McCloskey challenging university's decision

By Max Sullivan
On January 28, 2014

The University of New Hampshire has refused to disclose any more information than it did on Dec. 6 regarding the firing of UNH women's ice hockey head coach Brian McCloskey. The university said at the time that it was a "personal issue," and McCloskey is now perplexed by their silence.

"This whole process has been fear-driven, and I don't know why," McCloskey said. "Immediately, when they terminated me, they put the Maxwell Smart code of silence on all the coaches in the university ... nobody says a word about it, no one has any contact with me in the university from the Athletic Department."

A month after being dismissed, McCloskey broke his silence to the press in early January, stating that he was fired illegally by UNH and that he wants to be reinstated as head coach of the women's hockey team that he coached for 10 and a half years. In addition, he claims that the university has "humiliated" him, defaming him with their vague explanation of the "inappropriate physical contact" for which he was fired on Dec. 5.

The university conducted an investigation in the days leading up to McCloskey's firing, but they refuse to reveal what they found in the investigation, even to McCloskey.

"What's disturbing is UNH keeps refusing to divulge what they found out in their supposed investigation," McCloskey said. "They're denying me the so-called investigative file. They're hiding it. They won't come forward with it."

In a letter dated Dec. 18, 2013, and written to Pamela Diamantis, chair of the UNH Board of Trustees, McCloskey wrote, "I believe I was wrongfully terminated, I am asking to be reinstated, and I believe I am owed a public apology."

Laura Studen, McCloskey's lawyer, wrote to University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston in a letter dated Dec. 6, 2013, that McCloskey's firing was "not only a vast overreaction, and an excessive response, lacking in any proportionality, but it was also improper and illegal. Accordingly, this is to demand his immediate reinstatement."

McCloskey said it is an outrage that he has been treated as such after coaching at UNH for 21 years, his first 10 as an assistant coach on the men's team. The university's statement on Dec. 5 gave no indication as to what type of physical contact was made during the incident, which took place during a home game on Nov. 30 against Ohio State.

By McCloskey's account, as well as that of the university, the contact was not sexual in nature. McCloskey disclosed this information in an undated letter to his former UNH coaching staff.

"Both my wife Karen and I were deluged with hundreds upon hundreds of requests to clarify what had transpired while stating that they were in disbelief that I would have had any 'sexual' engagement or contact with one of my student athletes," McCloskey said in an email to his former coaching staff, which he disclosed to Foster's Daily Democrat. "I can only hope that none of you experience anything similar."

Studen wrote in her letter that a "demand is made" on Huddleston to "correct any and all possible misimpressions and limit any further damage to Mr. McCloskey's reputation."

At the top of Studen's list of three demands, Studen demanded UNH acknowledge "That [sic] the 'inappropriate physical contact' referred to in the press releases approved by the University consisted of nothing whatsoever of a sexual nature, and the University apologizes to Mr. McCloskey and his family if the press releases were misleading in this regard."

In the letter to his former coaches, McCloskey described the university's description of the incident, which took place during the first period of that day's game.

"In my termination letter," he wrote in the letter, "The administration described the incident as grabbing the back of the player's jersey, pulling her onto the bench and pointing a finger at her face mask while reprimanding her for not listening and talking back."

In the letter to Diamantis, McCloskey gave his own account of the incident in question:

"One of the players came off the ice after a particularly poor shift, climbing over the boards directly in front of me. As she stood in front of me, I offered her some critical reminders for her next shift. She proceeded to turn away and face the ice without comment. Uncertain that she had heard my comments, I repeated them a second time. The player then spun around and began shouting profanity-laced excuses. After a few seconds of shouting, she turned her back to me once again. I was stunned. Feeling that I owed it to the team to respond, I reached forward with my left hand and pulled on the shoulder of her jersey so that she would be seated on the bench. I then engaged her face to face and sternly reprimanded her and told her that she was never to engage in that type of behavior again. I stood up and continued coaching while the player in question continued to play a regular shift for the remainder of the game."

McCloskey wrote in his letter to the coaching staff that "the athlete at the center of the incident is a sophomore who has had a long and documented history of misconduct, disrespecting fellow teammates, coaches and staff." He went on to disclose that the player "was suspended for 3 weeks at the beginning of our season for failing to meet a conditioning standard and lied to the our [sic] coaching staff in the process."

When asked if he'd seen this type of interaction on a men's bench, he said, "Yes. Happens all the time."

 "And it happens in other sports," McCloskey continued. "If you go to a men's basketball game, or any sport, you'll see the coach barking at a player or saying, 'Hey, you've got to do this.' ... That's not unusual. Standard fare."

McCloskey wrote in that same letter that the player apologized after the incident, "claiming that she 'felt much better' and that she would put this behind us."

The incident was brought to light by roommates of the player in question, leading to the involvement of parents.

"A couple of the roommates of the player [brought the incident to attention]," McCloskey said. "And one of the parents of the roommates called the parent of the player and got them to write ... a threatening email to the administration."

McCloskey and the player in question have not been in contact since his firing.

McCloskey wrote in the letter to Diamantis that some players who witnessed the incident "sought to be heard" and give their own accounts of what happened, but that they were "shut down" by the university.

McCloskey told The New Hampshire that it appears "evident" that the team did not support the decision, consistent with his statements to Foster's on Thursday, Jan. 9.

"[The players are] outraged," McCloskey told Foster's. "That's the human-interest story. This was brought down on the kids right before final exams and they were basically told to deal with it. For my mind, that's the most disturbing aspect."

Erika Mantz, UNH Director of Media Relations, said in the university's press release on Dec. 6 that the decision to fire McCloskey was "not made lightly and was warranted."

UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano did not specifically detail how the incident was reported to him, but he said that "[The incident] was obviously witnessed by the team and the coaches and the support staff, so it was reported through the proper channels to us, to the administration." 

For legal reasons, Scarano declined to comment on whether or not UNH would acknowledge McCloskey's demand and give a public apology for any defamation.

According to UNH team captain Nicole Gifford, the team is trying to put this behind them, though she acknowledged that some on the team have taken this harder than others.

"It's difficult for some people, you know, and a little easier for others that weren't around for as long as the seniors have," Gifford said. "But we're moving forward, and you can't dwell on the past, and you've got to turn the page and go in the right direction, and that's what we've been doing collectively as a team, I think. We've done that."

At the beginning of the 2014 half of the schedule, Stephanie Jones and Jamie Wood, McCloskey's former assistant coaches, were named interim co-head coaches.

Jones said the McCloskey firing is not a distraction.

"The girls, they've come together, and we're putting the team first," Jones said. "And we're trying to win hockey games, and putting anything we have together instead of breaking us apart."

McCloskey hopes the university will release more information, but he expects the truth about what happened with his termination to be exposed with or without their consent, considering how the press has been covering the story.


"I don't think it's going to matter," McCloskey said. "I think, long before the legality gets resolved, I think the truth is going to start coming out. The media's really been picking up interest. I've had reporters call me this week, and the [Boston] Globe and other newspapers. This is not going away."

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