An Unhappy Exit

I was saddened to see that University of New Hampshire women’s hockey coach Brian McCloskey was fired last week for what was described in a school press release as “inappropriate physical contact” with one of his players on the bench during a Nov. 30 game. He was an outstanding Dartmouth College player during the 1970s and was a Big Green men’s hockey assistant coach during the 1997-98 season.

That’s a line a coach simply can’t cross in public. I say in public, because if you think it’s not happening elsewhere occasionally and off the mass media radar, you’re kidding yourself.

There was a time, decades ago, where some coaches routinely hit, smacked and kicked their players, or yanked on their helmets and face masks. The tide began to genuinely turn when Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes hit a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl and then pulled on the face mask of a Buckeye who was trying to restrain him. He resigned soon after, ending a legendary career.

A year later, Arizona State football coach Frank Kush was fired after it came to light that he’d yanked the face mask of his punter, then punched him in the mouth after the player shanked a kick. Here’s a snippet from a Sports Illustrated article at the time, which nicely illustrates the old-school mindset.

“One of 15 children of a Pennsylvania coal miner, Kush made All-America as a scrappy 170-pound defensive guard on Michigan State’s 1952 national champions, and as a coach he tried to instill the same combativeness in his players.

“He slapped helmets, kicked butts, yanked face masks, doled out punishment laps up a 500-foot hillock known as Mount Kush and, according to what a former player, Mike Tomco, once told a reporter, stomped on players’ hands. A former Arizona State player, Steve Chambers, has told (Time Magazine), ‘He’s hit me with pipes, boards and a ship’s rope.’”

No one’s accusing McCloskey of anything that severe, but in this day and age, any physical contact is grounds for immediate dismissal, even more so when a male coach and a female player are involved. Universities simply can’t risk the legal liability and tainted image that would come with retaining an employee who acts that way.

I played for and worked under McCloskey during a couple of summer hockey camps as a teenager and I enjoyed his instruction and company. He’s intense and you didn’t goof around on his watch, but he passed on his serious love of the game to my peers and I.

I appreciate the time he took with me, even all these years later.