Sub-par records and a lack of playoff appearances are usually enough for head coaches at a professional level to be terminated.
The University of Rhode Island is no stranger to this concept. Women’s basketball head coach Cathy Inglese did not have her contract renewed and football head coach Joe Trainer saw his contract bought out this past year. Both Inglese and Trainer had overall records of under .500 during their time at URI and neither ever made the postseason.
URI softball coach Erin Layton seems to be an anomaly, though.
Layton had her contract renewed this summer for another season, despite poor performances with talented rosters in recent years. The new deal includes an agreement that Layton will be extended into 2017 if she succeeds in finishing within the top six teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Rhode Island has not reached the playoffs since 2010 when they finished 19-35 overall and earned sixth place in the A-10.
Layton most recently lost 32 games en route to an eighth-place finish in the A-10 in 2014. Rhode Island saw its greatest win total under Layton in 2012 after amassing 21 victories, but the team missed the postseason. The squad compounded their 2012 success with a 7-46 record during the 2011 season and a 10-37 posting in 2013. Since the 2010 playoff year, Layton has only gone 16-61-2 in A-10 play.
Just taking into account her 84-219-2 record with the team, the contract is puzzling. One playoff appearance several seasons ago does not count as taking the Rams to the next level. A coach should not be rewarded for repeated shortcomings. URI moved on from Trainer, Inglese and countless more, but for some reason decided to not part ways with Layton.
On-the-field issues are not the only ones to plague Layton in recent years, either. NBC 10’s Adam Bagni published an investigative report in April 2014 that brought forward six former players, a former assistant coach and two current members of the team whom Layton allegedly bullied.
Bagni reported that former players said Layton would become abusive to members of the team who could not participate because of injury. Other allegations included psychological trauma resulting from Layton hazing then-freshman Jasmine Clarke and other players before their first road trip. Layton allegedly screamed at Clarke over the phone, telling her she was late for the team bus. The shouting continued once they arrived, but with the freshmen in tears the prank was finally called.
Another particularly startling event occurred when Layton allegedly threatened former player Nicole Massoni for playing catch with an injured member of the team. Massoni said Layton got close to her face and warned “’If she gets hurt, and she can’t play in the spring, then I’m coming after you,’” per NBC 10.
URI Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn did not address individual accusations in his interview with NBC 10, but said that he believed Layton never truly meant to intimidate anyone.
The players said the long-term effects of Layton’s alleged treatment involved the development of eating disorders, ulcers and other medical issues. An anonymous active player told NBC 10 she resorted cutting herself to deal with the abuse.
Underperforming is one thing, but bringing back a coach who was barraged with such allegations is an unprofessional move for the university. In light of recent events, including the Richie Incognito bullying scandal and the rash of domestic violence cases in the NFL, allowing someone who allegedly engaged in verbal abuse of players and a former coach can be damaging to the program.
Layton should be far away from URI with the combination of her lackluster seasons at the helm and the accusations aimed at her from several players. According to NBC 10, the university claimed that “no wrongdoing occurred,” but neither findings nor reports of any internal investigation were ever released.
Until they are, there is gray area in this case. The players and coaches who spoke out knew what happened and felt genuinely threatened, and the university acknowledged their statements. The decision to bring Layton back to the dugout with this knowledge in mind could not only be harmful for the school, but also for the team.