The men’s basketball team deserves answers

by Beacon Staff • January 27, 2011

At issue:

The loss of men’s basketball coach Hank Smith.

Our take:

The College treated a sensitive situation with dishonesty and disrespect.

Just before practice last Friday, Stan Nance, the associate director of athletics, walked into the locker room and told the men’s basketball team that Hank Smith was no longer their coach.

They were shocked. There was no reason for the players to even suspect such an announcement. After the meeting, the athletic department posted on its website that the coach of 16 years had “decided to leave the College to pursue other interests.”

But the players in the locker room that day tell a different story. Junior Carlos Negrete said Nance explained to the team that, “People higher up in the school are looking to go in a different direction.”

Later, William P. Gilligan, the vice president of information technology who oversees athletics for President Jacqueline Liebergott, told a Beacon reporter that the decision to “no longer have” Mr. Smith as the coach was made by the College.

So far, neither administrators in the athletics department nor those in President Liebergott’s office have provided any explanation for the coach’s sudden removal.  Nor have they explained why the language on the Emerson site conflicts with the story they tell in person.

What we do know is that both players and alumni of the Emerson men’s basketball team are flabbergasted. Coach Smith, by all accounts that the Beacon can gather, was a beloved — even iconic — member of the Emerson community and a tremendous coach.

Alumni from across the country have contacted the Beacon to express their outrage. Each describes a heartwarming mentor and friend. In a school renowned for revolving doors of adjunct professors, shifting academic advisors and transient housing placements, Smith was one of the few stable figures available to students. This, in addition to 258 career victories and a spot in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference finals 10 out of 16 years, leads us to believe that Smith was — at very least — very good at his job.

With so many testimonials in support of Smith and so few answers from the College, we at the Beacon have been forced by the College’s silence to question its decision to remove him.

And amid all of the controversy only one thing is clear to us at the Beacon: The method in which the College handled this situation is deplorable. To deny students — especially the players of the men’s basketball team — an earnest explanation of its decision is disrespectful.

Smith’s departure is in and of itself traumatic. The men’s basketball team is two thirds of the way through a tough season and is facing the pressure of the oncoming playoff season. Cutting their coach at this date cuts them off at their knees.

By excusing itself from any justification of their actions, the College has added insult to injury. To state that Smith “decided to leave the College to pursue other interests” only to reveal that the decision was made by administrators is disingenuous and disappointing.

If Emerson has any confidence in its decision, it should be up-front and direct about the choice it made. The members of this community are entitled to an honest dialogue.

Until then, we students should show we care.

Let’s rally behind our basketball team. Show up to their next game, this  Saturday at 3 p.m. Not very many of us play sports at the collegiate level, so perhaps we cannot fully understand the pain and confusion that our players are experiencing. Still, all of us have at one time or another had a life-changing mentor — surely we can empathize on that level.

And to the members of the men’s basketball team: Do not be afraid to demand answers. Your confusion is not yours alone. Your teammates, fellow Lions, former basketball players spanning nearly 20 years, and this editorial board are here to support you.