(This story was published in 2007).
Openly gay University of Missouri head lacrosse coach Kyle Hawkins was informed Friday, May 4, that his contract will not be renewed for the 2007-'08 school year.
Hawkins was informed of his termination in a meeting with a Missouri lacrosse leadership group that consisted of captains of the team, faculty advisors, assistant coaches, and a representative of the University. Hawkins said the group asked him to resign and he refused. His contract will run out May 31.
The Missouri lacrosse team is not a varsity sport, but rather a club team affiliated with the school. There are no scholarships, and the decision-making of the team rests largely on the shoulders of the players, not school administrators or coaches.
"The players were the major part of it," the team's faculty advisor, Karen Mitchell, told Outsports. Mitchell is a graduate student at Missouri who said she has never played lacrosse. "There were comments from players, parents, and I had concerns. But our biggest concerns were the opinions of the current players."
The commissioner of the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference, of which Missouri is a part, Brian Mosher told Outsports that decisions like these are not a surprise coming from student-run sports teams.
"You see these kids who think they know better than anybody else, and I don't think they think long-term as to what the ramification on the program is going to be," Mosher said. "Missouri is taking three big steps backward, and they're going to have a hard time in the next four to five years being competitive at all. I just think it was not a very wise move, a bad decision for the program overall. In a year or two, they will regret it."
Hawkins first contacted Outsports in 2004 when he was looking for advice on how to balance his sexuality and coaching. Soon after, he joined the Outsports discussion board anonymously as "Frustrated Coach" and for almost two years received advice from Outsports community members. He publicly revealed his identity and sexuality in June 2006.
Asked his opinion on whether his homosexuality in part led to his firing, Hawkins would not comment. Mitchell said it was never a part of the conversation.
"I can tell you that I spent nearly every game with this team in the fall and in the spring season," Mitchell told Outsports. "I got to know the guys very well. I've had a lot of one-on-one and small-group conversations with them. I can tell you that his sexuality has been a non-issue with this team. The issues for this team have been Kyle's performance as a coach."
Mitchell said the team considered letting Hawkins go last year, but decided not to because he came out of the closet. "If they let him go last year, it would have been, 'Oh my god, he came out and then they fired him,' " Mitchell said. "They didn't want that to be the perception. So, his contract was renewed with the understanding that this year he needed to improve his coaching ability."
Mosher said that Kyle's sexuality has never been an issue for him, and as far as he knows it has not been an issue for anyone in the conference.
"I can say, within our conference board meetings, it's not a topic of discussion," Mosher said. "Even in my conversations with coaches individually, I haven't heard anything. At Missouri State you have coach Daren Turner, who's a Southern Baptist minister. And even in my conversations with Daren, it never came up. The only time it came up was somebody called me, as the conference director, to get my take on it, and I said it has no bearing on anything. Anything about him personally is irrelevant to me."
Hawkins said he was given eight primary reasons for the team's decision not to renew his contract. Those included, according to Hawkins, some players' unhappiness with his practice structure; that the team felt he had a negative reputation outside the school; and that some of his actions have reflected negatively on the team. Hawkins said that the reasons are ridiculous.
"I've been here for nine years," Hawkins told Outsports, "and I have a ridiculously good record."
According to Hawkins, his nine-year record at Missouri is 127-58. This past season Missouri lacrosse had a record of 6-9; it was the team's first losing season under his tutelage. Of the 26 players listed on the team Web site, 18 are underclassmen.
"The win-loss record wasn't even a consideration," Mitchell said. "It didn't even come up when were talking about whether or not to renew his contract."
Mitchell said that the decision stemmed primarily from discontent with Hawkins expressed by players on the team.
"A lot of the team members felt that practices weren't being well-utilized," Mitchell said. "They were doing a lot of unnecessary routines and exercises and not enough kinds of practices of things that they did need, like shooting exercises. We felt he wasn't doing a good job as a coach."
Mosher was shocked to hear questions about Hawkins' coaching ability.
"That's nonsense," Mosher said. "He's coached high school lacrosse and coached at Missouri for 10 years and been successful at it. He's coached camps, and he's had big varsity coaches come work their camp for him. And he's had kids come to his own camp and return the next year. I would say he's a very good teacher."
This past season, Missouri had the top scorer in the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference, Blaine Skrainka, and the No. 5 scorer in Chris Nagel. Eight Tigers received Division A All-GRLC Team honors.
Mitchell said another issue with Hawkins was that he did not represent the school or the team well on road trips, and that he did not have a good reputation.
"If that's one of their claims, I certainly disagree," Mosher said.
Mosher said Hawkins is one of the strongest advocates of inclusion in lacrosse, and because of that he sometimes butted heads with coaches and programs that Mosher described as more elitist.
"Kyle is very passionate about the game and his suggestions," Mosher added. "Kyle wasn't an ass about anything, but he wasn't one to back down because you disagreed with him. And ultimately, his opinion was often the one they chose down the road."
Hawkins said he has spoken to other coaches in the conference and that they have expressed "shock" at his firing. Hawkins said he will likely look for another coaching job elsewhere, and that he already received an offer from a rival school the day he learned of his firing.
Mosher said that Hawkins will be a hot commodity in the offseason:
"The teams that are in this to win would want someone like Kyle on the sidelines. It's very difficult to find a guy who's established, knows what he's doing for the most part, is in the top 30 coaches of all the 200 of us in the country, which I'd say Kyle is. He has a lot to offer, and he's been willing to do it. At our level, to find someone who's willing to do it for more than a year or two is tough. Kyle is willing to make the commitment, put in his own time and money to build a program, and I think that says a lot. In our neck of the woods, anybody looking for a coach would have to entertain the idea if he sent in his resume."
ESPN has been developing a story segment on Hawkins that will air later this month.