The Ambush

Two white umbrellas shielded Athletic Director Kevin Clark and Deputy Athletic Director Pat Kraft from the downpour of rain as they followed the student-athletes into the building.

Moments later, on a gloomy Friday afternoon last Dec. 6, Clark was gone.

He had just dealt a heavy blow to the 200 or so student-athletes gathered at the Student Pavilion on Main Campus: Temple’s Board of Trustees approved a recommendation from Clark to eliminate men’s gymnastics, men’s indoor and outdoor track & field, baseball, softball, men’s crew and women’s rowing, effective July 1, 2014.

Clark, who was promoted from interim to full-time athletic director a month earlier, delivered the news in less than three minutes. He stood at a podium in front of a banner celebrating Temple’s inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference, on a turf field installed last summer that allowed the football team to practice indoors.

By the end of the announcement, many student-athletes were in tears.

The door to the building slammed open as one of the student-athletes affected by the decision stormed out. She walked away and stood next to a black fence surrounding the facility, clenching a laptop in her arms with a blank gaze on her face.

The student-athletes began filing outside, most visibly upset. Standing across the street, members of the women’s track & field team tried to make sense of the fact that their program would be split in half.

A group of soccer players, unaffected by the cuts, passed by the Geasey Field Complex.

“F––– this school,” one student-athlete said.

“Football and basketball get f–––ing everything,” another said.

One student-athlete’s words seemed to sum up the entire group’s reaction: “I don’t know what to do.”

The students never saw it coming.

The email they had gotten the day before, calling for a mandatory meeting of all student-athletes at 1:45 p.m. the next day, was nondescript.

“Additional details will be distributed tomorrow morning,” the email from Justin Miller, director of student-athlete advising, said.

The Owls knew it would be bad – an emergency meeting scheduled on a study day had to be – but a few of them were cracking jokes and laughing while walking into the Student Pavilion.

Some speculated that someone had cheated on an exam and they would be lectured ahead of finals week. But the announcement that was soon delivered to the teams was one that few, if any, expected.

Entering his third year as Temple’s baseball coach, Ryan Wheeler was called upon to attend a meeting with Clark and other administrators on Dec. 6 in the fourth-floor sports offices at 1700 N. Broad St.

Wheeler said he was present in the waiting room alongside track & field coach Eric Mobley and softball coach Joe DiPietro.

Mobley was summoned first. A few minutes later, after he emerged with visible distress from his individual meeting with Clark, the situation became relatively clear.

“You just had to sit and wait for your turn,” Wheeler said. “They ripped the Band-Aid off and they ambushed us with the news. It didn’t give us time to do anything about it.”

After learning for certain that the baseball program was being cut, Wheeler had to rush over to the Student Pavilion to be with his players when Clark delivered the news. Rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski wasn’t given that opportunity.

“I wasn’t in there because I had a meeting 10 minutes prior that was late,” Grzybowski said. “I was in 1700 hearing the news and I didn’t even get the courtesy to be with my team when the announcement was handed down. I walked into the aftermath of it.”

“They’re not just breaking up the team, they’re breaking up the teammates – my best friends.”

One person who did make it over to the Student Pavilion in time for the announcement was 34th-year crew coach Gavin White.

“Coach White? I think you mean Mr. White,” he said with a laugh during an interview following the cuts.

White, who was inducted into the Temple Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985, learned of the cuts in the same manner as the other coaches – including 38th-year men’s gymnastics coach Fred Turoff.

Turoff had a meeting with Kraft at 1:05 p.m. After everyone was in the know, the team went to McGonigle Hall and trained. Turoff said the news “cast a pall” over the session.

“They’re terribly disappointed,” Turoff said at the time. “Some of them were tearing. Nobody was in a buoyant mood.”

Turoff was informed of the meetings by an email sent to him on Dec. 5.

“There was no indication to me … that it was only directed to certain coaches,” Turoff said.

“One of my kids said to me, ‘How long have you known this?’” White said. “I told him, ‘20 minutes.’ He said, ‘Get out of here.’”

University officials said the cuts were kept quiet in an effort to avoid the spread of rumors and misinformation. Some coaches and student-athletes were conflicted on the matter and said there might not have been an ideal way to break the news to them.

White’s biggest complaint in regards to the handling of the announcement was that it came less than three days before the start of final exams. He called the timing “cruel.”

“I can’t sleep as it is,” White said. “They have to take finals. The timing couldn’t be worse in terms of academics. That part baffled me. My goodness.”

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how smart you are,” White added. “It’s got to be on their minds. And then they’ll hold us accountable when we have two or three guys ineligible because they didn’t do well on their finals. No kidding.”

University officials said the timing was coordinated to allow student-athletes to contemplate their future plans over the holiday break.

“The way they did it was very uncompassionate for all the hard work we’ve put in,” junior Julia Kastner, of the softball team, said. “I think the timing was just terrible. Friday was a study day, and they scheduled the meeting right in the middle of the day.”

“It’s really hard to concentrate when half of the team is trying to figure out where they’re transferring for fall of next year or maybe even spring,” Kastner added. “The other half of the team is thinking about how much they’re going to miss everybody. They’re not just breaking up the team, they’re breaking up the teammates – my best friends.”

Clark’s two-minute speech announcing the cuts to student-athletes was also questioned.

“He read off a piece of paper,” Kastner said. “It felt like we were being fired from our jobs. It was quick and clean and then he just got out of there.”

“He pretty much just handed us over to Justin Miller and said, ‘See you later guys. I’m out of here,’” crew captain Fergal Barry said. “We’re not his problem anymore after July 1.”

Wheeler emphasized the “great distance” in space between Clark and the student-athletes when he took the podium. White attributed the brevity of the announcement to the fact that Clark was “probably scared to death” in cutting such historic programs.

“He could have been more personable about it – more compassionate,” Wheeler said.

“It was quick,” White said. “Chop, boom, you’re gone.”