Oregon State dismisses Wagner as women's basketball coach

2010-06-01T23:58:00Z Oregon State dismisses Wagner as women's basketball coachBy Kevin Hampton, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

Oregon State women's basketball coach LaVonda Wagner has been fired, but it will come with a hefty price for the university.

Bob De Carolis, OSU's director of athletics, announced the decision on Tuesday.

"One of the major factors here was that we're always looking at the future and all the possibilities of what the future might look like," De Carolis said in a teleconference on Tuesday afternoon. "The more we looked at it, the more we felt we had to make a change in leadership."

De Carolis said the decision was reached on Friday but Wagner was out of town over the weekend. He met with her at about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Wagner was terminated without cause. That means she will be paid her base salary and her media/public relations commitment pay each year through the end of her contract in 2013.

Attempts to reach Wagner on Tuesday by the Gazette-Times were unsuccessful.

Starting July 1, Wagner will be paid $350,000 for 2010-2011. The next year she will be paid $400,000 and then $420,000 for the final year, a total of $1.17 million.

That's a big blow to an athletic department that is already in a $5.9 million hole.

De Carolis said the plan is to use revenue generated by the athletic department to pay Wagner. If necessary, he said, university funds could be used, although the athletic department would have to pay it back.

If Wagner finds employment in the meantime, the salary will be subtracted from the amount OSU owes.

The fourth coach in the program's history, Wagner was hired to succeed Judy Spoelstra on April 15, 2005. Wagner had assisted at Duke, Illinois and East Tennessee State for 17 years after her 1986 graduation from Mars Hill College in North Carolina, where she was an All-American volleyball and basketball player.

Wagner was 68-85 overall and 26-64 in the Pacific-10 Conference. Her 2006 and 2009 teams advanced to the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

De Carolis said the decision not to terminate with cause was made in part because of the complicated nature of employment law in Oregon.

"We took in account the whole situation, including coach Wagner's legal rights," he said. "We felt this was the best way to go."

He said there has been no indication of major incidents or actions by Wagner that would change the decision to terminate with cause.

Wagner coached the Beavers for five seasons, but her conduct on and off the court had come into question after seven players on the 2009-2010 team left the program.

That was in addition to eight players who had left in previous seasons during Wagner's time as coach. Four assistant coaches also left the program.

Some of the players accused Wagner of verbal abuse that occurred on a regular basis.

In a May 9 Gazette-Times story, some of the former players recounted Wagner's conduct.

"Basically we were called names," said former OSU player Tayler Champion. "It was antagonizing stuff, basically going at us emotionally. She would go at us in practice until someone would break down and cry."

Eboni Sadler, who is now at Azusa Pacific, corroborated Champion's assertion. "(Wagner's) demeanor with the players was degrading," Sadler said. "She could have had more compassion taking to us.

"I think she could have given us more respect as humans."

An outside consultant was brought in earlier this spring to take a look at the situation after players started leaving the team.

"We do not have the report as we speak," De Carolis said. "I would term this as a quick summary, nothing specific. We were looking at verifying some of the things the kids had said to us and that certainly was the case.

"We were definitely very concerned about the allegations. Part of this process has to be about health and well being of the athletes."

More players could be leaving the program. De Carolis confirmed that Haiden Palmer has applied for a transfer and Angela Misa is looking into the process, but players who have not signed a letter of intent with another team could remain with the Beavers.

De Carolis said OSU is working on a short list of coaches to replace Wagner and he had already heard from interested candidates by Tuesday afternoon.

"There's already double-digit inquiries into the job," he said.

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