Two weeks later, it’s still unclear exactly why Eastern Washington University fired the most successful women’s soccer coach in school history.
However, email records obtained this week by The Spokesman-Review indicate a strained relationship between Chad Bodnar and athletic director Lynn Hickey, who announced on May 11 that his contract would not be renewed.
Depending on how you interpret those emails, Bodnar was either a tireless advocate for his program or a tiresome complainer in the face of severe budget constraints in the EWU athletic department.
Bodnar acknowledged as much on Wednesday.
“I’m a direct communicator, perhaps too much,” said Bodnar, who led the Eagles to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths and a seven-year record of 73-44-15.
Bodnar’s players excelled in the classroom and the program had no troubles with the NCAA – that is, until April 11.
In the final match of the regular season, a 3-1 loss at Montana on April 11, an official NCAA report emailed to Hickey described Bodnar yelling expletives at officials as they left the field, leading to a postmatch red card.
The NCAA filed a report and sent an email to Hickey, who termed Bodnar’s behavior “totally unacceptable” in an email response to the NCAA.
Whether that was the last straw, Hickey couldn’t say.
“I can’t speak to that,” said Hickey, citing privacy issues. “But one single incident like that would not terminate a coach.”
However, other factors appeared to add up. At various times, Bodnar complained about the travel arrangements, coordination of practice with other teams, the lack of live-streaming for some matches, short-term contracts for some coaches and even a religious-themed email sent by Hickey on Easter.
Above all, Bodnar chafed at the lack of staffing. While most Big Sky programs have two assistant coaches, EWU had only one after a departing coach wasn’t replaced last fall.
Hickey said the cut was because of the loss of the fall season due to COVID. However, she said Wednesday that given the department’s tight budget, she could not guarantee that the next head coach would have two assistants.
Staffing levels for minor sports came into focus again last week, as EWU Interim President David May hinted at more budget cuts.
The lack of money was an ever-present topic in emails involving Hickey, Bodnar, other coaches and officials.
In an email sent March 16 to Hickey and other officials, Bodnar said, “It would be nice to get our kids live streaming. They really do feel slighted and not appreciated. … Our team has 31 players and now only two staff and we still have to do a job when other teams have 14 players and 4 staff and grad assistants.”
Following the Eagles’ successful appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, coach Shantay Legans was hired away by the University of Portland. In following days, several players left the program via the NCAA transfer portal.
On March 30, Bodnar Tweeted: “Maybe figuring out what is going to happen in athletics and signing coaches to more than 6-month contracts would deter some players from feeling they need to leave. But that’s only my opinion.”
Despite his record at EWU, Bodnar already felt vulnerable about his job. Later that week, on April 1, a few hours after Hickey fired longtime women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller, he emailed Don Ross, EWU’s Associate Athletic Director for Sports and Administration.
“Just want to win some games this weekend so Lynn can’t fire me too,” Bodnar wrote.
A few days later, Bodnar reacted to an all-staff email sent by Hickey on April 4 – Easter Sunday, in which she mentioned her Christian faith while thanking everyone for their resilience during the pandemic.
The following day, Bodnar sent an email to Vara Lyn Conrath, an employee in the EWU human resources department: “I don’t think this is professional or right to do at work. Religion is everyone’s choice. But not a work topic.”
Bodnar continued: “I’m pretty upset with how things have continued to go downhill and there’s one reason it is. It’s not Easter or being a Southern Baptist. I’ll say that. Go Eags!”
The following weekend, the Eagles traveled to Missoula for a season-ending two-game series at Montana. Because the pandemic had wiped out the traditional fall season, it was moved to the spring, with regular-season matches only.
EWU won the first game 3-2. Two days later, on April 11, they ended the season with a tough 3-1 loss to earn a 5-4-2 record.
“There were some harsh calls against our kids that cost us two goals,” said Bodnar, who reacted after the match by pursuing the officials despite gestures from the referee asking him to stop.
That turned out to be Bodnar’s last match as head coach.
Four days later, on April 15, Bodnar emailed Hickey and Ross to inquire about contracts for himself and goalkeeper coach Mackenzie German, his only assistant: “Hi Lynn. I Hope all is well. Now that we have finished our spring season I was just curious about contracts for Myself and Mackenzie and the status of our program moving forward.”
No emails were exchanged between Bodnar and Hickey until May 5, when she asked to meet separately in person with him and German.
Bodnar replied two days later, saying “I was simply wanting to ask if we were being renewed or if I need to look for new jobs. I’m happy to meet. Not sure what I could’ve done to not be renewed but all of the emails have been short and feel weird. We have done well and graduated kids and had a good GPA and it’s been four weeks since I asked you about it. I have child support and a house etc.”
Three days later, Hickey announced that Bodnar’s contract would not be renewed. German is still on staff through the end of the school year and could be retained by the next coach.
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