By Tim Eberly
Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville removed women's basketball coach Kevin Emerick from his job Wednesday. The action came after Capdeville reviewed the report of an investigation he ordered when Emerick accused a former assistant coach of inappropriate conduct in an e-mail addressed to all MSU-N staff and faculty.
Capdeville hand-delivered a letter to Emerick about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday notifying Emerick that he had been placed "on leave with pay until his contract expires," Capdeville said Wednesday afternoon. The contract expires June 18 and will not be renewed, the chancellor said.
The letter instructed Emerick to refrain from contact with any of his players. Though Emerick, in his second season coaching at MSU-N, will be permitted to continue teaching his two physical education classes, the letter ordered him to "return any keys that belong to MSU-Northern, to (Capdeville's) office and work with (athletic director) Ted Spatkowski to remove your personal belongings from the campus."
"It's an unfortunate time to do anything like this," Capdeville said minutes after meeting Wednesday afternoon with members of the Skylights women's basketball team and Spatkowski. "It's during the season. There's never a good time."
The Skylights are 11-2 and ranked 18th in the nation among NAIA programs. Spatkowski asked Joan Steffen, the Skylight's assistant coach, to temporarily assume the role of head coach, an offer Steffen has not yet accepted.
The letter gave no reason for Emerick's leave with pay status. Capdeville said it is in response to a lengthy investigation by MSU-Bozeman's human resources director for affirmative action, Corky Bush, into allegations of misconduct made by Emerick.
An e-mail Emerick sent to all 100 or so MSU-N staffers on Oct. 11 accused former Skylight recruiter Jerry Wier of seducing former player Anna Fabatz and taking advantage of her sexually while he recruited her and during her freshman year in 1997. Emerick sent the e-mail several days after Capdeville refused to allow Fabatz to serve as Emerick's student assistant coach. Fabatz is a former player for Emerick and is now his girlfriend.
Capdeville declined to say why he removed Emerick from his job. He said he also has not disclosed the findings of the probe to any of the involved parties since he received the report earlier this week.
"I've reviewed the reports," Capdeville said. "There are matters of individual privacy and they cannot be disclosed to the public. This matter involves information about other people, not just the people who were investigated. And we have an obligation to protect their rights."
Emerick said Wednesday afternoon that before Capdeville handed him the letter, Capdeville told him "he thought there was enough stuff in the report to show that I had a social relationship with a student and that he was cutting me."
Capdeville confirmed that part of the conversation. "I started to talk to him about that and he then indicated that I was cutting him and therefore he no longer had to answer to me and he left."
Emerick said he won't leave his job until he learns the reason for his dismissal and that he wants to see the report. He planned to meet with his attorney this morning.
"I intend on coaching the rest of the year," he said. "I'm going to finish out my contract. They had no right to suspend me."
Removing Emerick from his coaching duties is, Emerick and Fabatz said, a knee-jerk response to Emerick's e-mail, which was written by Emerick with full approval from Fabatz.
"It's clear to see why more young women don't come forward with legitimate complaints of this kind," Emerick said. "The retaliation in this case is so blatant that you don't have to have a doctorate to know what's going on."
Said Fabatz: "It's plain as daylight. It's retaliation."
If Emerick and Fabatz's relationship they have been openly involved since the end of her fourth season, the 2000-2001 school year is indeed at the root of his dismissal, Emerick plans to appeal the suspension, he said. He said he received permission from Capdeville and Spatkowski to see Fabatz socially.
"The issue isn't whether I am having a social relationship with a student," Emerick said of Fabatz, 23, who has not yet graduated. "The issue is the university approved of all my behavior."
Rumors of a sexual relationship between Emerick and Fabatz swirled during her senior season, prompting Spatkowski to conduct a brief investigation last February, the athletic director has said. He said he determined that they were not dating at that time.
After that season, Spatkowski's and Emerick's accounts of the events differ. Spatkowski said in October 2001 that Emerick told him that he and Fabatz were in a romantic relationship. Emerick claims he simply asked permission to "see Anna socially" and that they approved.
On Sept. 24, Emerick wrote Spatkowski a letter seeking clarification on Fabatz's status as a student assistant coach, a position for which she was briefly hired. Four days later, Emerick received a lengthy reply from Spatkowski:
"Considering the facts that Ms. Anna Fabatz is a former student athlete, who played for you last year, and that she is presently a full-time student at Northern, coupled with her personal and intimate' relationship with you, confirms her involvement in the women's basketball program is in violation of Northern's policies regarding a coach's professional behavior as it relates to students," he wrote.
Spatkowski also wrote that Fabatz could not act as an assistant coach on the team. Emerick noted that Spatkowski did not ask him to stop seeing her.
Emerick sent one more letter on Oct. 12 the day after his e-mail regarding Wier offering an alternative.
"That remedy would be," Emerick wrote, "to ask Ms. Fabatz and I to distance ourselves from each other for the present time" so she could continue assisting the team.
During the half-hour meeting with Emerick's players, Capdeville and Spatkowski briefed them on the situation.
"I told them that we're going to hire a coach," Capdeville said. "I told them I want them to play for Northern. I had a very positive response from the players about their desire to continue at Northern."
Said Spatkowski: "We're going to try and find the best coach possible," he said. "It's not necessarily from within."
"We're moving in a new direction. And the program will be stronger for it. The girls understand too. They feel it's in the best interest for the program, especially for recruiting purposes."
In the meeting, Spatkowski and Capdeville told players that Steffen will not be offered the head coaching position. "Their minds are made up," said Brettney Vermandel, a freshman forward from Billings. "They already know what they want to do. They're offering (Steffen) the assistant's job but they're not going to bring her as the head coach because they want to bring somebody new in, evidently."
In his season and a half with the team, Emerick has compiled a 37-10 record.
"It was just a shock," Vermandel said. "We thought everything was fine. We just want to play basketball."
No disciplinary action has been taken against Wier, a part-time property manager for the MSU-Northern Foundation, a separate corporation not under the jurisdiction of the university. Wier was an assistant coach of the women's basketball team for eight years before taking over as the sports information director in 1998, a position he held for three years before being released due to financial cutbacks.
Tom Reynolds, executive director of the foundation, said Capdeville called him Wednesday night but did not disclose contents of the report.
"Until I see something or the foundation board sees something that will verify Emerick's story, we can't do anything," Reynolds said this morning. "Jerry, at the current time, is my property manager on a part-time basis."
Wier could not be reached for comment today. He initially denied Emerick's allegations and subsequently directed all questions to his attorney, Tom Sheehy of Big Sandy. In a late October interview, Sheehy said Wier and Fabatz kissed on one occasion, during her freshman year.
"She sent him cards. She sent him flowers. She sent him gifts," Sheehy said. "And finally, she kissed him."
When asked if Wier kissed Fabatz back, Sheehy said, "He did. And he was embarrassed by that and within a week, he told her, Anna, this is not right,' and he ended it, contray to what Anna says."
Fabatz, during an interview on Oct. 23, said she had sexual contact with Wier on one occasion. Fabatz said that on Dec. 10 or 11, 1997 when she was 18 Wier gave her a massage at his apartment and touched her sexually with her consent before she asked him to stop.
Fabatz said she gave the same account to Bush. With Bush's permission, Fabatz and Emerick said, Fabatz taped her first interview with the investigator on Nov. 8. At one juncture in the conversation, Bush said, "Jerry's account of what happened is essentially the same as yours, in terms of what went on in the bed and everything. But he denies absolutely that he said anything about you to anybody."
Reached at his home this morning, Sheehy said he was not aware of the completion of the report or Emerick's removal as coach and refused to comment on whether Wier corroborated Fabatz's account.
"He told Corky Bush what he had to say, and he told her the truth and that's all that counts," Sheehy said.