Never in 100 years did I imagine I’d come to the following conclusion: Mike Strickland is just as bad as Lane Kiffin.
Strickland, the Belmont University director of athletics, is an undeniably nice man without any outsized sense of self or all-consuming professional aspirations. He’s in his 15th year at his post and seems completely comfortable to continue for the long haul.
But his actions in relation to the recent firing/resignation/mutually agreeable departure (it depends on whom you believe) of women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe lead to the inevitable comparison with the former University of Tennessee football coach.
Strickland has hidden behind press releases — some of which, by the way, were only available by request. He’s refused to answer questions from the media or even the players who were directly affected by what took place. It was obvious from the get-go that he and the rest of the Belmont community hoped to execute the coaching change in a non-revenue sport without anyone paying notice. (In case you missed it, Howe recently revealed to her team that she and her same-sex partner planned to start a family, and a little more than a week later she was out of a job.)
Strickland’s actions since are reminiscent of the “press conference” Kiffin conducted when he decided to leave UT after one season and go to USC, which he called his “dream job.” Kiffin gave a brief statement — he only did that begrudgingly — and then skulked off into the night.
Based on the released statements, Strickland initially contended that Howe resigned. Several days later Belmont’s story changed: The parting was mutually agreed upon. Howe’s former players insist she was fired, but even they can’t be sure. After a meeting with Strickland, they said he refused to answer any questions about exactly what took place.
It’s interesting to note that the most mature people throughout all of this have been the players. They have not necessarily said whether they thought Howe should or should not have kept her job. All they have sought is the truth, and Strickland and other Belmont officials have stonewalled them in that pursuit.
Yet any individual who gives this situation a minimal amount of thought can pretty much figure what is actually the truth.
In its own little Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell drama, Belmont forced out Howe when she revealed something that university leadership wished had been kept quiet. For all intents and purposes, she was fired, although she agreed to go quietly (probably with some sort of severance package to ease the blow).
Here’s the thing, though. Based on Tennessee labor law, it seems the university was well within its rights to take whatever action it did. Therefore, there seems to be no legal reason for Strickland to duck the truth.
He should have stepped up and been honest from the outset. He should have said that while the university, which is rooted in the Baptist tradition, respects Howe’s right to live as she chooses, it was agreed upon — after much reflection — that the way she lives her life is not consistent with the university’s overall religious mission, and therefore they agreed to part. He should have added that he would lend his unqualified support to help her get another job because her record as a soccer coach is of undeniable quality.
People would not have liked it, but they would have had to respect the decision.
As it is now, Howe’s supporters are not happy — we know that because of the numerous forms of protest that have taken place in recent weeks. It’s hard to believe that those who back the university’s stance are happy either, because Strickland and Co. have shown a complete lack of conviction in their actions.
Finding someone in this state who respects Kiffin is like to trying to find life in outer space. It’s equally tough to respect Strickland at the moment. Chances are, he’s banking on the fact that the fall semester has ended and students have gone home for the holiday break, meaning this issue will die down.
Not that he would ever say so, of course.