Mike Jeffcoat knows he was wrong to write what he did in that email.
“Right after we had some people fail a drug test, I get this email from this young man, and just out of a moment of frustration, I emailed something I could have said differently to him,” Jeffcoat, Texas Wesleyan’s former head baseball coach, said in an interview earlier this week. “I could have tried to maybe explain it a little better, but I didn’t take the time I should have.”
Jeffcoat was fired last week after an email sent to a potential player in Colorado went viral and, according to university President Frederick Slabach, for NAIA violations. Jeffcoat had been the head baseball coach since 2002.
He said he was fired because Wesleyan was bombarded with complaints about the email; he accepts that he should have been punished.
“I think the university had a knee-jerk reaction, succumbed to the pressure, and made me fall on the sword, which was disappointing,” Jeffcoat said. “I should have been reprimanded with possibly some type of suspension maybe, but it wasn’t something that was so out of line that I should have lost my job. That was disappointing after all the effort that I did in the last (16) years.”
Before the email went viral, Colorado high-school senior Gavin Bell, its recipient, wrote on Twitter that “this isn’t supposed (to) bring trouble upon anyone.”
“My intention wasn’t trying to get this guy fired,” Bell, an 18-year-old outfielder, said in an interview with a Denver television station. “My intention was just to try to play baseball.”
— Michael Konopasek (@MikeKonopasek) March 1, 2018
Texas Wesleyan Vice President for Enrollment, Marketing & Communications John Veilleux wrote in an email that the university stands by the decision announced at the March 2 press conference.
“He was separated from the university for the content of the email and an NAIA violation, which we self-reported to the NAIA March 2,” Veilleux wrote. “We have no further comment. We stand by the information Fred shared at our press conference.”
Texas Wesleyan Athletic Director Steve Trachier declined to comment on any of Jeffcoat’s statements.
Jeffcoat said he usually received four to five emails a day from potential players, and he didn’t mean his email as a final form of rejection to Bell.
“Did I mean it out of that email that it was chiseled in stone, I would never recruit a young man from Colorado? Absolutely not,” Jeffcoat said, “and quite honestly what I was hoping he would do is respond back to me and say something along the lines of, ‘I understand your position coach Jeffcoat, but I’m not that type of young man. I’m really dedicated in the classroom and I’m dedicated off the field. I think I really would like you to consider me coming and playing for you. I’d really like to come to Fort Worth or Texas and try to play college baseball.’
“Then I would have said, ‘OK. Come on down, we have tryout dates that are in May and June. We’ll take a look at you, and we’ll go from there.’ But I didn’t get that response back from him, and so I didn’t really give it a second thought.”
Jeffcoat, who had a winning baseball program with a record of 11-2 this season before he was fired, said he worked hard to make the team successful. Jeffcoat was named the Sooner Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2016 and the Red River Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2007, according to txwes.edu. The Rams won the SAC regular season championship in 2016 and the RRAC in 2010.
“I had to start that program completely over from scratch when I came in because they had gone from Division II and had gone back to Division III,” Jeffcoat said. “The previous head coach had left. They offered me the job, and all I had was a few leftover players at the university that didn’t transfer to somewhere else. I think that I have done a really good job building that program back up. I’m very proud of the job I have done for (16) years.”
Jeffcoat said he really cares about his players, so when they fail drug tests and can’t play, he gets frustrated. He said this was an ongoing issue for the team.
“I care about young men,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m walking proof that you can go to college, play baseball, and get a college degree; I know how important that is. I care about young men getting a degree. I also care about them staying out of trouble off the field, and that was all I’ve ever tried to do whenever every week I tried to remind young men on our team that we got a drug test coming up sometime this year so don’t do something to jeopardize your chance to play here.”
Jeffcoat said he’s seen drugs ruin people’s chances to play baseball over the years so he’s very passionate about the subject.
“About every other year we’ve had some people fail the test,” Jeffcoat said. “One year we had 11 players fail our drug test, and that killed our team. It killed it for two years. Drug use is a personal thing in my life, in both my family life and financially. It’s a very passionate subject to me, and I said something off the cuff that I shouldn’t have. But again, I shouldn’t have been fired over it; it’s my belief.”
Veilleux said the results of drug tests of Wesleyan athletes are confidential.
“The results of drug tests are protected by HIPPA,” Veilleux wrote. “It is our policy to keep this information confidential. It would be fair to say that student athletes have failed our drug tests in the past, students across all sports. Such problems are not unique to Texas Wesleyan. Universities across the country share this problem.”
The Rambler wrote to the head baseball coaches of every team in the SAC, asking them for comments on Jeffcoat’s firing and performance, as well as player drug testing issues. None of the nine coaches responded.
In response to being fired, Jeffcoat has hired lawyers.
“I do have a team of lawyers, so I’ve turned it over to them,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m going to let them negotiate with the university. If it has to then I’m sure my lawyers will be filing a lawsuit.”
Even after this experience, Jeffcoat has said he’d like to continue to coach baseball.
“I would love to coach again,” Jeffcoat said. “I will certainly keep that door open and keep looking. I’m 58 years old. My intentions were that I love the game, and I don’t really consider it a job because it’s a passion of mine. I was planning on trying to do it another 12-15 years at least.”
Jeffcoat said people have told him he’ll pull through this situation.
“I’m having a lot of people tell me that good things are to come, and I’m going to land on my feet and in all likelihood a better situation then what I had there,” Jeffcoat said. “It got frustrating because we had the worst facilities in the conference, and probably the least amount of scholarship money in the conference.”
In response to that statement, Veilleux said he can’t accurately compare Wesleyan’s facilities and scholarship money to other members of the Sooner Athletic Conference.
“We don’t compare ourselves to other schools,” Veilleux wrote. “Our scholarship amounts for all athletic teams are determined by the budget we allocate towards athletic scholarships. Texas Wesleyan’s baseball team awards about 50 percent of the maximum scholarship level allowed by the NAIA.
“As for our baseball field, we recently announced that the Board approved $630K for improvements to the baseball field’s bleachers, restrooms, concessions, dugouts, and fencing. Once funding is in place this fall, we anticipate 6 to 9 months for design and permitting and then 5 months to complete the work.”
Despite the challenges at Wesleyan, Jeffcoat said he still made some great connections with his players.
“The game of baseball has been very good to me,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I’ve done a very good job with young men, and I’ve been confirmed to by literally dozens of guys that have played for me in the past that have either emailed me, texted me, or called me. Most of them have called me and have thanked me for the job I did for them, that they learned more about baseball from me than from any other coach, but more importantly player after player told me, ‘Coach I am the man I am today because of your influence. I appreciate your stance and stay strong.’
“I’ve had some guys even say that you’re like a father figure to me, you’re my hero, you’re a rockstar, and all kinds of comments that. More than a few said you played a big influence on my life and you’re a positive influence and you’ve helped me to be the man that I am today, and I’m very proud of that.”
Jeffcoat said he understands that the legalization of marijuana is a controversial issue, but he has the right to his opinion.
“I understand it is a very polarizing subject in our country and you can adamantly disagree about it,” Jeffcoat said. “I don’t think it’s going to improve the quality of our society and I have many examples and reasons to believe that, but you can disagree with me. But I have the constitutional right under the First Amendment of free speech to voice my opinion and that’s all I did.”