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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 07 2013

NDSU's handling of DeHoff contrasts other D-I programs' philosophies

FARGO - The apparent quick trigger fingers of Division I athletic departments across the country in the last couple of years won’t be hitting North Dakota State anytime soon. Athletic director Gene Taylor said his philosophy is to remain patient and honor the contracts of his coaches.

If there was a test, this could have been the year. The women’s basketball program had its third straight losing season, but Taylor said the circumstances like an injury-depleted roster that head coach Carolyn DeHoff had to deal with was too much to warrant any action.

She has one year remaining on her five-year contract that was extended by one season in 2009, but Taylor said he’s not in favor of buyouts.

“If we don’t absolutely have to, no,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. We give them a five-year contract, let’s let them live through it as best we can. Or a seven-year or whatever the number is.”

DeHoff is slated to receive a $50,000 annuity in seven days, which by contract says “if Coach remains employed by the University to April 15, 2013.” Her contract signed in 2008 was for a base of $108,000 with annual merit increases of 4 percent, which she has received each year, said women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn.

“The circumstances are always what administrators have a hard time evaluating,” Dorn said. “The last two years of the program, you have to take into account the injuries. I don’t know who could not look at that in fairness and say it didn’t have a significant impact.”

DeHoff’s year-end evaluation after the 2011-12 season, an assessment done by Dorn, indicated as much. She thanked DeHoff for her efforts and wrote “the citizenship and academic performance of the team reflected commitment to these very important cornerstones of our program.”

The team finished 11-20 overall and 8-10 in the Summit League.

Dorn, who said all coaches are evaluated with a combination of verbal and written communication, outlined six items in the evaluation:

• Continue adding to and evaluating the Improvement Plan as it is a work in progress.

• Continue to seek a higher level of athletic performance.

• Continue to prioritize the recruitment of student-athletes at the highest level.

• Continue the assessment/development of the assistant coaches and build upon their individual and collective strengths.

• Continue the outreach to alumni and ‘friends’ of the athletics program.

• Continue to establish communications within the basketball program.

The Bison were 10-19 overall this season and 6-10 in the Summit.

Taylor said of DeHoff: “with all the stuff she’s had to deal with, you have to give her a chance to have a team that at least has 15 kids on it for more than a year. So I think you have to have patience. Maybe bigger programs can’t have that from a financial perspective.”

He said that the manner in which schools handled the firing of men’s basketball coaches like Ben Howland at UCLA and Tubby Smith at Minnesota “frustrates me.”

“The first question I would ask is, ‘OK, you just fired the guy that won the Pac-12 championship, what are your expectations?’” he said. “To me, I think we need to look at our programs, stay patient with our coaches and not fire them just because they had a bad year. I’m not on those campuses, but I think you just have to have patience and give your programs a chance to succeed.”

Not helping the women’s program has been the departure of two starters from a promising recruiting class of 2011. Danielle Muri from Billings, Mont., left after last season and is no longer playing basketball. Sophomore guard Jamie Van Kirk said last week she’s transferring to Hastings College (Neb.) for family reasons.

“The last two years have been very, very hard on me just because I miss them,” said Van Kirk, from Sutton, Neb. “It was a very tough decision but something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s not like I up and made a decision.”

Van Kirk’s sister, Maria Van Kirk, will be a freshman volleyball player at Hastings next year. Jamie Van Kirk said she has nothing but good things to say about her experience at NDSU.

“I have no complaints about the coaching, the program or the school,” she said.

Also, the Bison lost assistant coach Deanne Stevenson last week. She resigned to pursue opportunity outside of basketball, according to an NDSU release. She’s moving to Colorado with her husband.

Stevenson is the third assistant to leave in the last two years. Last year, Jamie Berry, a former player, and Ali Prichard both resigned in April.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia