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Steve Christilaw: Northwest Nazarene’s loss is Central Valley’s gain

If job security is a priority for you, if you like knowing where your next paycheck is coming from and you like the idea of a nice, secure retirement someday, then perhaps being a coach isn’t the career path for you.

Coaches like to joke about it.

Vince Lombardi once quipped that “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.”

The late Jim Valvano had the best take on the job fragility of his profession. The highly quotable coach who led North Carolina State to a surprise NCAA Tournament championship, titled his memoir “They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead.”

For every John Wooden and Dean Smith and Mark Few who are revered and beloved, there are untold numbers of once-revered coaches who have fallen from grace, or at least fallen out of favor.

That just goes with the territory.

Remember Woody Hayes? Beloved at Ohio State right up until the moment he punched a Clemson player in the throat on the sidelines of the Gator Bowl. Of course, that came after he shoved a cameraman at the Rose Bowl and destroyed a sideline marker near the end of a loss to Michigan.

Bobby Knight could do no wrong at Indiana – even if that meant throwing the occasional chair across a basketball court or being physically abusive to his players. But after 29 years with the Hoosiers, Knight was fired after verbally abusing a high-ranking female university official and for “gross insubordination.”

These are charged times we live in, and that is especially true for coaches.

Firing a coach is never an easy thing – unless you’re George Steinbrenner and the coach in question is Billy Martin. That pair turned the usual song-and-dance of a firing into an urban tango.

In the college ranks, there is generally an announcement that a coach is being fired. Or let go. Or removed. Or whatever phrase you want to use for getting canned.

The cliché that applies most frequently is that the school wants to go in a different direction. Usually a direction in which they think they can win more games with a new coach.

Generally, the coach will meet with his or her players to break the news to them in person. And frequently they will address a media gathering to thank the school for all the good times they had together and that they will remain friends now that they’ve broken up due to irreconcilable differences. They won’t go so far as to play Patsy Cline as background music, but you never know.

Yeah, it’s a lot like breaking up a relationship. And hey, breaking up is hard to do (sorry, Neil Sedaka).

Sometimes things are made harder than they have to be.

The way Northwest Nazarene University handled its women’s basketball coach back in February 2016 was just plain bad.

Ryan Bragdon, the Central Valley alum taking over the girls basketball program at his alma mater, was in his third season leading the NCAA Division II program and had the team in the middle of the playoff mix in the Great Northern Athletic Conference.

But a new school administration had other plans.

That happens. As Bill Parcells once said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

Suddenly and without notice, Bragdon wasn’t with his team on a weekend road trip. An interim coach was in charge of the team.

Apparently, athletic director Kelli Lindley thought that, since the team is based in Nampa, Idaho, no one would notice. The fact that the school succeeded for a week suggests there was merit in that strategy.

Something like this doesn’t stay a secret, and a local newspaper kept asking questions. Eventually the school issued a statement confirming that Bragdon was let go, saying the school’s administration wanted to go in a different direction. The move was not disciplinary, they added.

That’s it. Fired by vague press release. No public statement. No one stepping up and taking responsibility. The AD ducks the issue and blames “the administration.” Bragdon was fired by “them.”

As separations go this one ranks right up there with breaking up via text message. Just not nearly as classy.

If you believe your program should be winning more games, say so. Bragdon was 30-41 overall and his team was 8-10 at the time he was let go.

If you think your program should be attracting a different type of athlete or play a different style of basketball, say that.

Firing a coach in secret and then hoping no one will notice is classless – even for a Division II school in Nampa, Idaho.

In this highly charged environment, where scandal pops up with surprising frequency, saying nothing leaves a void that will be filled with unfair innuendo, rumor and internet speculation. Simply saying “The move was not disciplinary” doesn’t quell those rumors.

You are an institution of higher learning, to say nothing of the fact that you hold yourself to a higher standard by being a religious institution.

You need to be a better example and role model. Good and loyal service demands that your employees be treated better than this.

Ryan Bragdon is a nice guy and a very good basketball coach. He had a long history of success as an assistant women’s basketball coach at some very good schools before Northwest Nazarene tabbed him to be its head coach.

He deserved to be treated much, much better than what he was.

NNUs loss is Central Valley’s gain.

Surprisingly, and inexplicably, calls and texts to CV requesting comment on its hiring process were not returned.

Read into that what you will.

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