Softball: Lotief on accusations of violent, vulgar behavior - Where are all the witnesses? See Below
Kristin Askelson, The Daily Advertiser, Nov. 3, 2017
Documents released by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in response to a public records request paint a picture of Michael Lotief as a head coach who fought passionately on behalf of his players.
The documents also suggest he addressed those players with vulgar and demeaning language.
Lotief was fired Wednesday after being placed on administrative leave Oct. 6.
The university said in a news release that Lotief violated university policies by subjecting student-athletes and coworkers to violent, vulgar language and verbal and physical assault, creating a hostile learning and working environment.
Written statements by two former players recount confrontations with the coach during the 2016-17 softball season in which he used profanity and called players a vulgar name, purportedly to motivate them to become tough competitors.
Handwritten notes based on interviews with at least three other former players appear to corroborate the statements.In one example, he allegedly referenced Mickey Shunick, who was killed in 2012 after being abducted and assaulted, telling the players, "If you had been in the truck, y'all would have let him rape you."
In another, he is accused of losing his temper and screaming profanities at a grounds crew when they wouldn't let the team take the field to stretch before a game.
During a heated exchange about why softball players had not received promised physical assessments, a co-worker said Lotief mocked her and poked her shoulder.
Lotief denied the university's accusations in a news conference Wednesday afternoon and in an interview Thursday.
He said he was not informed of any player complaints when he was placed on leave. He was told the human resources department was looking into the verbal disagreement between him and Candice Walls, UL's director of strength and conditioning.
“I have never been involved in a physical confrontation in my life,” he said at Wednesday's news conference, surrounded by his wife, Stefni; his lawyer, Glenn Edwards; and at least a dozen players.
Lotief said the incidents referred to in the complaints happened in public, either at a game or on a bus with the rest of the team. "Where are all the witnesses?" he asked.
Tom Shunick, Mickey Shunick's father, sent a text message to the Lotiefs regarding the complaint that referenced his daughter.
"It has come to my attention that some accusations of Mike using Mickey's name in a derogatory way have surfaced," he said. "My family was proud to be included in pregame ceremonies honoring Mickey last year. I remember standing in front of the dugout with the whole team gathered and Mike telling them how courageous Mickey was for not giving in to her captor and fighting for her life ...I truly feel any comment Mike may have used concerning Mickey was meant in a positive motivational way."
Lotief provided statements from several players that contradict the former player statements provided by the university.
"Lines are never crossed," wrote junior Alison Deville. "It's all done with good intention and never been uncomfortable. I would define it as passion, not vulgarity."
Sophomore Alyssa Denham described the coaching staff as family.
"Our coaches are the first for me to turn to in hard times," she wrote. "They go out of their way to make sure we have everything we need or want."
Corin Voinche, a UL graduate who played for Lotief from 2012 to 2017, said she spoke with Assistant Athletic Director Jessica Leger in September about a teammate's role in the softball program. She was questioned about other topics, including speculation about Lotief's approach to coaching the student athletes.
Voinche was surprised her comments were included in documents the university released related to Lotief's suspension and termination.
"After a while, it became apparent that there was an attempt of a type of coercion with the nature of the questions being asked that included negative speculations about Coach Mike and the program," she said.
"Mrs. Leger never asked any questions about sexual abuse, assault, rape, or any other topics that could be referred to as sexually manipulative acts," she said. "If I were to be asked about any of those topics, I would disagree wholeheartedly that anything of that nature had ever taken place in this program."
Lotief also suggested the timing of events suggest his termination was prompted by his repeated complaints about potential Title IX violations within the UL athletic department. Title IX is a federal law that requires gender equity in public universities.
Lotief is one of the nation’s most successful head softball coaches. He has a career record of 729-174. This past season, his program finished 47-8 and a record 23-1 in Sun Belt play.
More than just overall winning, Lotief is regarded as one of the top hitting coaches in America. In his 14 seasons, UL has pounded out 1,127 home runs with a .307 team batting average.
Overall, the Cajuns have won 40 games in each of his 14 seasons, eight over 50 and a school-record 60 wins in 2004.
Kevin Foote and Claire Taylor contributed to this report.
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