Whitley: Newbauer is a mistake UF has to learn from
Scott Stricklin did not look like the athletic director at a school with a top-10 football program on Tuesday. He hadn’t gotten much sleep and there were no smiles.
There shouldn’t have been. Everyone’s attention is usually on football or recruiting or men’s basketball. But it has become obvious that not enough attention was paid to women’s basketball.
People are paying attention now. And it’s not a good look for the Gators.
The Independent Florida Alligator reported Monday that ex-coach Cam Newbauer basically engaged in a three-year reign of terror. Players said he was verbally abusive to them, to assistant coaches and support staff.
A lot of coaches are vocal and profane, but this went far beyond acceptability. If the allegations can be believed — and nobody’s denying them — Newbauer was tyrannical.
Kudos to the Alligator for its reporting. But the story did not answer how Newbauer got away with this behavior for so long.
That’s because there is no good answer.
“We failed in this situation, and ultimately that’s my responsibility,” Stricklin said. “Now it’s incumbent on us going forward, not just in women’s basketball, but in all sports, that we have the right leadership and create the right culture.”
You’ve heard of Teachable Moments? This is a Teachable Embarrassment.
The story has gotten a lot of national traction. Instead of people in Oregon reading about Florida’s football team, they’re reading about Florida’s failure to detect a festering problem.
Newbauer was hired in 2017 from Belmont University. The vetting process apparently didn’t find any red flags, but they started waving soon enough in Gainesville.
According to the Alligator, Newbauer constantly berated and demeaned players at practice. He bullied everybody who got in his orbit, including trainers. He was secretly nicknamed “Dr. Google” because he thought he diagnosed and treat injuries based on what he found on the Internet.
“There wasn’t somebody’s business he wasn’t putting himself in,” said Cyndee Kinslow, a graduate transfer on the 2020-21 team.
The abuse went beyond the court. Players said Newbauer didn’t like how two Black players wore shorts and shirts with cut-off sleeves, so he had an assistant take them shopping for new clothes. He also didn’t like tattoos and told players to cover them when his three daughters were present.
He made comments about Black players’ hair, which the Alligator termed “microaggressions.” And an unidentified player attempted suicide and eventually quit the team, a player said.
The racial element is concerning but largely open to interpretation. And I’m not ready to say Newbauer almost drove a player to her death. But there is no doubt Newbauer’s behavior was way out of bounds.
So how did he get away with it?
Stricklin said the administration heard complaints in 2018 and investigated. It didn’t find any physical abuse, but the verbal abuse was obvious enough to warrant warnings to straighten up.
The complaints stopped in 2019, which is when assistant AD Jay Jacobs was assigned to oversee the women's basketball program and even go on road trips to monitor things.
By last year, things had quelled to the point where UF gave Newbauer a contract extension. That seems incomprehensible now, but he had one year left on his contract.
“It’s hard to give a coach a one-year extension,” Stricklin said.
They adjusted it to where only one year was guaranteed and Newbauer didn’t get a raise from his $283,000 salary. It was essentially a one-year deal, but Stricklin spoke optimistically of where the program was going when the extension was announced in June.
A month later, there was another bullying incident involving another staff member. That’s when UF realized it messed up and essentially forced Newbauer to resign.
A lot of questions remain, like why didn’t all the people Newbauer intimidated come forward? How did he get away with this for so long?
Florida tried its best to handle the situation, but its best obviously wasn't nearly good enough.
“We didn’t pick up signs and clues,” Stricklin said, “and we’ve got to figure out going forward how to get better at that and make sure we know what’s going on.”
There’s one answer UF administration has got to come up with — How does it keep this from happening again?
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley