Every Tuesday night at 9 PM, the student organization ReMasc meets in the Office of Intercultural Education. The group is a typical liberal arts college student organization, dedicated to raising awareness around gender violence and addressing unhealthy expressions of masculinity. Peter Lasagna, the head men’s lacrosse coach of 14 years, often will be present at the meetings, giving advice and showing his support for the work the group does.
Lasagna’s presence at these meetings serves as an example of the standard Bates’ athletic coaches are held to, not necessarily being involved in a student group, but playing a significant role in the Bates community. At Bates, the expectations of coaches are that they contribute in more ways than just winning, although that is important too. Our athletic department mission statement reads that, “The Department and its programs play a critical role in promoting diversity, respect, and inclusion while working to build community amongst students, faculty, staff, alumni, and in Lewiston-Auburn.” The leadership expected from coaches with respect to residential and community values at a liberal arts college like Bates demonstrate the uniqueness of NESCAC athletics in the climate of national collegiate athletics. In the faculty handbook of Bates College, a document drafted and edited by The Office of the Dean of Faculty, there is a particular process outlined for evaluating coaches. These community expectations serve as an important standard that guides the evaluative process prescribed by the handbook.
In his ninth year as Athletic Director, Kevin McHugh plays a central role in upholding these standards for coaches through his leadership. “It’s an expectation,” McHugh said. “We talk about in the Athletics Mission Statement, how valuable the role of building community is both in the campus and locally, so you’ll find virtually every one of our teams is involved in some kind of community engagement service aspect.” He went on to explain, “Our coaches are on our committees to the extent that they can be involved.” McHugh discusses this community involvement in a way that does not suggest it is a challenge to motivate coaches, but instead a natural expectation of holding a coaching position at Bates. “There’s not a particular bar that says ‘you need to be here in regard to your community involvement’…it’s not as cut as cut and dry as that,” he said.
This point of emphasis from McHugh and the Bates athletic department is part of the wider mission of the college to “educate the whole person… in a collaborative residential community,” a hallmark of most liberal arts institutions. It is particularly poignant for athletics to place value in this endeavor in order to combat the inevitable social divide that arises between athletes and non-athletes in college.
McHugh has considerable weight as a leader to establish a culture of active community involvement with coaches here at Bates. He also plays a significant role in the way the school seeks out and hires coaches, and carries considerable power in evaluating current coaches as a member of the Committee on Personnel for Physical Education (PEPC), which also determines the ultimate termination of a coach. Bates College Media Relations Director Kent Fischer noted that, “The hiring and evaluation of the coaches is a collaborative effort between the president, the trustees, Athletics, Human Resources, and PEPC. In addition, the president and trustees provide high-level oversight of this process, just as they do for other departments across campus.” Here we examine these important institutional processes: Hiring, evaluation, and termination.
In attracting coaches to Bates, McHugh aims to emphasize the best parts of the school to prospective candidates. “Just like recruiting, I would never down sell another institution,” McHugh said, “but I would talk about what is positive about Bates, what I see as the fit for Bates, what we’re about in terms of how we approach our athletic program and how it fits with the rest of the college.” McHugh also mentioned that the intimate relationship coaches get to have with student-athletes at a small school like Bates is another major selling point.
Salary is one area in which McHugh has minimal recruiting leeway. “There is a range within which we have to work with Human Resources that determines that [salary], and within that range I can make a recommendation of where we want to start someone in relation to what their experience is and what they bring. So if you’re hiring a coach that already has been a head coach, that has several years’ experience, maybe I can argue higher in that range.” Still, Bates does not give any sort of merit pay. The only salary increases that coaches receive are based on how long they’ve been at the school. “Trying to do merit pay for coaches and not doing that for the rest of your faculty and staff would just never fly, I don’t think,” commented McHugh. “It’s just not part of what we’re about.”
Though McHugh relies some on his intuition when analyzing potential coaches, Bates involves several parties in the process. “I feel like I know the right fit when I see it, and I haven’t been right 100 percent of the time, but I’ve been doing it for 30-odd years and you start to get a better sense of when this is a fit for them and they’re a fit for us. But our hiring process tries to make sure that it isn’t just me trying to make that determination, so that’s why we have a search committee, we try to get a faculty member whenever we can, and we do involve the student-athletes so that we’re getting input from them as well. We also have our candidates meet with various people on campus, and we get that input too.”
The hiring of assistant coaches is a less formal process, one that primarily relies on the recommendations of head coaches. According to McHugh, “Typically it’s the head coach that says, ‘my assistant is leaving, here’s who I would like to go with.’” Bates finds assistant coaches in a variety of ways, including through advertising online, word of mouth, and personal connections. Alumni looking to get into coaching will also often aim to begin their careers at their alma mater.
Once an assistant coaching candidate has been identified, McHugh said that, “It’s pretty much, more or less, who is going to best fit the program; we’ll have a discussion about who that person is and what their background is,” then make a decision.
The Committee on Personnel for Physical Education evaluates current coaches at Bates. The committee for this academic year includes McHugh, dean of faculty Matthew Auer, associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Gwen Lexow, and two professors, Erica Rand from the art and visual culture and women and gender studies departments, and Georgia Nigro from the psychology department.
Each coach is hired on a three-year contract. In their third year, they are subject to a review process conducted by these committee members. “If the third-year evaluation is positive, candidates for renewal will be recommended for an additional three-contract. If the head coach receives an unfavorable initial review, they will not be reappointed after the third year,” reads the PEPC handbook. After six years, each coach is subject to an “in-depth” review. If they are rehired again, then it is in the form of an “ongoing” three-year contract, which is renewed each year. At this stage of their tenure at Bates, coaches become subject to a “review due to concern about job performance,” which can be initiated by McHugh, or by the committee as a whole. If this review is negative, coaches are still able to finish out the remaining time on their ongoing three-year contract before being terminated.
Evaluation is done by the athletic director, annual student evaluations on standard forms, 20 student letters for the sixth-year review, two colleagues who “shall be identified by the dean of the faculty upon recommendation of the athletic director, in consultation with the candidate,” “one uniquely qualified colleague,” and four outside evaluators for the sixth-year review. Coaches meet annually with McHugh and also submit a summary of their coaching and recruiting philosophy, accomplishments, and community service participation for in-depth sixth-year reviews and any reviews prompted by concerns about their performance.
The PEPC handbook states that, “At a small and selective liberal arts college, coaching is not measured exclusively by records of wins and losses. It also involves encouraging the development in individual students of such qualities as self-confidence, self-control, persistence, discipline, cooperation, and teamwork.” McHugh echoed these sentiments, stating, “If they’re doing everything well, recruiting as well as they can, instructing and developing the kids, the alumni relationships are great, and we’re not having the success even though we’re doing everything we can with the support that we have, just the [lack of] competitive success alone may not be a reason to get rid of someone.”
Bates sports in general have had a remarkable track record in terms of performance on the playing field. This is evidenced by the recent successes of women’s rowing, men’s basketball, the track and field teams, the contingent of swimmers who have earned All-American status, and many other teams and individuals.
But like any other college program, from Division I all the way down to Division III, inadequate performance is certainly an issue. However, tolerance of such performance is higher at many NESCAC schools compared to institutions like Miami, who recently fired head football coach Al Golden after an embarrassing 58-0 loss to Clemson. That loss was not the only deciding factor, however, as it seemed Golden failed to maintain the illustrious Hurricane football tradition.
That notion of tradition and community commitment resonates throughout the college ranks and plays a major role in the termination of a coach. Specifically, not only is a coach called upon to carry on a winning tradition at Bates, but also to contribute both to the school and the surrounding community. McHugh stated that recognizing what “contribution they’ve made in the time they have been here [Bates]” is a significant factor in the termination process.
While coaches at Bates are signed to three-year contracts, both McHugh and student-athletes evaluate their performance annually. According to McHugh, each athlete does an evaluation of his or her coach after every season, which “factors into the discussions” between the coach and McHugh. These annual discussions, according to McHugh, lean heavily on student-athlete feedback.
If the third-year evaluation process is unfavorable, then the termination process begins. The Committee on Personnel for Physical Education heads the termination process for coaches at Bates. In recent athletics history, there have been few instances of the evaluation process terminating a coach. McHugh explained that, “we have had really only one [terminated] through the PEPC process,” while there was another instance in which a coach “decided to leave” before the Committee undertook the review.
The prescribed faculty handbook process for hiring, evaluating, and firing coaches is clearly laid out, providing cogent and effective guidelines for this institutional process. In order to adhere to Bates’ commitments to residential and community engagement values, this process is particularly rigorous.