Doc's Office by Scott Dochterman

Allegations led to Griesbaum's ouster

Alumni staunchly defend embattled former Iowa field hockey coach

Iowa's Brynn Gitt  (11) plays the ball down the field during their exhibition match against Missouri State Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 at Grant Field in Iowa City. Iowa won the match 5-2. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
Iowa's Brynn Gitt (11) plays the ball down the field during their exhibition match against Missouri State Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 at Grant Field in Iowa City. Iowa won the match 5-2. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — Accusations of mental and verbal abuse and a negative environment led Iowa officials to fire longtime women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, people connected to the program said Tuesday. However, Griesbaum’s supporters vigorously defend the embattled coach and say she was demanding but never cruel.

Griesbaum, 48, was terminated without cause Monday afternoon after 14 years as head coach. According to her contract, which was obtained by The Gazette via state open-records laws, Griesbaum signed a five-year deal through 2018 paying her $110,000 annually. Iowa agreed to pay her a $200,000 severance, as stipulated in her contract.

“Following a comprehensive review of the field hockey program conducted this summer, I have made the decision it was time for a change in leadership,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Griesbaum declined to comment when approached by The Gazette at her home Tuesday afternoon. Barta did not comment beyond Monday’s news release.

According to both supporters and those with knowledge of the situation, university officials investigated the field hockey program this summer and met with more than five former players who recently left the program with eligibility remaining. Among the allegations lobbied against Griesbaum include mental and verbal abuse and favoritism. Griesbaum also was accused of calling at least one player “fat,” a charge many of her supporters vehemently deny.

Two players with eligibility left the field hockey team after last season. One player, sophomore Ali Campos, declined to comment when reached by The Gazette on Tuesday afternoon.

The coach’s supporters have taken to social media, forming the Facebook page “Reinstate Tracey Griesbaum as University of Iowa Field Hockey Coach.” Current players appeared surprised by Griesbaum’s ouster with posts on Twitter, and former players expressed outrage in letters, phone calls and emails to media and school officials.

In a letter to The Gazette, former Griesbaum player Gina Britton called Griesbaum “professional, inspirational and motivational.”

“I truly hope this decision to terminate Tracey’s contract will be re-evaluated for her sake, the program’s sake and for the student-athletes who chose to attend UI so she could mentor them, guide them and help them become strong independent women, just like her,” wrote Britton, who played under Griesbaum from 1998-2001. “As a student-athlete under Tracey, we worked hard, studied hard and in down time laughed hard, together. She had us for holiday parties, functions and celebrations at her home. She treated us (as) her family and for that we will never be able to repay her.

“Tracey is one of the reasons I am a strong woman who knows how to push myself through my pain, my tears and never give up. She is kind, strong and a woman of integrity and high moral character. Our team motto was ‘Hold each other accountable’ — accountable for our actions and each other. She always made decisions best for the program and for us.”

One former Iowa player and a current college assistant coach, who declined to be identified, said Griesbaum was called “Tidy” in the coaching community and was “the most by-the-book woman she had ever met.” Caroline Blaum, an Iowa first-team All-American in 2008, described Griesbaum as firm but caring. She had conversations with “more than 71 former Hawkeyes” who were outraged by Griesbaum’s firing.

“For every one complaint, there are 35 of us that would say otherwise,” Blaum said. “We’ve all been pushed. We’ve all been tested. We’ve all been mad at each other. That’s how it works. It’s how you grow. It’s how your progress. That’s what she taught us.

“It’s not for everybody. I think any athlete at that level would say so. There were mornings when I woke up and thought this isn’t for me, either. But my experience, whenever I felt that way, it was her. She was there to prove to me why I was doing that. She made me a better person.”

Griesbaum’s ouster leaves the program in a state of flux just days before fall camp. The Hawkeyes open with a home exhibition against Louisville on Aug. 23. Kadi Sickel, who played at Iowa from 2004-2008 and joined Blaum on the USA national team, called the timing “disrespectful.”

Nearly all of Iowa’s recruits hail from the Northeast, the West Coast and foreign countries. Sickel, who routinely drove 17 hours from New Hampshire to attend college in Iowa, said many former teammates were homesick, which led to the program’s attrition. Sickel called Griesbaum “a demanding, fair, loving” coach. Blaum concurred.

“I’m 28 years old, and I’m singing this woman’s praises,” Blaum said. “I attribute a ton of my character and gumption and confidence to her and the way that she ran the program.

“It baffles my mind that the athletic department would choose now. It makes us ask questions.”

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