Volleyball coach Josh Davis under fire from players

Elin Johnson, Features Editor

At least eight players, including most of the starters, have quit the volleyball team following allegation of verbal and emotional abuse that have been levied at new head coach Josh Davis.

Davis has been quoted by players describing them and the team as “an embarrassment,” “pathetic” and “stupid.”

“He was never in our corner,” senior education major Taylor Petersen said about Davis.

Petersen was in her third season playing as a middle blocker for Linfield volleyball when she chose to walk away from the team due to the behavior of Davis.

Petersen had a strong relationship with the previous coach, Shane Kimura, who she knew on and off the court. Kimura had been involved with Linfield volleyball for 40 years when he retired last year.

Petersen did not get a chance to meet with Davis during the selection process or when he initially met with the team last year due to her being at the funeral of a family member.

Petersen said she reached out to Davis this summer because she wanted to meet with him and eventually did before tryouts occured. She said that she was really excited for Davis to take charge and believed he would lead the team in a positive direction.

“When I met Josh I wasn’t really sure what to think. I was focused on impressing him to be able to play but as time went on a lot of us became scared to even approach him in fear of what he would say to us,” said a member of the team who wished to be unnamed.

When asked why she wished to remain anonymous the player said: “I am staying anonymous in fear of retaliation. Who knows what Josh or the administration would do at this point. If they’re going to allow him back I wouldn’t be surprised with what else they would do to us players.”

At first everything was normal—then the conference rankings came out.

This led to a distinct shift in Davis’ behavior.

“Incidents began when competitions began. He blew up at the team at the very first scrimmage in warm ups,” the unnamed player said.

“In general he screamed and cussed at all of us after he said he would never do that at the beginning of the season. He talked behind girls backs about their abilities to play and even about girls with injuries,” the player said. “The way he treated us was disrespectful and degrading like a bully. He was full of negativity and this impacted the team’s overall spirit. Majority of girls were scared to do anything which made a lot of us play intimidated and safe instead of being aggressive and competitive.”

Davis had begun doing what Petersen described as verbal and emotional abuse and bullying. Davis started telling the players that he did not expect them to do well this season and that he was planning on recruiting 15-20 new players that were better than the current team to replace them. He told the current team not to get comfortable with being able to play during games.

“Some of you act privileged, you act like your place on the team is a right. Many of you will find out next year that that isn’t the case,” Davis reportedly told the team.

In one of the earliest practices with the team, Davis is quoted to have told the team:  “I don’t know if you guys all saw the rankings, but we were voted to take last, and I was one of the coaches who voted you to take last.”

Volleyball is a mental game. It is all about momentum. Petersen said that the negativity and lack of respect coming from Davis messed with the team’s ability to play well together.

Then came the outbursts.

Petersen described incidents where Davis would aggressively yell at players from across the court. His screams were so loud, parents in the stands could make out his derogatory and demeaning comments.

In one instance earlier this season during a scrimmage against Lewis & Clark, a few players had a hard time running a drill. Davis yelled at them while they were on the court.

“I told you guys you would piss me off if you didn’t listen. This is elementary shit. I even switched your groups and you guys still can’t figure it out,” Davis is quoted saying to the team on Sept. 1 at a George Fox University scrimmage.

Most of these outbursts were limited to just in front of the team, but some occurred in front of the assistant coaches. It is unclear the extent of the assistant coaches involvement in the issue as they both declined to comment.

“None of us could walk out with our heads held high because we felt like we played like sh*t and then we would look at the stats and we had played fine,” Petersen said about the incidents. “You would leave and you would just be sweating and you felt so terrible about yourself.”

Petersen clarified that a coach punishing poor playing by having them run laps is fine, but Davis went beyond that. She said Davis’ actions negatively impacted the overall team demeanor. There was general trash talking and little, pessimistic side comments were made by the coach aimed at the team.

Davis would reportedly talk to players about other players in a negative manner and say that girls with genuine injuries should be playing. His outbursts as well as one-on-one conversations are frequently peppered with profanity despite his not allowing the players to use similar language.

Davis implemented something he called cauldron points to encourage the team to play better during practice. These points determined who would start a game. During practice, players would break into groups and run a drill that would be scored. Overall points were distributed to the entire group, which the team saw as unfair. When members of the team respectfully voiced their concerns to Davis about this particular issue, he called the conversations as “hissy fits.”

At the beginning of the season Davis reportedly told player he did not want them working a job while the team was in season. Players were also scolded for missing practice due to the biology exam. He told them they should have been at practice instead of taking the class exam.

When asked by a player for clarification on a drill Davis replied: “You are stupid if you can’t look at the board and see what is writtenit literally says it right there.” This reportedly embarrassed the player in front of the entire team. After this players were too afraid to ask questions.

When Petersen realized that she needed to do something about the situation, she first contacted the assistant director of athletics and NCAA compliance officer Amy Dames Smith. Petersen said Smith implemented some of the things they talked about to improve the situation.

However, following other players reporting Davis, Petersen said that no one from the Linfield administration appeared to monitor practices or games.

Davis and Petersen got in an altercation following a Saturday match against Pacific. After the game, Petersen tried to enter the team room and was kicked out by Davis in front of the entire team. She was forced to wait in the hall, confused as to why she was being punished. Petersen said that Davis had done things like this before in an effort she describes as intention to humiliate a player.

Following the team meeting, Petersen approached Davis to get an explanation for the shunning. That is when the screaming began. It escalated to the point where Davis was shoving his finger in Petersen’s face and screaming at her.

When Petersen finally was able to enter the team room she saw that Davis had yelled at and intimidated the rest of the team so much that some players had been crying.

Petersen said that at that point she realized she had to do what was right, even if it meant she would face retaliation.

Davis’ behaviors have gone beyond screaming outbursts. According to former players on the team, Davis does not know the Linfield mascot and thinks that we are the tigers. They also claim he does not value their mental or physical well-being. Players also report that practices were slow and confusing.

Parents of the Linfield volleyball team emailed their concerns to director of athletics Garry Killgore and Susan Hopp, the vice president of student affairs and athletics as well as the title IX coordinator.

Killgore then initiated a series of meetings with the volleyball players to give them a chance for their voice to be heard. He met with individual girls and groups. Some of these meetings were informally held on the soccer field and other times they met in his office.

Killgore reportedly apologized to the players he met with for what they had to deal with.

Petersen said she appreciated the time Killgore was taking to try and amend the situation but said that the appropriate things were simply not being done. Petersen said she believe the school is lacking when it comes to protecting student athletes by the fact that Davis is still a coach at Linfield. She said that she does not agree with Killgore’s mission to turn this negative situation into a positive one. Petersen said that Killgore’s plan to rectify the situation never actually came into play.

“I sat down with AD’s to discuss our issues but in the end was disappointed with how they handled the situation. Josh shouldn’t have been able to come back. When he did, no one had fun and as you can see half the team left and I think that says something if half the team can give up the sport they absolutely love because they cannot handle anymore abuse from their coach,” the first anonymous player said.

Earlier this month Davis took a break from coaching the team and Shane Kimura returned to his former position as interim. Several players described this as Davis’ suspension, directly related to his actions. However, the Linfield administration claims it was a medical leave for a personal issue.

“I do not feel that I am protected or supported by Linfield faculty or admin because they allowed him back around the team and are also supporting him to recruit a whole new team to replace all the girls. They acted like they were in our corner but at the end of the day they would support an abusive coach over their student athletes. The players have not been protected by the school because they allowed Josh back,” the anonymous player said.

Upon his return, Davis held a meeting with the team where he apologized on two separate occasions for how the team interpreted his actions. Petersen said he did not apologize for his actions, and the statement came off as something akin to victim blaming.

“Josh attempted an apology but it was not sincere. He didn’t have a lot of trust to begin with. His attempts after coming back were mediocre and disappointing to a lot of us,” said the anonymous player.

Petersen made it clear that her decision to leave the team had nothing to do with her teammates. She walked away because she could not play for someone she did not respect.

There are now eight players left on the Linfield volleyball team. Over half the team has quit.

“I believe that my decision (and 8 others’ decision) to walk away from the team and the game I love speaks for itself on how I, and a majority of team feels towards Coach Davis and the way he treated us,” said one player.

“It was hard. One of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make,” Petersen said about leaving the team.

The aforementioned incidents and more have left many who were on the volleyball team wondering how Linfield missed the mark this far in the selection process. According to Petersen some members of the team reached out to women who used to play for Davis at UC Santa Cruz who gave eerily similar accounts of Davis’ actions.

Members of the UC Santa Cruz team told Linfield players that Davis told them the same thing he told the Linfield team about recruiting an entirely new team. Multiple Santa Cruz players who wished to remain anonymous used the word “crazy” to describe him. They also said that Davis “…purposely [made] snide comments during practice to see how we [the team] would react.”

“He tends to bring some drama to the team and he can be really inconsistent with his attitude,” one former Santa Cruz player told a former Linfield player. “He’s not a bad person if you get to know him but he is a bad coach for sure.”

“Our team was the first he was the head coach of and he was just obviously not ready to be head coach,” another Santa Cruz player said.  “We had a ton of trouble with him… which is why he eventually left.”

Davis’ outbursts and negativity led Linfield players to forming their own supportive huddles and team meetings.

Linfield’s statement was made by director of communications and marketing Scott Nelson and is as follows:

“We were made aware of concerns by some players in mid-September, and have been actively working with our student-athletes ever since. Because of privacy restrictions of both employees and students, we’re limited in the details we can share. But the coaching staff and the administration have met multiple times with our student-athletes, both individually and as a group. We have invited open communication and will continue to be proactive in addressing any concerns.”

It continues:

“Changing coaches and coaching style, in any sport, often involves a growth process for both players and the coach. Linfield will continue to communicate openly with everyone involved in this transition, and is confident the result will be a successful on-court team and a positive and supportive learning environment for student-athletes.”

Volleyball has four games left of their 2018 season. According to players interviewed, a lawsuit against Linfield athletics or Davis is not expected.

Coach Davis was contacted for a response, he elected to have the official school statement represent his response.