Three coaches of reinstated teams return, others decline

The diving coach and men’s golf and lightweight rowing head coaches will come back to the Big Green after a bumpy reinstatement battle.

by Ethan Strauss and Carl Ufongene | 2/26/21 2:00am

jamie-holder-tom-weishaar
Former swimming and diving head coach Jamie Holder declined to rejoin the Big Green.
Source: Courtesy of Tom Weishaar

On Feb. 17, the Dartmouth athletics department announced that three coaches from the five reinstated teams would return to their positions, including diving coach Chris Hamilton, men’s golf head coach Rich Parker and men’s lightweight rowing head coach Dan Roock. Former swimming and diving head coach Jamie Holder and women’s golf head coach Alex Kirk chose not to return to the Big Green staff.

Negotiations with the former coaches began shortly after the teams were reinstated, with former coaches offered the chance to retain their old posts.

The reinstatement came as a surprise to Hamilton, who said he was “sound asleep” when he received a call from a senior diver notifying him of the news. Hamilton, who had been with the team since 1999, had previously returned when the swimming and diving teams were cut in 2002 and reinstated in 2003 and said he felt an “obligation” to take his position back again after observing his teams’ efforts.

“These kids fought so hard to get this program back,” Hamilton said “... I just felt like they deserved somebody that loved the program just much as they do.”

The suddenness of the reinstatement coupled with a residual mistrust from the summer’s cuts made some coaches apprehensive to return, but ultimately, Hamilton said the opportunity to coach his team again “outweighs all the frustrations.” Hamilton said he accepted his position on Feb. 4, less than a week after the teams were reinstated. 

“My decision came [down] to me looking back and saying, ‘If this hadn't happened, would I still be at Dartmouth?’” Hamilton said. “The obvious [answer] is yes.”

Parker also expressed initial frustration with the cuts but said he felt motivated by how his golfers handled themselves throughout the reinstatement process and their persistence in trying to bring him back as their coach.

“My players were incredible during this whole experience, even from the day that they cut the program,” Parker said. “... They made it very clear [to] me that they wanted me to come back to coach. I think I felt all along that it was going to happen.” 

Parker said the situation was “hard on [his] family,” but he appreciated that Dartmouth gave him time to make his decision before he committed to coming back. He said he had a productive, “deep conversation” with new athletics director Peter Roby last Monday night before notifying Roby the next morning that he would return. He officially resumed his job on Feb. 17.

The decision to come back was not as simple for other coaches, however. Former swimming and diving assistant coach Helaina Sacco had already taken on the head coaching role at Colby-Sawyer College, and fellow assistant coach Milana Socha became an assistant coach at Northwestern University.

Holder, who declined to return to his swimming and diving head coaching position, said that when the team was reinstated, he was initially “angry” about the damage the programs had experienced. However, he added that he is excited for his team to compete again. Though Holder plans to remain in the Upper Valley, he said that he and the College could not reach a mutually agreeable contract. 

“My general sense is that [the swimming and diving team] wanted me to come back, and I wanted to come back, but I needed to come back under a set of terms that was going to make me feel supported.” Holder said. “The [College] was not willing to negotiate with me on that … I’ll miss the opportunity, and I’ll miss the kids, but ultimately I think it’s the right decision for me under the circumstances that they were offering.”

Although he will not be returning, Holder said he hoped the team could “turn around.”

“Hopefully they can rebuild the trust that was broken with the previous administration,” Holder said. “I want nothing but the best for the student-athletes that I brought to Dartmouth.”

National searches for new head coaches for the women’s golf team and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams commenced immediately after the previous coaches declined to return.

Reintegration into the Dartmouth community has already begun for coaches who agreed to return to the Big Green. Hamilton and Parker have reunited with their teams, while Roock will return to the boathouse on March 29.

Parker said that he is excited to get back to coaching after a challenging several months.

“I felt like there was unfinished business,” Parker said. “Dartmouth golf got a bit derailed by this, obviously, and we’re going to have to make a quick turn around and get back to where we were, but in the end, being a college coach is unbelievable.”

Men’s golfer Jason Liu ’21 said his team was “ecstatic” when they learned Parker would be returning for his 16th year with the team. Instead of starting over with new hires, athletes on some of the reinstated teams will get to work again with the coaches who recruited and mentored them. 

“It helps expedite at least some of the [post-reinstatement] process because with a new coach we would have to go through the search process and [having] him or her getting adjusted to Dartmouth golf and the scheduling,” Liu said. “... But [Parker] knows what he's doing, and we're happy that with him we can just hit the ground running as soon as possible.”

Parker noted that he still does not know exactly how many recruiting spots the golf teams will have as the College undergoes the Title IX gender equity review agreed upon in the settlement to reinstate the teams. He believes his team, which typically has nine players, can be competitive regardless. 

“[Even] if they tell me I can only have six kids, I’d be thrilled,” Parker said. “We’re back, [and] we’ll make the best of it.”

Hamilton said that despite the cuts, interest remains high in the diving program, as seven prospective divers still applied to Dartmouth last year while the team was cut. His top recruit from last summer told him one hour after the reinstatement that she was still interested in joining the Big Green.

Still, Hamilton said it will be “a little tough” losing a recruiting cycle and having to compete against former Dartmouth swimming and diving recruits who are now at other Ivy League institutions. In addition to recruiting struggles, multiple student-athletes transferred to schools across the country when the teams were cut in July.

Despite recruiting issues and the turmoil surrounding the cutting and reinstatement of the five athletic teams, Parker said he is glad the College fixed the situation and is ready to “get on with the future.”

“I didn’t stop wearing my Dartmouth stuff like all these coaches do,” Parker said. “... I wasn’t mad at Dartmouth. It’s just a decision that was made quickly. … They righted the ship, and that’s good enough for me.”

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