Almost all those who aided in Coach Carole Kleinfelder's recent dismissal from the Harvard women's basketball team should consider hanging their heads in shame.
A delicate situation--one which demanded maturity, compassion, and respect for feelings--was handled horrendously. Everyone from Athletic Director John P. Reardon, to the majority of the players, and even to some extent Kleinfelder herself, made an already difficult task long and humiliating.
This is not to say that Kleinfelder should not have been released. The final decision Reardon made was a proper one. Over the past two seasons, Kleinfelder has compiled a meager 12-39 record and her most recent campaign saw the squad's mark plummet to a dismal 4-21. (But, keep in mind, at Harvard it takes more than just a losing record to dismiss a coach)
Although the blame for the team's unfortunate showing cannot fall entirely into Kleinfelder's lap, much of it should. Many observers-and most significantly the players-were acutely aware of the flaws in Kleinfelder's game strategy. Kleinfelder herself-admitted on several occasions to making tactical flaws.
"She was just a bad coach," one player said.
For one thing Kleinfelder had a knack for calling untimely timeouts-using them up in the early stages of games, leaving the Crimson unable to stop play to develop proper attacks in the crucial closing minutes. A two-point loss to Vermont earlier this year, for example, saw final seconds tick way because Harvard had depleted its five timeouts.
Her substitutions policies were also questionable. Often she removed a hot player from the game with no apparent justification.
She never determined a consistent starting line-up because she had difficulty identifying her best players. Players like Kate Martin would play one game start to finish, only to ride the bench for the next. The result was confusion amongst the players and inconsistent performances on the court.
There is little question that Kleinfelder should have been dismissed as coach. But that is not the problem. The problem came with how the dismissal was effected.
"The greatest mistake was made higher up for not releasing her a long time," says player who asked to remain unidentified. Reardon, as athletic director, must assume responsibility for keeping Kleinfelder on Harvard's basketball staff for so long.
Kleinfelder's track record over the past two years speaks for itself. Reardon should have realized that she was not contributing to a winning environment. Women's basketball traditionally has one of the highest attrition rates of any Harvard sports, and in recent years many players have left the program, citing Kleinfelder as one main reason for leaving.
But Reardon didn't take any bolo action until the team's record, frustration and animosity toward the coach mounted to a point where several players threatened that they would not return if Kleinfelder remained at the helm.
One of the tenuous situations which Reardon had to consider when dealing with Kleinfelder's future was her success and popularity as coach of Harvard's lacrosse program. He must have found it difficult to take affirmative steps-relating her from her basketball post-when the women's lacrosse team won an Ivy League championship last year. So he let the problem linger until, finally, the basketball program turned critically ill.
Another player who wishes to remain us identified says that as early as February. Reardon had given very strong indications that Kleinfelder would not return for the 1982-83 campaign had already known that she would not return. Rumors even circulated that prospective coaches had inquired to the athletic office about job possibilities. But Reardon kept a know nothing see nothing facade.
Because Reardon failed to act decisively, the players and Kleinfelder remained in limbo. Perhaps he was trying to lower the axe gently to protect Kleinfelder's feelings, but he also should have contemplated the emotional trauma Kleinfelder must have faced in spending months in a state of confusion and worry.