Why Do We Fall?

by | February 15, 2017, 10:00am 26

As of February 2nd, I have been suspended from coaching by USA Ultimate as a result of breaching the USA Ultimate Coaching Ethics Code. I will attempt to tell the story from my point of view, without bias.

I began coaching at UNC Wilmington in 2012 as the head coach of the first ever Men’s B-team at the school.  In 2013, I was asked to be an assistant coach with the Seamen and have held that title until this year, when I was asked by the captains to work in a head coaching role.

After a disappointing Nationals performance in back to back years by UNCW, the returning captains made it known to our head coach, Greg Vassar, that they wanted a coaching change. The captains tried to find a way to bring both Greg and I back, but he refused to work with me. Last June, one of our captains had a one-on-one meeting with Greg in which he cited several reasons for not wanting to co-coach with me: that I bullied a player on my team, refused to coach this player, and crossed a boundary in my personal life with a former UNCW Women’s team player. The meeting ended without much resolution. Multiple attempts to contact Greg by several people were made over the next two months. He responded to none of the emails, text messages or calls. Two months after the meeting, he emailed the captains and myself saying that he was stepping down.

In September 2016, a month after our new season had started, Greg emailed me asking me to step down from my coaching position, citing the same reasons he had brought up in the meeting in June.  At no time did Greg make any efforts to hear my side of the story or give me any benefit of the doubt.  I didn’t agree to step down and he filed a complaint with UNC Wilmington Club Sports.

UNCW determined that:

  1.  No player that had been aggrieved had lobbied any complaint.  Greg wasn’t brought back to coach and didn’t have any affiliation with the 2016/2017 team.  His complaint was filed three months after he and the team had parted ways.
  2.  My personal life (mistakes included) was not under their jurisdiction and wasn’t relevant.  I have in no capacity ever coached the UNCW Women’s team, only the Men’s teams. During the time of our relationship, this former UNCW Women’s player was no longer a student, and I was acting as a coach of the Men’s team.
  3.  The UNCW Men’s Ultimate team, as a student funded and student-run organization, had the opportunity to choose any coach that they saw fit.  After a team-only discussion, I was asked to take on the role of head coach officially.

I had extensive coaching history and some playing history with the player that I was accused of bullying.  From here on I will refer to this person as “Player 1”. After years of coaching this player and playing with him, my takeaway from these experiences was that for him to flourish he needed to be in an offense that catered more towards his creativity and field vision. The offense that I thought would work best for the 2015/2016 Seamen team was more structured and rigid.  I relayed my thoughts to Greg. I never refused to coach Player 1 – but rather acknowledged that his best chance to succeed was on the D line (of which I happened to not be the coach).

In the Fall of 2015, I began noticing a trend where Player 1 chose not to participate in practice but was available for games. This was starting to become a pattern of irresponsibility that I feared would spread throughout the team, and that fear was shared by the captains of the team.  On the Thursday practice leading up to the College Mixed Championships, Player 1 deemed himself too hurt to practice. He also indicated that he was planning on playing that weekend. Greg wasn’t at practice, and I felt compelled to address the situation.

The conversation I had with Player 1 was the same that I would have had with any other player under those circumstances. I conveyed to him that playing when he wanted to and then missing our structured practices created an issue for the team.  As a returning player, many of our younger players looked up to him. I made a decision to hold Player 1 to a standard I would hold any other player on the team to. I told him that if he wasn’t going to practice on Thursday, he couldn’t play in the tournament that weekend.  While surely not happy, he didn’t respond with anything in person to me at the time.

Later that night, Greg let me know that he and Player 1 had spoken and that he was allowing him to play in the tournament that weekend. That decision was made unilaterally without consulting the opinion of any of the captains or myself. The situation also had the unfortunate byproduct of making it harder for me to help coach this player by creating a strange coaching dynamic. This was the genesis of a strained relationship between Player 1 and myself.

The second claim made to USA Ultimate surrounds a female friend of mine, who let me know Player 1 had been saying negative things about her to some of his teammates in the fall of the 2015 season. It upset her, and in an effort to quell her frustrations, I decided to reach out to Player 1 to stop the actions. In an attempt to not add to an already strained relationship, I chose to remain anonymous by using a random texting app to send a series of text messages to him.  My words, as well as the medium which I used to communicate, were out of line. My intentions were never to bully Player 1, but rather to stop what she perceived as bullying from him. I have since reached out to Player 1 to apologize for the route I took in this situation.  He has assured me he doesn’t have any qualms with my position as head coach and he doesn’t believe that I will act in this fashion again.

About a month after the text message incident, I was unfaithful to my girlfriend.  It was the worst decision I have made in my life and the extent of the damage I caused is irreparable.  This is the toughest part to admit to as it changed the way I view myself as a person.  The woman I cheated with was the same that had rumors spread about her a month earlier.  At the time she was engaged to a former teammate of mine. She had previously played on the UNCW women’s team but was not a current student or affiliated with either team in any manner.  Along the way I had several friends, including my former girlfriend, that challenged me and were honest with me in how particularly distasteful my actions were. Without that truth and communication, the introspective analysis that is the driving force for the changes I’ve made wouldn’t have been possible.

That is the story that precedes the actions taken by USA Ultimate.  On Sunday morning of our trip to Athens, GA to compete in Classic City Classic I received an email from USA Ultimate stating that a complaint had been filed me against me by Greg. The contents were the same as the complaint filed and dismissed by UNCW.  After reading the complaint, which referenced conduct from a year prior (well beyond the 150-180 day period from conduct in question as noted within USA Ultimate’s bylaws under Section 10.4: Timing), I requested a hearing to present my case.

The hearing consisted of a panel of three USA Ultimate board members, myself, Greg, my witness and Greg’s witness.  The hearing occurred on December 18, after which we were told that the board would be having a second meeting and then would relay their decision without giving a firm timeline.  After over a month of no communication I sent two follow up emails to USA Ultimate. 45 days after the hearing (88 days after the USA Ultimate complaint was filed), I was issued the verdict, despite the fact that USA Ultimate has up to 60 days (according to their own policy) to issue a final decision after deciding to pursue a complaint. When I expressed my frustration with how long the process took to a USA Ultimate board member the following day, the response was apathetic. The final decision, my suspension, was issued less than 48 hours before our first spring tournament, and put our team in a difficult situation. My current co-coach is in his first year of coaching and would need to take over my responsibilities for the weekend. Had a decision been made in a more timely fashion, we wouldn’t have been put in a late rush to figure things out.

After this ruling, Greg sent an email to members of the team expressing his distaste with the decision and lobbied them to take action to remove me as their coach. He also mentioned in the email that he had informed an ultimate media outlet of the situation and ruling and that information would be forthcoming on public forums. This has lasted for six months and I’m ready for it to be over. I’m in the process of completing all necessary tasks dictated from USA Ultimate in order to lift my suspension as a coach, including, but not limited to, 40 hours of community service and being re-certified as a coach.

I grossly overstepped moral boundaries in my personal life with the decision that I made.  However, in relation to my position as coach, I believe that my ability to teach the sport of ultimate to my players wasn’t impacted. I do not think USA Ultimate should have the ability to rule on the personal lives of coaches as it pertains to people that they haven’t ever coached.  In regards to UNCW, they have heard the circumstances and have determined that the team can decide if they would like me to continue coaching, and they have.  Along with this, I acknowledge that I need to atone for my actions pertaining to the inappropriate communication with that player.  I’ve apologized to the player and am committed to continuing to grow and develop as a person and coach.

My intention since I began coaching the UNCW Men’s Ultimate team has been to grow the team with sustained success and leave the program and players better than when I found it. I made a mistake in my handling of a player and I regret this. I have also detailed the story and apologized to my entire team for my actions in order to be transparent. They have chosen me to lead our team this year and transparency and trust are paramount values in being a coach. I’m grateful that with the knowledge of what happened they have chosen to stand with me.

Enhancing the quality of this team starts with my personal growth and development. I have learned from my shortcomings and will continue to strive to be a better coach, example and leader. While the UNCW Men’s team has a reputation that can be improved, I am continuing to take steps each week to do so and earn back the reputation that our sport expects of us. This has been an evolving process since I began coaching in 2012 and something that I’ve grown to understand the importance of. At our first practice this fall I set the expectations for our team, including how we will carry ourselves on and off the field. Our goals are to play hard but fair, communicate effectively and to continue to improve every game.  I’m pleased with the way our team has adapted and learned how to play this game fairly, and we will continue to work to improve each day.

The 2017 UNCW Seamen team experienced a lot of roster turnover. That presents unique challenges as a coach but also unique opportunities. The opportunity I am most excited about is to change the narrative of the type of team that we are. I look forward to being held accountable for the actions of our team. I look forward to coaching games that other teams will enjoy being a part of.  I’m also very excited to continue to develop these young men into players and people that can contribute to the betterment of our sport and society at large. Ultimate can teach people a great number of skills and values that help them in their lives and I’m glad I have an opportunity to apply them.

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  • dyingst

    It’s not really clear what specifically you were suspended for. What was their explicit reasoning?

    Whatever the reason, it’s a serious issue if USAU is unable to adhere to the time limits that they themselves impose for decisions of this sort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me at all that they would do so. But if they can’t be expected to adhere to their own rules, why should anyone else have to?

    • Rob

      Breaking bureaucratic rules meant to ease logistical issues is a problem, but I would argue that a coach breaking the ethical rules set forth by the CDP is a greater issue.

    • Jermaine Jones

      Isn’t that timeline basically the same as a round start time? It’s a known fact that ultimate players run on ultimate time so why would anyone expect USAU to do anything different. If anything they actually got the verdict in early in ultimate time standards.

  • Rob

    No.

    Making egregious coaching errors and then asking forgiveness after the fact is not acceptable. Any *perceived* bullying/aggression towards a player, current or former, is unacceptable. Hopefully it is not a surprise to you that a bullied player may not willingly come forward to their peers due to various social pressures.

    Occasionally, personal matters can affect coaching as well. In fact, there’s an entire section of the Ethics Code devoted to that. Friendships and romantic relationships can absolutely affect coaching.

    Regarding the UNC-W decision versus the USAU decision, they are two separate entities making judgment based on different criteria. UNC-W club sports does not have any responsibility for player-chosen coaches or inter-club relations between men’s and women’s teams. USAU does take responsibility as you are (presumably) a USAU certified coach who has agreed to abide by their Ethics Code.

    Disparaging USAU and their timelines is uncalled for — yes, there is an issue with the fact that the hearing was allowed despite the time constraints not being met. However, I would much rather USAU take complaints regarding coaching ethics seriously rather than abide by an arbitrary cutoff (which, additionally, could be considered timely as you were still a coach at the time of the hearing, and that was the behavior in question).

    The timing of all of USAU’s actions is an issue, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to judiciously settling disputes regarding possibly unethical coaching behavior.

    I’m unsure what the intent of this piece was, considering your suspension does not appear to have been covered at here at Skyd, via Ultiworld, on USAU’s website, or through the team’s Twitter account. Nonetheless, as a certified coach myself, I have no sympathy for an ultimate coach who breaks ethical boundaries with players and comes to the community with in-depth explanations of how they were wronged by their former colleagues and governing body.

    Your responsibility is to the players first, ALL players, and it sounds as though you failed at least one of them. That is the issue here.

    • Al C.

      I applaud the article as a great example of how to hold ourselves accountable for the mistakes we make. Own them, learn from them, and try again. Isn’t that the exact mentality any coach would want from their players?

      • Rob

        “Being accountable” would be admitting fault to the aggrieved players and team. In Brian’s defense, he says he has done that, and more power to him.

        However, coming to a much larger audience at Skyd and writing a thesis detailing what happened does not sound like holding himself accountable or moving past the incidents towards a new understanding. It looks like airing dirty laundry and refusing to actually accept fault.

        • Kent

          Keep in mind that Vassar said he told reporters about the situation at hand, and that now there is an Ultiworld article detailing everything.

      • Anon

        Also, remember that this is only Brian’s part of the story, not the whole picture. If the other involved parties had been able to voice their side, this might be worth something. As it is now, it seems like a guy trying to control the narrative before any information comes out from other sources/individuals.

  • datbeezy

    I can’t even read this big wall of text but if you have this much explaining to do, maybe a change of scenery is appropriate for everyone involved.

  • anon

    “from my point of view, without bias”

    hm.

  • Young Man

    This article has humility on part of Brian, which should be appreciated. But the poor handling (or dealing post-facto) of inappropriate/disrespectful conduct by both coaches and some players at UNCW is plenty reason to take action by this point. More so because UNCW has had plenty of questionable conduct issues over the past 4 years going back to 2013. This is more of a “straw that breaks the camel’s back” kind of thing. I’d be thankful that it isn’t worse. The coach suspension and community service might be rough for him individually and it may even be that he’s paying the price for UNCW conduct over the past few years, but sometimes that’s how it goes. The players still get to play.

    As for Vassar, well, we all can remember this quality coaching moment….
    https://ultiworld.com/2016/03/23/gif-uncws-xavier-maxstadt-tells-teammate-fake-injury-players-coach-respond/

    And this player moment 4 years ago…..
    https://ultiworld.com/2013/05/25/video-blowup-in-pittsburghunc-wilmington-game/

    And that’s just what is recorded and filmed.

    • Hemingway

      all those two links tell me is that Vassar puts his player over everything else.

      so essentially you’re saying his loyalty to a player is a bad thing.

      and if you know Brian, have talked to him,seen him coach, seen him walk, or had any other possible interaction with him, you would never, ever, ever use the word humility or humble in the same sentence in a genuine way.

  • jmar

    I’m a CDP certified B-team coach at a pretty successful ultimate school, and here’s my take on this:

    During my team’s winter break this year, I did some reflecting on my role as coach. I found that I was spending a lot of my “free time” coaching and felt that it wasn’t personally beneficial to me. Turns out that coaching isn’t about me! It’s about the players – the ~25 college aged men who are actually on the team. I’ve also realized that they don’t even need me! They’re all fantastic players who do a great job of teaching each other this sport. Sure, I’d love to take credit and say that the reason they don’t need me this year is that they needed me in years past, but that’s not the point right now.

    I also reflected on the previous head coach. A dude who was highly respected by the players, who was long since washed up, but still feared by the guys on the team for what he was potentially capable on the field. He was often used for job references and would happily write referral letters for students on the team. He was respected in the community and was someone who did his best to be a role model for those young men. I realized that’s the kind of coach I want to be.

    I’m not perfect, but my life is together. I’m 27, I have a great job, my own house, a beautiful fiancee, and two dope cats. I can thank a lot the skills I learned as an ultimate player/team leader for my success. As a coach, I go out of my way to relate those ultimate skills to life skills. That’s the aspect of coaching that I feel I can best give to the players on the team and it’s the one I’ve focused most on this season.

    Seeing a story like this makes me feel better about my role as coach. Should OP’s personal life really affect his ability to teach ultimate? No. But there’s so much more to his position as coach than that. He has a much larger impact on his players than he realizes and should be held to a higher standard of maturity and personal integrity. I’m not saying, “he shouldn’t coach cause he cheated on his girlfriend”, I’m saying he shouldn’t be whining about any of this – coaching isn’t about him, it’s about the players. What does this article accomplish? How does it help UNCW win nationals? I hope the UNCW team can figure this nonsense out and still have a successful season and I hope OP’s suspension will give him some time to be introspective on his own life.

  • nikdeirf

    You can say over and over that this dude’s account is biased… obviously it is. This guy sounds like a total scumbag. I still don’t think it should be within the authority of USAU to assess penalties for extra-ultimate personal matters like these. That is to say, if there is a penalty, it should be for sending anonymous text messages that constitute harassment to a member of the UNCW men’s team, not for cheating on his girlfriend with a graduated player from the women’s team, which while scumbaggy to the extreme should not be within the authoritative purview of USAU.

    • Rob

      He’s light on details here, but I’d bet a lot that “cheating on his girlfriend” is not what the offense was. Bullying/singling out a player that he was responsible for coaching is, I’m guessing, the reason for USAU’s decision here.

      Additionally, a personal, romantic relationship can absolutely constitute a conflict for a coach. USAU’s Coaching Ethics Guide addresses this. A romantic relationship with a female player (who, from the sound of it, has mixed social relationships with the players he is tasked with coaching as well) could very well overstep some boundaries. In the CDP, coaches are specifically told to avoid relationships like this in order to avoid conflicts of interest. Dating a female player who has bad blood with member of the men’s team could definitely lead to unethical coaching behavior.

      • Kathy

        The “cheating on his girlfriend” only seems relevant because that’s what the anonymous messages were about. The fact that the woman was a former UNCW player seems to only have been brought up by Greg as an attempt to make it seem as though Brian violated coaching ethics. He’s never coached her though and he’s also a former UNCW player. People are making it sound like some gross 50 year old coach is hitting on some 21 year old college girl but they may have a history that predates Brian’s coaching. Seems irrelevant to the decision in my opinion, hopefully.

        • Rob

          No one said anything about it being an issue because it’s creepy. It is an issue because it can create a conflict of interest.

          Let’s say I coach a men’s club team. One of the players on the team, let’s call him Homer, is well known to have a contentious (non-romantic) relationship with a female, Marge, from a nearby team. All players from both teams know that Homer said some terrible things about Marge recently. He can be a jerk sometimes.

          Now soon I begin dating Marge. Doesn’t that fundamentally change the dynamic between Homer and me, his coach? Knowing that one of my players and my girlfriend are at odds with one another would be a detriment to my coaching ability. I might subconsciously criticize him more, or openly antagonize him, or cut his playing time using a flimsy excuse. Heck, even if I do none of those things, it calls into question the impartiality of every decision I make from there forward. There isn’t even any cheating in this case, but it still raises red flags regarding my ability to coach the team ethically.

          • Kathy

            Not if you’re an adult and you can separate your team from your relationship. Sure everyone always says that’s the case “in an ideal world” but when you commit to a team (as a player or coach), you commit for the team. Asking someone else to give up aspects of their personal life isn’t under the jurisdiction of USAU in my opinion. I don’t see a guaranteed conflict of interest in that case and I don’t see one in this case.

          • Rob

            First, I only know the details shared above.

            Second, we don’t live in an ideal world so there is always a potential for this to lead to bias. I could be perfectly fine to coach Homer all season, but then on DGP in a game-to-go, when I leave him off the line is he going to think that I did it as punishment? If there’s any chance that answer is yes, then it has created an issue with my ability to coach the team, and I, as the coach who underwent CDP training for exactly this situation, need to make the decision to recuse myself.

            Finally, USAU can and does (just like an employer can limit workplace relationships, for better or worse). It is specifically mentioned in the Ethics policy that all CDP certified coaches are expected to have read. It is not an issue of a conflict “in this case” — if there is any potential for conflict to arise, it is the responsibility of the coach to do all they can to avoid it, including recusing themselves from coaching the team.

  • Jhavi

    From only what I read here in this article, there is enough here for me to think this coach needs to part ways with the team for the season. Regardless of if everything here is truely the whole story (which clearly isn’t the case), the bottom line is the team doesn’t need this distraction. It has nothing to do with the players playing the game. The coach needs to step down, at least for the remainder of this season.

    The cheating is not my concern and in itself has nothing to do with the core issue to me besides being a point of discussion for a seperate poor decision. But the other behaviors in question are worrisome for a coach who is supposed to be a leader and mentor.

    There should be a plan for a second chance, but there should also be a period of cooling off. In my opinion, UNCW should finish the season without this coach (at least officially, I’m not sure if USAU can keep him away if UNCW allows him at practices, etc) and regroup before the next season to reflect and make a definitive decision then.

  • Chris

    It’s hilarious to read all of your uneducated responses since the majority of you (I don’t recognize any of you…) have no frame of reference for this particular situation. If you were involved with this program and saw the interactions with your own eyes then your opinion actually has some credibility. Otherwise, do us all a favor and spare everyone from your judgment like you have the authority to judge. It’s blasphemy. But whatever helps you to feel important!

    • Andrew

      Then why take this private matter into the public light? Do you expect everyone to sit back and watch, without judgment or opinion, to an article that is so contentious?

      • Chris

        You have a good point. It just doesn’t do any good. The world has enough evil and prejudice man. The sad thing is the damage that can’t be repaired to the ones actually involved. I busted my ass for this program and would die for my teammates and my coaches (I played for both of these coaches plus others, and played with this player) and to see everything go to hell like this is a shame.

        • Jokeception

          they ain’t seamen so they don’t know

  • Hemingway

    Congrats to Brian for getting girls to have sex with him while having the most obvious receding hairline that isn’t on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster though.

  • Troy

    This perspective belongs on a Facebook wall. In the current political climate that has us reviewing the role of media and the importance of impartial reporting, Skyd should know better.