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Former UAF coach Doc DelCastillo opens up about resignation

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Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 3:35 am | Updated: 12:48 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

ABOUT THIS STORY

The Daily News-Miner filed a public records request in April 2008 to obtain documents from the University of Alaska Fairbanks regarding the resignation of Doc DelCastillo as head coach of its hockey program, one of the most popular spectator sports in the city.

The News-Miner ultimately obtained copies of documents from DelCastillo’s personnel file, with the consent of DelCastillo but over the initial objection of university administrators.

The News-Miner pursued the matter in court.

FAIRBANKS - Former University of Alaska Fairbanks head hockey coach Doc DelCastillo said university administrators decided last year to terminate him as the Nanooks coach without investigating sexual harassment accusations against him — accusations he said were fabricated in an attempt by players to oust him.

DelCastillo, knowing he would lose his job, instead resigned in April 2008. He spoke this past May to the News-Miner, which obtained copies of documents from his UAF personnel file through the Alaska Public Records Act.

DelCastillo only coached the Nanooks in the 2007-08 season, guiding them to a 9-21-5 overall record and a conference mark of 8-16-4 for ninth place in the 12-team Central Collegiate Hockey Association. He previously was an assistant coach for CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha.

“I really feel the university deliberately put me in a situation to make it look like something happened that didn’t happen,” said DelCastillo, who was hired earlier this summer as the general manager and head coach of the Alexandria (Minn.) Blizzard of the junior-level North American Hockey League.

After leaving UAF, DelCastillo spent about a year as a pharmaceutical sales representative in St. Cloud, Minn.

When he was asked about DelCastillo’s statement that the university didn’t check the truthfulness of the sexual harassment accusations, Jake Poole, UAF vice chancellor of university advancement, replied in an e-mail that “as reflected in the released documents, the university promptly and appropriately responded to concerns that were raised about Mr. DelCastillo.”

DelCastillo, a 40-year-old native of St. Paul, Minn., announced his resignation on April 10, 2008, citing a need to be closer to relatives in the Midwest for family support because his wife, Sue, was pregnant at the time with their sixth child, who was born in September 2008.

However, according to documents, DelCastillo was told by Poole and athletic director Forrest Karr on March 31, 2008, that he was going to be terminated, effective July 1, 2008.

Poole, in the e-mail, said that DelCastillo was a “term” employee whose contract ended on a specific date — June 30, 2008.

“In early April 2008,” Poole stated in the e-mail, “we advised Mr. DelCastillo, in writing, that his contract would not be renewed and that certain allegations against him would be investigated.

“We later reached an agreement with Mr. DelCastillo resolving those allegations in a manner acceptable to both parties.”

DelCastillo said that he was willing to take a lie detector test on the validity of information he provided to the News-Miner.

Meetings

DelCastillo had meetings from March 31 to April 7, 2008, with Poole and Karr. DelCastillo said players’ evaluations of him were discussed during the first two meetings.

“It was kind of them basically informing me that the team was very unhappy,” said DelCastillo, whom Inside College Hockey.com named as its choice for the 2007-08 CCHA Coach of the Year.

“It was almost like they brought up things as far as what I said to the team like from the whole season,” DelCastillo continued. “I felt at the time that it was almost like someone on the team was writing stuff down on me.”

In the last meeting with Poole and Karr, on April 7, DelCastillo learned he definitely wasn’t going to be back as head coach.

“I kind of thought they’re going to fire me based on some kids’ complaining that I pushed them too hard, worked them too hard and they didn’t feel that their jobs on the team were secure,” he said.

Poole and Karr told DelCastillo his contract wasn’t being renewed because, DelCastillo said, “your players aren’t happy, your staff ain’t happy and the accusations of sexual harassment.”

DelCastillo’s contract states that he could be terminated for any “misconduct by the coach determined by UAF to have the potential to negatively impact UAF, the team or the department.”

DelCastillo signed a one-year contract on June 6, 2007, that included a base salary of $97,000 for the 2007-08 school year.

Accusations

Two women accused DelCastillo of sexual harassment.

DelCastillo, during the interview with the News-Miner, named the women, whose names or ages are not listed in the documents provided. Attempts by the News-Miner to reach the women for comments were unsuccessful.

Though the information is not listed in the documents, at least one of the women was a UAF student.

According to DelCastillo, who also taught a hockey class on campus, the final meeting with the administrators was the first time he had heard about the sexual harassment accusations.

“The first thing out of my mouth is ‘You don’t see what these kids are doing?’ And they said, ‘No,’” DelCastillo said. “I said, ‘These kids are plotting to get me fired. These girls are lying, I can tell you that. Look at the accusations.’”

One sexual harassment accusation allegedly involved a female for whom DelCastillo obtained tickets to the CCHA series against Notre Dame on Feb. 15-16, 2008, at the Carlson Center. DelCastillo said he had met the woman while he was giving a potential recruit a campus tour.

According to an account by DelCastillo, the woman told him she was a hockey fan. He gave her a business card and told her to let him know if she needed tickets to a game. The woman e-mailed him the weekend of the Notre Dame series and said she needed tickets.

DelCastillo and the woman exchanged e-mails giving their cell phone numbers.

“She e-mailed me and said ‘I met you on campus, and can I get some tickets for the game?’” he said. “I e-mailed her back and said ‘Here’s my cell phone, and what’s your cell phone number? Because I need to let you know how to get the tickets.’”

DelCastillo got her the tickets.

DelCastillo said that after home games he would often call the people for whom he got tickets, checking to see if they got their tickets and if they enjoyed the game. He called the woman after the second game against Notre Dame and left her a message.

“I said, ‘I hope you got your tickets, and I hope you enjoyed the game. I hope everything worked out,’” he said.

The woman, according to DelCastillo, returned his call about 45 minutes later, and said to him, “I really liked the game, we enjoyed it.”

The two then, according to DelCastillo, engaged in a non-hockey conversation.

“She said, ‘Me and my friends are going to a bar,’” DelCastillo said, “and I said, ‘My wife and four of my daughters are out of town,’ and I said, ‘I’m going home to watch a movie — that’s the gist of my Saturday night.’”

“There was no invitation. I didn’t imply anything,” DelCastillo said, “We were just having a conversation and I said I was going home to watch a movie.”

The woman, said DelCastillo, sent an e-mail of concern to the UAF administration not long after the Notre Dame series in February. DelCastillo said he wasn’t shown that e-mail until April.

“I don’t think (she) brought this to the attention of the administrators with the intention that it was harassment,” he said. “Her e-mail (to the UAF administrators) kind of said that she didn’t think it was appropriate that I told her that four of my daughters and my wife were gone.”

“I didn’t get into it (with her) that my other daughter was home that night.”

DelCastillo said the administrators told him they felt it was harassment.

“I said if this girl took something the wrong way, I apologize, but I wasn’t saying for her to come watch. ... I said I was going home to watch a movie on Saturday night,” DelCastillo said. “For some reason, the university thought it was harassment, and in my opinion, the university used it to their advantage.”

Second allegation

The other allegation of sexual harassment, according to DelCastillo, involves two incidents with a second woman.

The first incident was about a call that DelCastillo made to the woman’s cell phone that he estimated occurred in January 2008.

The woman, according to DelCastillo, had reported to the administrators that “there were situations that he called my cell phone and made me really feel uncomfortable.”

“Then I explained (to Poole and Karr),” said DelCastillo, “that she told my daughter to get a hold of her on a day where she was going to pick up one of my daughters to go see a movie.”

That call is listed in a copy of university phone records, which were among the documents provided to the News-Miner.

“I did call her, but it was because she told my daughter she was coming to pick her up to take her to a movie,” DelCastillo said.

The woman’s other accusation of sexual harassment was about an incident in October 2007, in which DelCastillo told her she smelled nice as he passed her in a hallway on campus.

“I walked by and said she smelled nice, she was wearing lotion that my wife wears,” DelCastillo said. “She made it sound very sketchy, that he (DelCastillo) came up behind me and smelled my neck. That wasn’t the case at all.

“That happened in October and the phone call may have happened in January. None of this stuff bothered her the whole year until when these players wanted to get me fired.”

Conspiracy claim

DelCastillo said he heard from a few coaches that defenseman Steve Vanoosten and right wing Braden Walls, who played for the Nanooks from 2005-09, had plotted to get him fired by having the women make reports of sexual harassment to the UAF administration. DelCastillo says they wanted him fired because he had threatened to take away the two players’ scholarships.

Vanoosten and Walls, in recent phone interviews, denied any such actions.

“That’s just a bad rumor,” Vanoosten said. “No matter my feelings for anybody, I would never go about and come up with a scheme like that. I was never involved in anything like that, and I know for a fact that Braden Walls wasn’t either.”

Walls’ response was similar to that of his former Nanooks teammate.

“I have no idea where that came from, someone saying something like that,” Walls said. “I was a guy on the team who showed up to play every day. I definitely didn’t know what to make of any of that.”

He said he knew of one of the women who made accusations of sexual harassment against DelCastillo.

“We were never really good friends at all — not even friends, as far as that goes,” Walls said. “When I’m hearing this being said about me, it’s kind of ridiculous.”

Walls said he also thinks that no other players in 2007-08 said or did likewise against DelCastillo.

“You show up to the rink, and some guys aren’t going to get along with the coaches,” Walls said. “But besides the fact, nobody is going to come out and say anything like that or do something like that, do something so severe to somebody.”

Repeated calls by the News-Miner to a coach whom DelCastillo mentioned as a supporter were not returned. Another coach, who guides a college program in the Lower 48 and knows DelCastillo, commented but asked not to be identified.

That coach said that a parent of a Nanooks player — whom the coach didn’t identify — told him on a recruiting trip last year that there were players who were trying to get DelCastillo fired.

“Whether it’s true or not, that’s what this person told me,” the coach said.

The coach said he didn’t dwell on the conversation until he heard about DelCastillo resigning. The coach later spoke with DelCastillo.

“I didn’t think anything of it, and then all of a sudden, all heck broke loose up there in Alaska,” the coach said.

DelCastillo said he never spoke with Vanoosten or Walls about the allegations following his resignation.

“No ... I wasn’t given an opportunity,” he said. “Forrest Karr requested that I didn’t go to the (team’s end-of-the-season) banquet, and he didn’t want me on campus.”

The banquet took place at the Carlson Center two days after DelCastillo announced his resignation. DelCastillo said he did meet with Walls and Vanoosten in January 2008 regarding their grades in a class each had in the 2007 fall semester.

“They took incompletes in their classes, and at that time, it wasn’t tolerated,” DelCastillo said. “Taxpayers don’t pay players on hockey team scholarships to not go to class, and they took incompletes at that time and I was very upset with them.

“The team was told at that time that scholarships would be taken away if they (any player) were flunking classes or not completing classes. I believe it was these two who started writing stuff down and they got a girl to write stuff down.”

DelCastillo, about a month before his resignation, said he informed Karr and Pamm Hubbard, UAF associate athletic director for compliance and the athletic department’s senior woman administrator, about the meeting with the two players and he said he needed to take away their scholarships because they weren’t going to class.

Vanoosten said he didn’t pass a math class that fall semester and DelCastillo wanted to take away his scholarship.

“But he said there was nothing he could do until the next semester (fall 2008),” Vanoosten recalled, “but he wanted to take it away but he wasn’t able to do it for whatever reason.”

Vanoosten retook and passed the math course during this past school year, and he went on to graduate with four other Nanooks seniors, including Walls.

Vanoosten now plays professionally with the ECHL’s Stockton (Calif.) Thunder. Walls signed on Sept. 21 with the Wheeling (W.Va.) Nailers, but the ECHL club later released him.

Final meetings

DelCastillo said Karr and Poole told him at the April 7 meeting they weren’t going to discuss with him the sexual harassment accusations.

“They said the only reason for this meeting is to inform you that you’re going to be terminated as of July 1,” DelCastillo said.

DelCastillo was told he was being placed on administrative leave until his scheduled termination date. He said Karr and Poole told him they could investigate the allegations but he wouldn’t have a job at UAF after July 1 regardless of the outcome.

“I said, ‘You mean to tell me that if you investigate this and these girls are lying, I don’t have a job?’ And they said, ‘Yes,’” DelCastillo said. “And I said, ‘What are the accusations?’ and they said, ‘We’re not here to discuss that.’”

Poole said the university did not investigate because DelCastillo resigned.

“There were no written reports, findings or conclusions prepared,” Poole said. “We didn’t have to go into a full-blown investigation.”

Poole stated the university can respond in a variety of ways when someone expresses concern about a UAF employee.

“We can talk to the employee about the concerns, begin an investigation or end the employment relationship,” Poole wrote in his e-mail. “That last option can include a variety of things, including termination, resignation or nonrenewal of an expiring contract.”

The university, according to Poole, can simultaneously pursue more than one course of action.

“Such as both starting an investigation and allowing a contract to expire,” the e-mail stated. “Even after starting one or more of these processes, the university and the employee may negotiate an agreement to end employment and resolve disputes.”

DelCastillo said Poole and Karr told him he had to write apology letters to each of the women who accused him of sexual harassment.

Neither woman’s identity or information about each was disclosed in the documents provided to the News-Miner.

“I wrote apology letters with one accusation that I didn’t even know what it was, and the other one was clearly a misunderstanding,” DelCastillo said. “I just wrote an apology letter saying ‘Hey, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, and I wish you the best, and I didn’t mean anything by it.’”

The administrators, according to DelCastillo, told him the letters weren’t good enough.

“(They said) we’re going to write an apology letter and you’ve got to sign it,” DelCastillo said, “and they wrote an apology letter for me and I had to sign it, and it’s an apology letter that makes it look like I was guilty of harassing these two girls and I signed it.

“Why did I sign it? When this thing went down, I couldn’t resign quick enough for my family.”

Though he had been informed on March 31 that he was going to be terminated, DelCastillo wrote a resignation letter a few days later. He read it over the phone to the News-Miner on April 10, 2008.

“That’s what I was told to do,” DelCastillo said. “They said that you need to write a resignation letter. I guess in hindsight, I could have wrote that I was being forced to resign ... when you’re stuck in that situation ... I’m not a lawyer, I’m a hockey coach. ...”

“I told you it was family reasons when I resigned. ... I was protecting my family,” DelCastillo said.

When Poole was asked why he and Karr told DelCastillo to write a resignation letter when he had been told that he was going to be terminated, Poole responded as follows by e-mail:

“As reflected in the released documents, Mr. DelCastillo was a ‘term’ employee whose contract ended on a specific date. We advised him, in writing, that his contract would not be renewed and that certain allegations against him would be investigated. We later reached an agreement with Mr. DelCastillo resolving those allegations in a manner acceptable to both parties. That negotiated agreement has been released to the News-Miner. The agreement, among other things, provided for his resignation and required his written apology to two university students.”

Poole also said that university employees are encouraged to seek legal counsel before entering agreements regarding the termination of employment.

“That was the case here,” Poole said. “If an employee enters an agreement to resign, the university must assume the employee has considered the positive and negative aspects of such an agreement.”

DelCastillo had a late-afternoon meeting on April 9, 2008, with Bradley Lobland, the university’s human resources manager. That night, DelCastillo called the office of attorney Jason Gazewood, but he couldn’t reach him because it was after hours. DelCastillo hired Gazewood about four weeks after his resignation.

It was at about that time that the Daily News-Miner filed a request under the Alaska Public Records Act to obtain copies of documents from UAF related to DelCastillo’s resignation.

According to the e-mail from Poole, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers in August 2008 made a determination that the university was required to release certain documents related to DelCastillo’s employment.

Gazewood obtained a preliminary court injunction to block release of the documents. However, once DelCastillo spoke to the News-Miner, Gazewood said, the injunction was irrelevant.

Decision not to fight

DelCastillo said he didn’t fight the sexual harassment allegations before his departure because he was concerned about the effect it would have on his family, particularly his wife, who was four months pregnant at the time her husband announced his resignation.

“Why don’t I fight it is going to be the biggest question,” he said. “I knew at that time that I was in a no-win situation just by the false accusations of something like that. It kills you.

“My family is way more important than my career ... When I said I’m resigning for family reasons, I didn’t go into extensive details because I didn’t want my family to get into the crossfire of this thing.”

DelCastillo said his wife was on bed rest for 10 weeks last summer and she suffered major complications four to five times before their sixth daughter was born.

“I didn’t want to put my kids into a situation in school where they would have been teased, or ridiculed in the community based on some false accusations that I know I would have been cleared from,” DelCastillo said. “I didn’t want my kids in a psychology office in five years, because dad fought for something in Fairbanks, Alaska, that he didn’t have anyhow — I didn’t have a job.”

DELCASTILLO TIMELINE

• June 7, 2007—Doc DelCastillo, a former University of Nebraska-Omaha assistant coach, is named as the seventh head coach in Alaska Nanooks hockey history.

• October 2007—DelCastillo tells a woman that he passes in a hallway on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus that she smells nice and the lotion she is wearing smells like the lotion his wife wears. The woman later files a sexual harassment complaint against him.

• January 2008—According to DelCastillo, the same woman tells UAF administrators that there “were situations that he called my cell phone and made me feel really uncomfortable.” DelCastillo said he only called the woman because she said she was going to pick up one of his daughters to take her to a movie.

• February 2008—DelCastillo provides two tickets for a woman to a game of the Nanooks’ series against Notre Dame on Feb. 15-16 at the Carlson Center. The woman later files a sexual harassment complaint against DelCastillo for a phone conversation they had following the last game of the series.

• March 8, 2008—Alaska loses 2-1 in triple overtime to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in the third and deciding game of a CCHA first-round playoff series in Omaha. It proved to be the last game for DelCastillo as the Nanooks head coach.

• March 31, 2008—Jake Poole, UAF vice chancellor of university advancement, and Forrest Karr, athletic director, inform DelCastillo that he is being terminated as head hockey coach, effective July 1, 2008.

• April 7, 2008—DelCastillo meets for the last time with Karr and Poole and is told again that he’s not being retained as head coach. It was the first time that DelCastillo learned of the sexual harassment accusations.

• April 9, 2008—DelCastillo meets with Bradley Lobland, UAF human resources manager.

• April 10, 2008—DelCastillo announces resignation.

• March 8, 2008—Alaska loses 2-1 in triple overtime to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in the third and deciding game of a CCHA first-round playoff series in Omaha. It proved to be the last game for DelCastillo as the Nanooks head coach.

• March 31, 2008—Jake Poole, UAF vice chancellor of university advancement, and Forrest Karr, athletic director, inform DelCastillo that he is being terminated as head hockey coach, effective July 1, 2008.

• April 7, 2008—DelCastillo meets for the last time with Karr and Poole and is told again that he’s not being retained as head coach. It was the first time that DelCastillo learned of the sexual harassment accusations.

• April 9, 2008—DelCastillo meets with Bradley Lobland, UAF human resources manager.

• April 10, 2008—DelCastillo announces resignation.

Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.

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