DURHAM — As a fired women's hockey coach demands an apology and reinstatement, a University of New Hampshire official broke a monthlong silence on the subject.
According to a Dec. 6 news release issued by the university, longtime coach Brian McCloskey was terminated for inappropriate physical contact with a player during a Nov. 30 loss to Ohio State. On Thursday, Erika Mantz, director of media relations for the university, said the incident was not sexual in nature, but dealt with physical contact on the bench during a game.
"The decision to terminate Coach McCloskey was not made lightly and was warranted," Mantz said in a prepared statement. "It is not appropriate for the university to comment further on a personnel issue, but the safety and well-being of all of our students is and must always be our number-one priority."
According to letters McCloskey and his attorneys have sent to UNH President Mark Huddleston and UNH Board of Trustees Chairman Pamela Diamantis, McCloskey wants a public apology from the university for how it handled the situation. He also seeks reinstatement as coach.
In a redacted letter to colleagues published at fosters.com, he details the incident on the bench during a Wildcats home game. He said he reached out for the jersey of an uncooperative player at her shoulder and put her on the bench to reprimand her after she yelled and turned her back on him.
According to a Dec. 6 letter sent from Laura Studen, McCloskey's lawyer, to Huddleston, McCloskey seeks an apology from the university for not clarifying the inappropriate conduct in new releases and statements, saying they harmed his reputation by the implications of a male coach inappropriately making contact with a female player.
His attorney states that as an employee with an unblemished record and distinguished 20-year career, McClosky deserved better from the university.
"Even assuming that his alleged conduct on November 30, 2013, was as described in the termination letter (and it was not) the university's termination of his (McCloskey's) employment was not only a vast overreaction and an excessive response ... but it was also improper and illegal," the letter reads.
Said McCloskey on Thursday:
"I just think you expect universities and institutions to look out for the best interest of students and in this case it isn't happening."
He said his reaction to the university's response is that it is disproportionate to what took place on Nov. 30.
"It has sent not only the wrong message to the players but also caused tremendous dislocation, upheaval and disruption to the program going forward, and also currently," McCloskey said.
McCloskey requests immediate reinstatement.
In a letter to Diamantis received by the Union Leader, McCloskey requests that she independently review the process the university followed that led to his termination.
Mantz did not respond when asked by email whether the university had responded to McCloskey's request for an independent review.
McCloskey was an assistant with the men's hockey team at UNH before taking the helm of the women's program in 2002.
He guided UNH to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances between 2006 and 2010 and berths in the Frozen Four in 2006 and 2008. Under McCloskey, UNH captured six Hockey East regular season championships and tournament championships in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
McCloskey led the Wildcats to a school record of 33 wins in 2006 and 2008, the program's first perfect home record (17-0-0 in 2006), is a three-time New England Hockey Writers Association Coach of the Year (2003, 2006, 2009) winner and four-time Hockey East Coach of the Year (2003, 2005, 2006, 2009) winner.
In the letter to Huddleston, Studen said by requesting reinstatement McCloskey is not waiving his right to make claims against the university for defamation, breach of contract and wrongful termination.
As of Thursday afternoon, no filings had been made in Strafford County Superior Court.
Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for McCloskey working with his attorney, said there has been some communication between the university and Studen. Schwartzman said she thinks McCloskey is still hoping he can work things out with the university and be reinstated.