BY JEFF FALK
We may never know the specific reasons for Todd Goclowski’s sudden ousting. And whether or not we are owed any sort of explanation really depends upon one’s agenda.
But at least someone from Lebanon Valley College is now saying something.
On Tuesday afternoon, five days after he was relieved of his duties as the Flying Dutchmen’s women’s basketball head coach, the college’s Director of Marketing and Communications Marty Parks spoke publicly about Goclowski’s departure for the first time, in general terms. Parks granted Lebanon Sports Buzz an exclusive interview, after LVC athletic director Rick Beard had failed to respond to multiple requests for comments.
On Thursday afternoon, Beard had released a statement through the school’s Sports Information Department entitled ‘Lebanon Valley Announces Women’s Basketball Staff Changes’ which read ‘Lebanon Valley College has announced that it will not renew the appointment of Todd Goclowski, head coach of LVC’s women’s basketball program.
“On behalf of LVC, I want to thank Coach Goclowski for leading our women’s basketball program over the past eight years, and we wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Director of Athletics Rick Beard ’90 M’92.
A national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
During his seven years as Lebanon Valley College’s athletic director, Beard had never declined a request for an interview with this reporter. Goclowski also did not respond to requests for an interview, again for the first time in his eight-year writer-head coach relationship with this reporter.
And according to sources, members of the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball program were ‘advised’ not to speak to the media about Goclowski’s departure.
“I can’t go into much detail because it’s a human resource issue,” said Parkes. “Every college employee goes through an annual evaluation. All of us are evaluated on a one-year basis.
“The college is very grateful for the work he did here,” added Parkes. “We’re appreciative of his efforts. And we wish him the best.”
But this was more than your average exit interview gone awry.
Statistically-speaking, Goclowski’s winning percentage at Lebanon Valley – .757, 171-55 – makes him one of the most successful head coaches – if not ‘the’ most successful head coach – in the more than century-long history of athletics on the Annville campus. Once a struggling program, Goclowski helped transform women’s basketball into a consistent winner.
In the 2013-14 season that ended in March, the Flying Dutchmen compiled a 21-7 mark, LVC’s sixth 20-win season in Goclowski’s eighth year there. During that time, Lebanon Valley won three Commonwealth Conference championships, advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first five times in program history and made seven appearances in the Commonwealth Conference title game.
“It’s a little bit unbelievable,” Goclowski told Lebanon Sports Buzz, after qualifying for the 2014 Commonwealth Conference title tilt in February. “It’s a tribute to the women in that locker room, and in a way, a tribute to the women who have been in that locker room before us. It’s exciting. But it’s a tribute to our student-athletes. It says a lot about our young women as players, student-athletes, and alumni. It’s a basketball family that has established itself with a terrific legacy.”
“I had no doubts that we could get to this point,” Goclowski continued. “I believe in my team. We expected to be where we hoped we’d be.”
“There are a lot of factors that are looked at, besides win-loss records,” said Parkes. “I would say we made a decision and needed new leadership.
“We certainly like the level of success on the court,” Parkes continued. “But there are other things involved. There’s the academic success of the players, community involvement, alumni relations. We’re looking to bring in a professional, and supplement those other factors.”
Under Goclowski’s guidance, the Flying Dutchmen were actively involved with their neighbors in the Lebanon community, through the annual and wildly-popular ‘Pink Game’ to benefit cancer research and by visiting patients at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Goclowski often related his program to family, always treated this reporter with respect and candidness and was careful to refer to his players as ‘young women’, not ‘girls’.
“I’m not experiencing any difficulties,” a curt Goclowski told Lebanon Sports Buzz, following a disheartening loss to Elizabethtown earlier in the year. “The growth of the team is taking longer than it should.
“They (his players) set their own goals,” Goclowski continued, “and they’re accountable for it. I don’t know what they are after today. It’s disappointing to see a team not play 40 minutes on a consistent basis.”
“We play to win,” said Parkes. “But at some time, we’re looking for a complete student experience. At the end of the day, we want student-athletes to develop into people of high caliber.
“At a school like our’s, about one-third of our students play at least one collegiate sport, some more,” Parkes continued. “Sports are very important. They’re important to us. We do all we can to make sure we have good teams and competitive facilities. Unlike some schools, here we have student-athletes – and that’s probably in the right order. They’re students first, and they’re athletes second.”
It may be that the reasons Goclowski was fired will remain a mystery. But typically head coach-athletic director relationships fall victim to personality conflicts, power struggles, money issues, parent or athlete over involvement, alumni concerns, or some unique combinations of those.
Also unclear is the last time that a Lebanon Valley head coach’s appointment was not renewed.
Beard, a resident of Cornwall and a graduate of Lebanon High School, has been Lebanon Valley’s director of athletics for the past seven years, after spending six years as an assistant to the position. During his tenure, LVC has instituted a number of new sports programs, as well as significant upgrades to its athletic facilities.
“No, not in our case,” said Parkes when asked if it was important for female athletic programs to be headed by female head coaches. “I’ve never thought of gender as being a determining factor for head coaches.
“That (a national search) entails making the position available on a national basis,” Parkes continued. “We’ll put it out there far and wide. We’re not limiting ourselves to local candidates.”
Parkes did not deny that members of the women’s basketball program were told to avoid contact with the media.
“Whenever there’s a human relations matter,” said Parkes, “there’s reasons to make sure the right people talk on the right topic at the right time.”