an “exposure tournament” in which players hope to impress coaches of four-year colleges. With six minutes to play in a game against Pasadena City College, Craig said she removed her team from the court for precautionary reasons.
“When faced with a difficult decision, I chose to put the safety of our kids first and attempted to remove them from what I considered in my professional experience to be an escalating hostile environment,” she said. “The other team was upset that I pulled my team off the floor and began what ended up being an altercation involving two of our kids.”
Both players received a one-game suspension for what Craig described as a “decorum violation” – the first under her watch.
A month later, Craig said it was determined that a Foothill player who participated in that game “had not been officially enrolled in the PE class (as required), despite being a returning sophomore and a current fulltime Foothill College student.” The player’s add form had been turned into admissions and records, according to Craig, but was apparently never entered into the computer system.
Susan Gutkind, Foothill’s new athletic director, reported the enrollment violation to Coast Conference commissioner Dale Murray, Craig said, and he alerted the California Community College Athletic Association. The CCCAA board voted to ban Foothill from the playoffs for one year.
Craig said she was “dismayed” by “the decision to give our program the harshest penalty,” since the team had never before committed a violation in her time at Foothill. The coach was just as frustrated with how Foothill administrators handled the situation.
“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. 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,” Craig said. “You would think having a 17-year record of no violations would warrant a more thorough opportunity to respond, because all of this was discovered after I had left on summer vacation and it was never communicated to me what a big deal it was.”
Craig added she didn’t learn her program was found in violation until after she was placed on leave. If wasn’t until her hearing that Craig said she was permitted to talk to anyone associated with Foothill. The coach believes she deserved better treatment.
“The new (athletic) administration at Foothill … chose to view me in a very negative light, going so far as actually attacking my integrity as an educator, and dismissed numerous letters written by parents, coaches and former players to the contrary,” she said. “They also had to then pay other individuals to teach my classes and run my team while I was gone.”
Craig is now back in her element – coaching the sport she loves. In her return to the sideline Jan. 9, the Owls edged rival City College of San Francisco 67-65.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better return,” said Craig, who has guided Foothill to 14 Coast Conference championships.
Tracy Gipson and Michail Price served as co-head coaches while Craig was on leave, leading the Owls to a 13-5 record.
“My assistants did a great job,” Craig said. “Not many programs can survive their coach being put on leave, and it says a lot about the staff and the kids in the program.”