According to multiple sources, North Idaho College has fired longtime wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb following an external review that found possible violations of academic integrity within the athletic department.
Whitcomb, who won two national titles wrestling for the Cardinals and coached them to three national titles, said during a telephone interview Tuesday that he was on his way to speak to his wrestlers.
“I’m just getting the news myself,” said Whitcomb, who took the job in 1997. “It would be premature for me to comment on it. I’m very proud of my career here and the kids I’ve coached.
“I’ve never been afraid to stand up for what is right off the mat. But it’s premature to comment.”
News of the coach’s ouster comes two days before NIC, which is tied with Iowa Central as the No. 4-ranked team in the country, is scheduled to meet Eastern Oregon University in Coeur d’Alene.
Former longtime coach John Owen, who guided the Cardinals to eight national titles and finished ranked in the top three in 18 of his 20 years, said he learned on Monday that Whitcomb was out, along with eight-year assistant coach Keri Stanley.
“My phone was going off this morning. It was just blowing up, especially from alumni,” Owen said. “I have an inside source that the wrestling program was involved. They were the problem. I don’t want to know any more.”
Since 1972, NIC has dominated the NJCAA landscape. The Cardinals have won 14 national team titles, 54 national individual titles and have had 235 All-Americans – all NJCAA records.
News of Whitcomb’s job status came a day after NIC President Rick MacLennan sent out an internal memo to announce that the school had last fall initiated an investigation into “possible violations of academic integrity after concerns were brought to leadership’s attention regarding practices within the athletic department.”
MacLennan wrote that the investigation found violations related to the athletic department but “the investigation thus far has determined this is an isolated, relational-based issue not systemic.”
Speaking on MacLennan’s behalf, NIC spokeswoman Laura Rumpler on Tuesday said that it would be inaccurate to say that Whitcomb had been fired.
Asked if Whitcomb would be the wrestling coach on Wednesday, Rumpler replied: “Pat Whitcomb is still an employee of North Idaho College. Beyond that, I will reiterate that we have an ongoing investigation that involve multiple personnel issues.”
Rumpler said the external review had been completed by the college’s legal counsel and the findings had recently been delivered to MacLennan.
“That’s the reason we have the personnel issues and what we are continuing to do with the ongoing investigation,” she said.
Asked if the wrestling team was part of the possible violations of academic integrity, Rumpler refused to answer.
“I’m not going to share specifics within programs within the athletic department,” she said. “Again, we have shared more with the media and our college community than we are bound by personnel (guidelines).”
In his written statement, MacLennan “assured” NIC staff that he will say what he can “regarding this ongoing investigation. The NIC Board of Trustees is aware of the investigation and supports the actions of college leadership as we navigate this situation.
“I ask that you honor the privacy and dignity of those involved and refrain from giving any credibility to rumors by maintaining your high level of professionalism as members of the North Idaho College family.”
Echoing what Rumpler said, NIC athletic director Al Williams said in an interview Tuesday that “no one has been terminated, at this point.”
Owen said he has been assured that his protege had been let go. Another coach with former ties to NIC also confirmed Whitcomb had been fired, but he asked that his name not be used because it could impact his job.
“I knew within 30 minutes after he got fired,” said Owen, who had not spoken to Whitcomb. “I was shocked.”
Owen, 70, still follows the Cardinals and supports wrestling.
“Very few kids earn any money wrestling,” he said. “You hope they get an education and become better people.”
Owen wasn’t sure why NIC officials would deny Whitcomb was no longer their coach.
“If you are going to can a couple guys 54 days before the end of the season,” Owen said, “you better have just cause.”
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