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Questions remain after abrupt firing of EWU soccer coach Chad Bodnar

UPDATED: Tue., May 11, 2021

Chad Bodnar, head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eastern Washington University, watches players practice Oct. 31, 2017.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
Chad Bodnar, head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eastern Washington University, watches players practice Oct. 31, 2017. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

The surprise firing Monday of Eastern Washington University soccer coach Chad Bodnar has led to more questions – ones that Athletic Director Lynn Hickey says she is in no position to answer.

“I would love to, but I cannot speak on personnel issues,” Hickey said Tuesday.

Reached later on Tuesday, Bodnar said he was told the same thing during a face-to-face meeting with Hickey.

“She said it was a (human resources) thing and said she couldn’t comment,” Bodnar said.

Bodnar, the most successful coach in program history and the architect of one of the biggest turnarounds at EWU, was told Monday by Hickey that his contract would not be renewed.

“I was shocked,” Bodnar said. “This is mind-blowing because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

The news caps a tumultuous spring at EWU. Basketball coach Shantay Legans was hired away by the University of Portland following the Eagles’ NCAA run and women’s coach Wendy Schuller’s contract was not renewed following a third straight losing season and an exodus of players.

Bodnar’s situation is different.

“He’s done a great job for our program, but we feel we need to move to different leadership,” Hickey said of Bodnar, whose contract ends on May 31.

“We’re going to work very hard to bring in the best coach we can,” said Hickey, dispelling the notion that the cut might be to reduce expenses in the department.

“We can’t cut soccer – it’s a great sport for us,” Hickey said.

She also had no complaints about the program’s performance on the field.

Arriving in 2014 from Walla Walla Community College, Bodnar inherited a last-place team from longtime coach George Hageage.

Two years later, the Eagles were hosting the Big Sky Conference Tournament – and winning it, sending Eastern to the NCAA Tournament and a 3-1 loss at eventual champion USC.

A year later, the Eagles went 16-6-1 overall, won the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles and took USC to overtime in the first round before falling 2-1.

Bodnar’s overall record at EWU was 73-44-15. This year, the Eagles finished 5-4-2 overall in a season shifted to the spring because of COVID-19.

Hickey also said that Bodnar wasn’t being let go for any “academic or NCAA issues.”

The team had a 3.6 grade point average in winter quarter.

That narrowed it down. But from Bodnar’s perspective, Hickey’s refusal to give a reason for nonrenewal leaves him in a tough spot.

“It hurts my career going forward,” Bodnar said. “When I start looking for another coaching position, they’re going to ask ‘why were you fired?’ ”

Addressing the elephant in the room, Bodnar denied any misconduct or abuse toward players.

“Not from me,” Bodnar said.

“Every year you’re going to have some players who complain about a lack of playing time,” Bodnar said. “But three-quarters of them say they like to play for me.”

“And why do we keep doing so well?” Bodnar said.

Bodnar said he believes that politics may have played a part in his dismissal, a point he hinted at on social media shortly after the news broke.

“We used to have a close family of coaches and a close community and times have changed, obviously …” Bodnar posted Monday on Twitter.

Expounding on that, Bodnar acknowledged that he has sometimes been critical of the athletic department – “too outspoken for my own good,” he said.

“But being outspoken and being competitive is a good thing,” he said.

It didn’t help that he lost one assistant during the fall season. Hickey said the cut was a byproduct of belt-tightening because of COVID-19, but Bodnar wasn’t so sure.

“Every other team in the Big Sky has at least two assistants, and most have three,” Bodnar said.

After the fall season, Bodnar took some time off, both for his own health and for his father, who died in December.

Since then, Bodnar said he felt he was “getting the cold shoulder” from senior staff in the athletic department.

Bodnar said he sent Hickey a message in mid-April inquiring about his expiring contract.

He said he never received a response until last week, when Hickey asked for the face-to-face meeting that led to his dismissal.

“I’m still in shock,” Bodnar said. “I’m just processing it all today, and then tomorrow it’s time to look for another job.”

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