UF players back Kelly Rae Finley to clean up Newbauer's mess

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Florida women’s basketball players endorsed Kelly Rae Finley as their coach Thursday, saying she should not be implicated in the fiasco that brought down former coach Cam Newbauer. 

He abruptly resigned in July amid rumors of improper behavior, and Finley was named interim coach. Two months later, former players accused Newbauer of verbally abusing them, being racially insensitive and creating an intolerable atmosphere.

Some players said Finley, who was associate head coach, enabled Newbauer’s behavior and questioned whether she should be put in charge of the struggling program.

“I don’t believe I’d be here if that were the case,” Finley said. “I think our student-athletes and our current team can speak to my character.”

In their first public comments on the situation, that’s what Lavender Briggs, Kiara Smith and Zippy Broughton did.

“I had the opportunity to leave but chose to stay because I saw something in Kelly that is beautiful,” Briggs said. “She’s strong and hardworking and we love her as a coach, and even more as a person, and she didn’t let anybody down.”

Finley and the players spoke on a media Zoom call and made it clear they wanted to look ahead to ahead, not behind them.

“Our administration has addressed the previous allegations,” Finley said, “and our focus is on the upcoming season.”

When Newbauer quit, the university said it was for personal reasons. After The Independent Florida Alligator story last month, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said the department had investigated complaints about Newbauer and told him to modify his behavior.

Newbauer straightened up to the point where he was given a contract extension this spring. But after another incident in July, he was essentially forced out. Newbauer’s four-year record was 46-71.

“We failed in this situation,” Stricklin said in September. “Ultimately, that’s my responsibility for the culture of this department. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

That hasn’t mollified critics, most notably former player Cydnee Kinslow. She transferred to Florida last season after playing for three other schools. She said Newbauer’s behavior drove her and an unnamed teammate to attempt suicide, and that Finley should have done more to stop the abuse.

“This is no different than when someone commits a crime,” she told SI.com. “Cam robbed the bank but Kelly drove the car. She’s just as guilty as he is.”

Briggs said Kinslow is largely speaking from second-hand knowledge.

“What she says doesn’t really matter,” Briggs said. “She’s speaking off things that aren’t even her experiences. If those players wanted to speak on those experiences, then they would have or they still will.

“I’m pretty sure they don’t, which is why they haven’t been spoken about. If she wants to speak on experiences that aren’t her own, then she can. But she can’t paint a narrative that’s not even true because those aren’t even her words or aren’t even her experiences.”

Briggs averaged a team-high 19.4 points a game last season. She entered the transfer portal in July but withdrew her name after Newbauer resigned. She seemed happy with the decision.

“The atmosphere is a lot different than it was last year,” Briggs said. “There’s a lot more energy, a lot more smiles and a lot more people happy to actually be playing with each other.”

The Gators open their season Nov. 5 against Georgia State. They went 12-14 last season and were picked to finish 11th in the conference in the SEC preseason poll of coaches.

With Newbauer gone, Florida thinks it can do better than that.

“As a coach, it’s really important that it’s not about you. This is our student-athletes’ program, and they have complete ownership of it,” Finley said. “And when a group of women is empowered to do so, really powerful things can happen. And I’m encouraged to see what happens on the court this season.”

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