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Florida AD Stricklin says ‘we failed’ by keeping Newbauer

Syndication: Knoxville

Florida women’s basketball coach Cam Newbauer during the game at Tennessee on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Kns Ladyflorida 0201

Saul Young/News Sentinel

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin took responsibility Tuesday for former women’s basketball coach Cam Newbauer’s toxic environment that included verbal abuse toward players, assistants and staff members.

Stricklin met with four media members and provided some details and a rough timeline of what transpired during Newbauer’s tenure, how the University Athletic Association responded, and why he gave a coach with so many red flags a three-year contract extension in February.

“We, as a department, have a responsibility to provide our student-athletes leadership for their particular programs, their sports,” Stricklin said. “They’re going to provide them the best atmosphere possible, and we failed in this situation. And ultimately that’s my responsibility for the culture of this department.

“I’ll take responsibility for that. It’s incumbent upon us going forward to make sure - not just in women’s basketball but in all our sports - we have the right leadership, creating the right culture in those sports.”

Newbauer resigned in mid-July for “personal reasons.” The Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run paper that’s not affiliated with the university, spoke to several former players and some of their parents before detailing the alleged abuse Monday. Those players said Newbauer made racist remarks, threw basketballs at them and belittled everyone around him.

“In Cam’s first year and a half, two years, we had some reported behavior that was a little concerning from a cultural standpoint,” Stricklin said. “Anytime you have a coaching transition, it’s not unusual for there to be some kids who aren’t happy with the direction. Early on, it was trying to figure out what are we looking at here.”

Stricklin responded by “putting a lot more structure around” Newbauer and even sent a senior staff member to practices and games to monitor the coach and his program. That seemed to work for a while.

“The incidents reported to us ceased,” Stricklin said. “We stopped getting those reports. That combined with just our own personal observation was that things were getting better, right? He had made the adjustments.”

Florida’s results were still abysmal, though. The Gators went 46-71 overall and 15-47 in Southeastern Conference play during Newbauer’s four seasons.

Nonetheless, Stricklin decided to keep him around. Newbauer had one year left on his deal, so Stricklin gave him a three-year extension so he could better recruit. Stricklin also altered Newbauer’s termination terms, which essentially made it a one-year deal.

But four months later Newbauer was involved in another situation that made it clear he was “still having an issue on the treatment part of people. And so we sat down, told him what his options were, and he chose to resign,” Stricklin said.

Newbauer gets a $283,250 buyout that will be split into installments. Stricklin named Kelly Rae Finley interim head coach for the 2021-22 season and plans to hire a permanent replacement after the season.

In the meantime, he has to deal with the regret he feels about keeping Newbauer in place as long as he did.

“Had I been aware of everything ... when we made the contract extension, I never would have done the contract extension,” Stricklin said. “I thought things were moving in a certain direction. Obviously, we weren’t. We didn’t pick up signs and clues, and we’ve got to figure out going forward how to get better at that and make sure we know what’s going on.”