Jayne: Smell still lingers around Arnold’s firing

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

You dig and you dig and you try to find the source of the stench, knowing that the situation doesn’t pass the smell test.

Mike Arnold goes 25-4, is honored by his peers as coach of the year, and is rewarded by being let go as men’s basketball coach at Clark College. And the stink is as bad as a leaky septic tank.

“I was shocked; I was utterly shocked,” said Jim Raines, a longtime Clark supporter who was president of the Penguin Athletic Club until he resigned last October. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people in the community, and nobody can understand why. Nobody has come forward with a reason.”

That includes Charles Guthrie, who was hired as Clark’s athletic director last August. Guthrie has avoided specifics about why Arnold was let go, but a meeting he held with players last week provides some insight.

Interviews with several athletes revealed that Guthrie touched upon three points:

• The program needs to focus more on recruiting local players.

• There was a lack of organization in the program, including tardiness on Arnold’s part.

• And Clark’s record in close games and in the NWAACC tournament has not been adequate in recent years.

Guthrie emphasized: “Those had nothing to do with Mike’s firing. The players were asking what I would be looking for in a new coach.

“We’ll stay regional, find a coach with ties to our service district.”

You mean somebody like Arnold? Having coached in the area for two decades, his 12-player roster this season included six Clark County products from five different high schools. Two other players were from Portland, and another was out of Longview.

“We’re trying to build a program that’s really community-centered,” Guthrie said. “We have to continue to make sure we are the place to go.”

Seems like they had it, which makes the “recruit locally” mantra sound disingenuous.

As for the organization part, a source inside the Clark athletic department said, “Mike doesn’t own a watch.” The source meant that metaphorically, but the point was that being on time is not one of Arnold’s strengths.

Arnold said that at the beginning of practice the players might be warming up with the strength and conditioning coach or running one of three warmup drills while he met with assistant coaches.

“(The players) were working,” Arnold said. “They weren’t on the bleachers farting around.”

As for the issue of losing close games, by that logic Arnold would have been better off if his team lost by 10 points instead of, say, one point. Seems preposterous.

And so you gather all this and you process it and you consider quotes like this one from Michael Haddad, a freshman guard out of Union High School: “I personally came to Clark because of Coach Arnold. We don’t look at him only as a basketball coach; we look to him as a mentor.”

Or this one from Blake Bowen, a sophomore center out of Skyview: “He taught us that the road is going to be tough sometimes, but if you keep pushing through you’ll get where you want to go.”

And you look at the 25-4 record, and the glowing testimonials from readers on Columbian.com, and Arnold’s reputation for graduating players and helping them find four-year schools — and you still can’t get rid of the stink.

Which makes you think that Arnold’s departure was inevitable once Guthrie came to Clark last year.

“I thought Mike was going to have problems right away,” said Duane Burckhard, a longtime Clark supporter and former secretary of the Penguin Athletic Club. “Mike has a very, very big ego, and Charlie has a big ego. I told my wife, ‘I think Mike might be in trouble.’ I just had a gut feeling.”

Guthrie this week said: “I’d say that he and I had not developed a positive relationship in the first nine months I had been here. I think he and I were still feeling each other out a little bit.

“That doesn’t play into why he wasn’t reappointed.”

Which leaves us with a lot of reasons why Arnold was let go. Except that none of them, according to Guthrie, are reasons why Arnold was let go.

And that’s a problem for Clark College. While administrators these days have their hands tied when it comes to talking publicly about personnel issues — you can’t blame Guthrie for that — there is a battalion of Clark supporters out there waiting for answers.

“I think eventually people will see that sometimes it doesn’t work out for an individual, but the program goes on,” Guthrie said. “I think the public should be patient with us and not too quick to judge.”

The odds are that Clark basketball supporters would like to be patient and watch the program move forward. But in the meantime, they’ll be holding their noses.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne