On a rainy and overcast Tuesday evening, more than 100 people gathered in the presidential suite at Zable Stadium to hear Samantha Huge, the athletic director for the College of William & Mary, speak about the current and future plans for the college’s athletic program.
And they came for the transparency promised by Huge and her department.
The entire town hall lasted almost an hour and a half and was live-streamed on the Tribe Athletics’s Facebook page.
“We got to get our house in order,” Huge said, referencing the college’s Kaplan Arena. “The first priority is to renovate our home.”
Huge noted the timeline of renovating the arena would be announced in the fall and the project study was “100 percent privately funded” by a private donor.
Questions from the audience ranged from how Huge defines success and the department’s priorities for the next five years to the possibility of renovating the swimming facilities and how much money the men’s basketball team lost on One Tribe day, the college’s annual fundraising drive, compared to last year, a total of $17,300.
And of course, questions surrounding the firing Tony Shaver, the former men’s head basketball coach.
Three months ago, Huge fired Shaver, three days after the team lost to the Delaware Blue Hens in the Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinals.
“He is a teacher not just a coach and his impact on hundreds of young men will be felt by them for years to come,” Huge said in a prepared statement March 13. “However, we have high expectations for our men’s basketball program, including participating in the NCAA Tournament, and we will not shy away from setting the bar high.”
Shaver coached Tribe basketball for 16 seasons and he is now eligible for $1.7 million payout.
Huge continues to decline to say why she fired Shaver.
Fischer signed an letter of intent on April 2 and is expected to earn a base salary of $225,000, with a three to five percent increase based on the team’s performance and a combined $75,000 for retention, media participation, fundraising and community outreach.
A phone number for Fischer is not listed on the Tribe Athletic’s staff directory.
After Shaver’s termination, five players entered the transfer portal to explore their options. Four of them transferred. Justin Pierce transferred to the University of North Carolina, Chase Audige went to Northwestern University, Matt Milon went to the University of Central Florida and L.J. Owens to the University of Maryland Baltimore County.Nathan Knight stayed.
At the town hall, several of Huge’s answers to some of the submitted questions such as calling Kaplan Arena the “heartbeat” of the athletics department, were nearly verbatim to a June 13 university news release.
When asked about Shaver’s firing, Huge said she would not go into details out of respect for the former head coach, adding she was “not permitted to.”
She would only say she was concerned about the program both “on and off the court.”
Another member of the audience asked Huge to clarify her statement about the men’s basketball program — Huge said “there was nothing nefarious.”
“I stand by my decision,” Huge said. “I made the best decision and the right decision for the program.”
She again did not elaborate.
In regards to Shaver’s contract, Huge noted there is not a “lump sum buyout” for the former coach.
A WYDaily reporter asked how many candidates Huge interviewed before she hired Fischer to which Huge replied “I’ve answered this question several times for you ––– and I’m happy to do it again and that is several.”
Last time WYDaily asked Huge the question, Huge could not give a definite number of candidates and told a reporter “north of 25.”
When WYDaily asked what would happen to Fischer if he did not make it to the NCAA, Huge said Fischer has a contract and knows what is expected of him.
“Dane and I will have that discussion,” Huge said, but again did not elaborate.
Huge said the university’s goal is to have 35 CAA championships by 2025, with five of them being a combination of football and men and women’s basketball.
It remains unclear what other specific goals Huge has for athletic department.
Jamel Donnor, an associate professor in the school of education and American studies, said he came to the meeting to support Huge.
“I was not pleased –– I was dissatisfied with how he [Shaver] handled the program,” Donnor said. “He could draw some talent but he could never seem to put it together.”
In regards to hiring Fischer, Donnor was surprised by the hire.
“I was hoping for an African-American coach,” he said.
Other attendees, like Bob Byrne, a Notre Dame fundraising supporter, and Dave Gaydos, whose daughters went to William & Mary, questioned the decision to let Shaver go.
“He was on the cusp of having his best team,” Gaydos said. “Why at this time?”
“He was always accessible,” Byrne said, adding Shaver had lunches and open practices. “I though he was a pretty good fit.”
Another attendee went so far as to suggest Huge dodged questions from the audience and her decision to fire Shaver was an emotional response to the Tribe losing in the quarterfinals.
“She could have been more detailed about her explanation about firing Shaver,” said Mike Lowry, adding he felt she led the audience to believe something nefarious happened.
“I think that’s disingenuous,” Lowry said.