Jan 28, 2011
Controversy Continues Over Emerson College Coach’s Departure

Mystery still surrounds last week’s departure of Hank Smith as the head coach of the men’s basketball team after conflicting reports about the situation have surfaced in the past few days.

Around midday Friday, the Athletics Department released a statement on its website detailing his leaving.

“After 16 seasons as Emerson’s basketball coach, Hank Smith has decided to leave the College to pursue other interests, the statement read. A national search for his replacement will begin immediately.”

But Tuesday, the Beacon learned the College had a hand in Smith’s exit. William P. Gilligan, the vice president of information technology who oversees athletics for President Jacqueline Liebergott, said his office helped determine the coach’s future at the college.

“The decision was made by the College to no longer, in essence, to no longer have Mr. Smith as the coach, Gilligan said. The decision was made in my office.”

Asked why the coach’s tenure ended, Gilligan declined to comment.

Gilligan said all personnel decisions involving athletics are made between him and Kristin Parnell, the athletic director.

When approached about the situation, Parnell declined comment and referred all inquiries to Andy Tiedemann, the vice president of communications and marketing. Tiedemann said his office was not involved in the decision and that he had no knowledge of the move.

Six basketball players interviewed by the Beacon said, just before practice was about to begin at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Stan Nance, the associate director of athletics, told the team to gather in the locker room.

“I was just about to go talk to [Coach Smith] when Stan came in and told coach that Kristin [Parnell] needed to speak with him, Eric Helfman, a junior basketball player, said. Then Stan told us to go down to the locker room.”

Once there, the players said, Nance told them athletics administrators wanted different leadership for the program.

“Stan just called everyone in the locker room and said ‘People higher up in the school are looking to go in a different direction, ‘” junior Carlos Negrete said. “We were all shocked. None of us expected this.”

Smith could not be reached for comment. Nance said he is serving as the interim head coach.

Gilligan said a meeting took place about the situation Friday, but would not identify who was involved.

The players said they were kept in the locker room for roughly a half-hour and that when they asked to go speak with Smith, Nance told them the coach had left the building.

“I was totally shocked, Kabir Moss, a senior writing, literature, and publishing major said. Why would I ever think that my coach, who’s the most winningest coach in Emerson history, this person who has built an elite Division 3 program out of nothing, would be gone? It’s just mind blowing.”

Bryan Rouse, a Class of 2010 alumnus and member of the 1, 000 point club, said he didn’t believe the news.

“A couple of teammates called me after it happened, and I thought that they were just messing around with me, said Rouse, who is currently employed in financial services in Hartford, Conn. What happened was completely unprofessional for the athletic department. I just think it’s hard for the team to do this to them with only four weeks remaining [in the season.]”

Some alumni interviewed said they sensed a growing tension between Smith and Parnell.

“The environment in the Athletic Department has been negative for a long time, Gabe Lopes, a Class of ’99 alumnus said. I know things were deteriorating, and I never felt welcome as an alumni. It’s almost like the ‘Twilight’ movie with team Jacob and team Edward. Here it was like team Kristen vs. team Coach Smith.”

Lopes said he stopped donating money to the department about a year and a half ago because of the negativity he felt in the department.

Rhys Thieriot, a Class of ’08 media studies major, is a ticket sales representative for the San Francisco Giants and also hinted at something being amiss.

“Things got a little stricter in my senior year, Thieriot said. I noticed how [Athletics] was very strict about people not cheering so loud. Starting in 2008-2009 there was kind of a major buzz kill in terms of attending games. That was my first sense of things changing around Emerson athletics.”

Parnell was hired as athletic director in 2007. Since then, Athletics Department records show there have been eight coaching changes in 14 sports at Emerson, including the most recent of Smith’s.

After the news about Smith’s departure broke, numerous alumni voiced their support of their former coach.

Sam Presti, the executive vice president and general manager of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, is a Class of ’00 alumnus and played under coach Smith.

“The greatest compliment that any of us can pay coach is to recognize that he left the program infinitely better than when he inherited it, Presti said in a phone interview with the Beacon. He can walk away with his head high, and the relationship of any player that ever played for him intact to wherever his next opportunity may be.”

In over 16 years at Emerson, Smith amassed 258 career wins, according to NCAA records. That’s the most of any Emerson basketball program, and second most for any sport, just behind tenured softball coach Phil McElroy who has 273.

The NCAA records show that prior to Smith’s arrival, from 1985-1994, the Emerson men’s basketball program had an overall record of 21-131. After Smith’s arrival in 1994, the team went 258-169, averaging just over 16 wins per year and a winning percentage of 60.4.

In 2006, when the Brown-Plofker gymnasium opened in Piano Row, numerous alumni including former Emerson assistant coach Shawn McCullion, donated money to dedicate the elevator lobby of the Athletics Department to the coach.

When Smith began at Emerson, many alumni said the team didn’t have a gym and played in a number of places over the years ranging from the Chinatown Y.M.C.A., to the Massachusetts College of Art, to Pine Manor College, to even practicing outdoors.

Great Northeast Athletic Conference records show Smith-guided teams reached the conference finals 10 out of 16 years, including each year between 1996-2001.

“It’s Emerson freakin’ College, John Karalis, an alumnus who played professional basketball overseas said. It’s a Division 3 school; it’s not an athletic powerhouse. But this program means so much to those of us who were in it. We keep coming back, we keep giving back, we keep in touch with the new guys.”

Rob Hennigan, the assistant general manager of the Thunder and a Class of ’04 alumnus, spoke of his former coach and what he described as a friend.

“Anyone who’s ever played for coach will tell you he’s as loyal a person you’ll ever meet, Hennigan said. His ability to motivate, educate, and to teach you about life is unmatched. Coach is Emerson basketball. He is that program.”

Controversy Continues Over Emerson College Coach’s Departure

Berkeley Beacon (Boston, Mass.)

Mystery still surrounds last week’s departure of Hank Smith as the head coach of the men’s basketball team after conflicting reports about the situation have surfaced in the past few days. Around midday Friday, the Athletics Department released a statement on its website detailing his leaving. “After 16 seasons as Emerson’s basketball coach, Hank Smith has decided to leave the College to pursue other interests, the statement read. A national search for his replacement will begin immediately.” But Tuesday, the Beacon learned the College had a hand in Smith’s exit. William P. Gilligan, the vice president of information technology who oversees athletics for President Jacqueline Liebergott, said his office helped determine the coach’s future at the college. “The decision was made by the College to no longer, in essence, to no longer have Mr. Smith as the coach, Gilligan said. The decision was made in my office.” Asked why the coach’s tenure ended, Gilligan declined to comment. Gilligan said all personnel decisions involving athletics are made between him and Kristin Parnell, the athletic director. When approached about the situation, Parnell declined comment and referred all inquiries to Andy Tiedemann, the vice president of communications and marketing. Tiedemann said his office was not involved in the decision and that he had no knowledge of the move. Six basketball players interviewed by the Beacon said, just before practice was about to begin at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Stan Nance, the associate director of athletics, told the team to gather in the locker room. “I was just about to go talk to [Coach Smith] when Stan came in and told coach that Kristin [Parnell] needed to speak with him, Eric Helfman, a junior basketball player, said. Then Stan told us to go down to the locker room.” Once there, the players said, Nance told them athletics administrators wanted different leadership for the program.

“Stan just called everyone in the locker room and said ‘People higher up in the school are looking to go in a different direction, ‘” junior Carlos Negrete said. “We were all shocked. None of us expected this.” Smith could not be reached for comment. Nance said he is serving as the interim head coach. Gilligan said a meeting took place about the situation Friday, but would not identify who was involved. The players said they were kept in the locker room for roughly a half-hour and that when they asked to go speak with Smith, Nance told them the coach had left the building. “I was totally shocked, Kabir Moss, a senior writing, literature, and publishing major said. Why would I ever think that my coach, who’s the most winningest coach in Emerson history, this person who has built an elite Division 3 program out of nothing, would be gone? It’s just mind blowing.” Bryan Rouse, a Class of 2010 alumnus and member of the 1, 000 point club, said he didn’t believe the news. “A couple of teammates called me after it happened, and I thought that they were just messing around with me, said Rouse, who is currently employed in financial services in Hartford, Conn. What happened was completely unprofessional for the athletic department. I just think it’s hard for the team to do this to them with only four weeks remaining [in the season.]” Some alumni interviewed said they sensed a growing tension between Smith and Parnell. “The environment in the Athletic Department has been negative for a long time, Gabe Lopes, a Class of ’99 alumnus said. I know things were deteriorating, and I never felt welcome as an alumni. It’s almost like the ‘Twilight’ movie with team Jacob and team Edward. Here it was like team Kristen vs. team Coach Smith.” Lopes said he stopped donating money to the department about a year and a half ago because of the negativity he felt in the department. Rhys Thieriot, a Class of ’08 media studies major, is a ticket sales representative for the San Francisco Giants and also hinted at something being amiss.

“Things got a little stricter in my senior year, Thieriot said. I noticed how [Athletics] was very strict about people not cheering so loud. Starting in 2008-2009 there was kind of a major buzz kill in terms of attending games. That was my first sense of things changing around Emerson athletics.” Parnell was hired as athletic director in 2007. Since then, Athletics Department records show there have been eight coaching changes in 14 sports at Emerson, including the most recent of Smith’s. After the news about Smith’s departure broke, numerous alumni voiced their support of their former coach. Sam Presti, the executive vice president and general manager of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, is a Class of ’00 alumnus and played under coach Smith. “The greatest compliment that any of us can pay coach is to recognize that he left the program infinitely better than when he inherited it, Presti said in a phone interview with the Beacon. He can walk away with his head high, and the relationship of any player that ever played for him intact to wherever his next opportunity may be.” In over 16 years at Emerson, Smith amassed 258 career wins, according to NCAA records. That’s the most of any Emerson basketball program, and second most for any sport, just behind tenured softball coach Phil McElroy who has 273. The NCAA records show that prior to Smith’s arrival, from 1985-1994, the Emerson men’s basketball program had an overall record of 21-131. After Smith’s arrival in 1994, the team went 258-169, averaging just over 16 wins per year and a winning percentage of 60.4. In 2006, when the Brown-Plofker gymnasium opened in Piano Row, numerous alumni including former Emerson assistant coach Shawn McCullion, donated money to dedicate the elevator lobby of the Athletics Department to the coach. When Smith began at Emerson, many alumni said the team didn’t have a gym and played in a number of places over the years ranging from the Chinatown Y.M.C.A., to the Massachusetts College of Art, to Pine Manor College, to even practicing outdoors. Great Northeast Athletic Conference records show Smith-guided teams reached the conference finals 10 out of 16 years, including each year between 1996-2001. “It’s Emerson freakin’ College, John Karalis, an alumnus who played professional basketball overseas said. It’s a Division 3 school; it’s not an athletic powerhouse. But this program means so much to those of us who were in it. We keep coming back, we keep giving back, we keep in touch with the new guys.” Rob Hennigan, the assistant general manager of the Thunder and a Class of ’04 alumnus, spoke of his former coach and what he described as a friend. “Anyone who’s ever played for coach will tell you he’s as loyal a person you’ll ever meet, Hennigan said. His ability to motivate, educate, and to teach you about life is unmatched. Coach is Emerson basketball. He is that program.”






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