Oakland University fired Beckie Francis as its women's basketball coach because she was mentally and emotionally abusing her players, was "obsessed" with the player's eating habits and body fat and refused to follow orders to separate her religion from her coaching, the school said in a new court filing.
It's the first time the university publicly acknowledged the reasons behind Francis' June firing, although Detroit Free Press reported in July that the move came after players complained they were being emotionally and mentally abused by the coach. Francis has said in previous court filings she doesn't know why she was fired.
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The sides will be in court Wednesday morning to argue a motion filed by Francis last week to obtain an unredacted copy of the internal investigation report that led to her firing. The university has provided Francis with a heavily redacted version of that report.
"(Francis') desperation is feigned," the school said in a Friday court filing, given to the Free Press on Monday morning by the university. "(Francis) participated in two meetings totaling more than two hours where Oakland explained to her why it was suspending her, listened to her responses and explanations, and then terminated her employment.
"After the meeting where Oakland suspended her, (Francis) even sent a several page rebuttal to the reasons given for her suspension and review, which were duly considered along with her responses and explanations."
Francis was fired June 12. Her firing was announced two hours after her husband, then-university president Gary Russi, suddenly retired.
Oakland University has not officially commented on the reasons for Francis firing; however the Free Press reported, based on interviews with a number of current and former players that Francis:
— Fixated on their weights, to a point that photos were taken of players in their sports bras and Spandex to chart body changes, and that some players developed eating issues.
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— Pushed her religious beliefs, insisting players attend church services on trips and showing Christian-based videos on bus rides.
— Engaged in intimidation, emotional abuse and "head games" far beyond common motivational methods used by coaches.
Francis has not commented publicly on the allegations made by players.
However, in an e-mail sent at 9:27 p.m. on May 30 to Oakland general counsel Victor Zambardi, Francis defended herself, calling it a witch hunt. The university included a redacted version in its most recent court filing.
"I have no written nutrition policy — my staff and I encourage healthy eating practices," she said, adding she is anti-candy because it "produces severe sugar crashes and can impact performance.
"Our training table is not restricted — buffet style at high-end hotels.
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"I am aware of the rates of eating disorders for females, in particular for female athletes, it is a national problem. If there was ever an issue with the team's eating practices, I wish the players would have come to me. No player in the history of the program has ever brought this up as a problem directly to me.
"I feel this is a witch hunt. ... I have high standards and expectations, not all student-athletes can perform to these standards ...
"I was shocked with accusations. We supply so much food at our training tables and on the road when playing away games it is almost a ridiculous claim."
But Oakland found the claims were correct and that's why she was fired, the school said in the filing.
Oakland, in its court filing, quoted an internal report on the situation as saying, "All interviewees/witnesses ... categorize the allegations as forms of mental and emotional abuse. (Francis) expects automatic automatic compliance with her instructions and/or expectations ... insulting and demeaning to assistant coaches ... assumes her priorities/positions are so important that others should defer without question and get irritated when questioned; any difference of opinion is perceived to be a disagreement, and any disagreement is viewed as proof of disloyalty and disloyalty is not tolerated.
"Obsessed with nutrition and body fat. Francis controls how much they (student athletes) eat, when and what they eat."
The Oakland filing says the athletics director told Francis to stop her religious discrimination and "pray to play" but that continued after the warning.
In the court hearing Wednesday, Francis is asking a judge to order the university to release the full internal investigation report. Oakland said in its court filing that it redacted the report to protect privacy of students and for other legal reasons.
Francis' attorney, Deborah Gordon, told the Free Press that the university's response misses the point of what Francis is asking for.
"Whether she was told or knew something is not remotely the point of what I am requesting," Gordon said in an e-mail to the Free Press. "First, we don't agree that they gave her any specifics..
"Second, so what if they did 'tell' her? That has zero to do with employee obtaining a copy of her record, including what the employer relied on for terminating her, per Michigan law.
"They choose to do an investigation, create a written report and thrown vague allegations around in public, so it is what it is. She needs to know what is in that report, not what they say or supposedly told her."
Gordon said she plans to file a response later Monday to Oakland's brief.
David Jesse also writes for the Detroit Free Press.