Excellent Transcript article by Adam Bloch ’06 on Coach Ralph White (hat tip to Jeff Zeeman).

Not everyone is so enamored with White, however. Though the Williams sprinters, who are personally coached by White, offer almost unanimous support, there are some dissenters.

“During my time at Williams, I was often extremely frustrated and disconcerted with both his coaching and leadership style,” Caroline Cretti, an enormously successful distance runner who graduated in 2006, said last week. “Many organizational and logistical aspects of the team were run strangely. His success comes from his athletes, who are incredible, and a support system that is second to none in the country.”

When pressed to explain White’s accomplishments before his tenure at Williams, however, Cretti admitted that his methods were successful for some.

“I do understand that the coach-athlete relationship is a personal, individual one, and that he has a method that does work for certain athletes, but at times I wonder at what cost to their emotional or mental state,” she said. “His relationships with his athletes are unhealthy. Athletes began to determine their success by his reaction and nothing more. When he took that approval away, the effect it had was unbelievably unacceptable. It was unsettling to see that over and over again to some of the strongest, most incredible people I have encountered.”

Gray and fellow captain Katie Howard, both sprinters, disagreed with Cretti’s assessment, which was supported by several other alumni.

“He’s easily the best coach I’ve ever had,” Howard said last week. “I can’t imagine returning to Williams as a visitor next year, and coach White not being here.”

Howard created a group on Facebook.com called “We Support Coach White” that has drawn more than 100 members. There have been many other outspoken displays of support. Athletes, alumni and parents have expressed condemnation of the CAP’s decision on Ephblog.com, the Web site of Williams Students Online and Letsrun.com. Many supporters have sent letters to members of the CAP lauding White and urging the college to reconsider its decision.

And thanks for the shout out to EphBlog (although the Transcript should refer to us as “EphBlog” not “Ephblog.com”.

Although I still think that White is doomed, the historical example that he (and his lawyer and his supporters) should look to is Mark Reinhardt‘s successful appeal of his initial tenure denial by CAP a decade ago. There are lessons in that story for those who would learn them.

Other highlights below..

Two months ago, Ralph White led the Williams College women’s track and field team to the Division 3 NCAA Championship. A month from now, he will likely clear out his office, leaving Williams behind unwillingly amid a storm of controversy.

White, who as head coach of the track and field teams guided his program to the first national title in its history, is in the last year of his contract as a junior faculty member. His attempt to join the senior faculty was twice rejected. He is planning another appeal later this week.

“I’d like to think that when all is said and done, it will all turn out to be a misunderstanding,” White said Wednesday from Wisconsin, where he’s preparing his teams for the national championships. He expressed a strong desire to remain with the Ephs and a faith that the Williams administration would reverse its decision.

The non-renewal of White’s contract has set off a firestorm of debate that has dominated the campus and several Web logs for the past several weeks. College officials have declined to comment on the reasons for the decision.

“I was extremely surprised,” men’s track captain Tyler Gray, a senior, said last week. “I heard from a friend who’s an alumnus, and at first I thought he was joking. It had never occured to me that something like that could happen.”

Since White was named head coach in 2001, the Ephs have finished in the top 10 at Division 3 NCAA Championship meets 12 times and in the top five on eight different occasions, culminating with the triumph of the women’s indoor squad on March 12, when they won the national title. Most recently, White was named NESCAC Coach of the Year for the second season in a row for women’s track and field. On Tuesday, he was honored as the Division 3 New England Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Before he came to Williams, White compiled more than 30 years of coaching experience, including stints as the head coach at Allegheny, Southern Methodist, George Mason and Clemson. He led the Southern Methodist men’s team to a Division 1 NCAA title in 1986.

According to several of his current and former athletes, White’s coaching success extends beyond producing fast times on the track.

“He’s always there for his athletes,” Shamus Brady, a former track captain who graduated in 2004 and has been one of the most outspoken alumni in support of White, said last week. “He wanted to know about people beyond athletics.”

Despite such achievements and accolades, White was rebuffed by the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, which consists of Williams President Morton O. Schapiro, Provost William Lenhart, Dean of the Faculty William Wagner and three other professors. His appeal to the CAP in April was turned down, leaving an appeal to the Faculty Steering Committee as White’s only remaining option.

“The process begins in the department with all the senior members reviewing the junior faculty,” James Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs, said last week of the committee’s deliberations. “They observe them and base a lot of their opinions on student input. They make recommendations to the CAP. Those are kept confidential, but they are given a lot of weight. Confidentiality is a very important part of the process.”

Though Kolesar, White and Tim Karpoff, White’s lawyer, declined to comment on the reasons provided by the CAP, widespread public speculation has revolved around two subjects: a master’s degree White acquired from Rochville University and a former Williams assistant coach named Antoine Agbra. Several sources, including students, alumni and other coaches, have confirmed that these issues formed the basis of the CAP’s decision.

All senior faculty members at Williams are required to have a master’s degree. According to a letter sent by former Williams track assistant coaches Michelle Burgher and Kurt Duncan to a group of team alumni and parents, White acquired a master’s from Rochville University, an online institution.

“When I google Rochville and look at their page, I see a list that says no studies, no examinations, no classes, no hefty fee,” Kolesar said. “If you then go to the U.S. Department of Education and search for Rochville, it doesn’t show up among accredited universities.”

Rochville is considered by many a diploma mill, but Burgher wrote that White got approval for his degree from Williams athletic director Harry Sheehy in 2004: “Kurt … and I were with him when he was explaining to Mr. Sheehy about the degree he got credit for, and Mr. Sheehy explicitly said that it would be fine.”

Sheehy, who is on sabbatical, could not be reached for comment.

Agbra, a native of Benin, was hired as an assistant coach by White for the 2004-05 season. During his time at Williams, White apparently helped him get a job at Stop & Shop to supplement his income from the college. This violated the rules of the visa that Agbra had received.

White’s supporters have stressed the positive influence that Agbra had on the team and the humanitarian nature of the hiring. Burgher and Duncan wrote that Agbra and his family were impoverished when they immigrated and that White helped pay for their travel and medical care. Detractors have claimed that Agbra did hardly any work with the team and had no coaching qualifications.

“The college has been saying that it can’t tell us the whole story because of confidentiality,” Gray said. “I think the visa and master’s things seem kind of silly if those are the only grounds. Look at all the good things he has done.”

No good deed has been as visible as White’s interaction with Maddy Outman, a junior who has become one of the most successful and versatile track and field athletes in Division 3. In a broadcast aired by CBS during the indoor national championships in March, Outman credited White with helping her recover from a freshman year plagued by alcoholism and an eating disorder.

“He was the only other person for a while who I thought really believed I could be somebody, and I think that was probably the single most helpful thing in getting me to turn around,” she said in the CBS segment.

In response, Schapiro and Wagner sent an e-mail to hundreds of track alumni in late April acknowledging many of the positive things White has accomplished and the outpouring of support for him. The missive also stressed, though, that the CAP’s decision-making process was very thorough and that the college stood by its original position.

“We understand the contributions Coach White has made to the program, to the college, and to many of you,” the e-mail read. “May that continue through the rest of this season. But then, the college is utterly convinced, it is time to move on.”

Kolesar said that White’s case can only be reopened if the CAP used improper or biased methods to evaluate his application.

According to Karpoff, a former Williams runner who graduated in 2001 and volunteered his legal services pro bono in April, White will continue fighting to have his contract renewed before the Faculty Steering Committee.

“We’re going to make every argument that’s available to us (during the second appeal), and we hope that the college will realize that they made a hasty decision and change their minds,” Karpoff said, explaining his client’s persistence. “He loves Williams. He loves the kids that he’s coaching there, and his wife is very happy there. He’s run an exceptional program. In addition, he feels that his integrity has been impugned.”

Getting a degree from a diploma mill will do that to you.

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