Sunday, July 03, 2016

J.T. Horton
J.T. Horton (

Alice Hewson defends sacked Clemson University head coach J T Horton

J.T. Horton took his 5-year-old son, Griffin, fishing on Fourth of July weekend to help take the boy’s mind off the news that dad was leaving the Clemson University staff.
 After months of turmoil within the Clemson women’s golf team, the school administration took action July 1 and fired Horton, who had led the program since its 2011 inception.
“ ‘Blindsided’ is a great way to put it,” Horton told Golfweek. “I had put my life and soul into Clemson. It was my dream job.”
Alice Hewson, pictured, a Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup player from England, described her freshman season at Clemson as “great.”
“I personally never had any issues at all and I’m sad to see him leave,” Hewson wrote in a text message.
Horton had been under investigation at Clemson for what some players described as a “hostile” environment. He was fired three days after the Independent Mail newspaper of Anderson, South Carolina, published a story about the investigation in which Horton told the paper, “There was no violation of any policy.”
The university, according to the article, found there was “insufficient evidence” to substantiate any violations by Horton of its Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policy.
A university spokesman would not respond to questions from Golfweek about Horton and the program, referring instead to a prepared statement.
“We appreciate the work Coach Horton did during the inaugural seasons of our women’s golf program,” athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement. “But we’ve made the decision to move in a new direction.”
Clemson finished sixth in the 12-team ACC tournament and eighth in the Shoal Creek Regional, failing to qualify for the NCAA Championship. Clemson ended the season at No. 45 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Horton said he received a performance evaluation one week before the newspaper story and was told that his job was secure entering the final year of his contract. Conversations had begun about plans for next season.
“I love coaching,” Horton said. “I love to build relationships with the kids. When you start a program from scratch, you have a chance to really build something special. That’s what I was hoping to do at Clemson.”
Horton, 39, a native of Clayton, Georgia, went to Clemson after spending four years as head coach at Tulane, restarting the golf program there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He had been the assistant men’s coach at Georgia Southern for two years.
In late March, the team met with Radakovich and two other athletic department officials – without the coaches present – to discuss the team environment and the remaining spring season. Golfweek obtained a recording of that meeting, in which several players gave emotional and blunt assessments of the program’s future. One player expressed her desire for Clemson to be a perennial powerhouse in the women’s game but didn’t think that could happen under Horton’s leadership.
Most of players on the nine-woman roster were unhappy with Horton’s coaching style and communication, according to the recording and interviews with Golfweek.
“I think it’s the right decision,” said Lauren Stephenson, who advanced as a freshman to the recent NCAA Championship and then transferred to Alabama “because of the coaching situation,” she said, declining to go into further detail. Stephenson, of Lexington, S.C., committed to Clemson at age 14 and called it her dream school.
“I’ve been a Clemson fan since I was born, basically,” she said.
One player filed a complaint with the school against Horton, alleging physical contact for having touched her on the shoulder in a non-sexual manner that she said made her feel uncomfortable.
 School officials found no evidence of Title IX policy violations by Horton. They did, according to the recording, find cultural conflict on the team that came from players and coach alike.
“It was in a coaching, compassionate way, with no malice intent,” Horton said. “Just like all coaches do.”
Not everyone, on the team, however, had a problem with Horton. Marisa Messana, a rising junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., called it a case of entitlement gone awry.
“I’m disgusted by some of the actions of some of my teammates,” said Messana, who called Horton a “dedicated coach” who always did the best for his players. “It was so shocking to see how this played out.”
Messana’s parents, C.A. and Marta, met with an athletic administrator after the March meeting and left thinking the school was behind Horton 100 percent. They described the accusations against Horton as outrageously false.

Linn Atiyeh (nee Gustafsson) came from Sweden at age 18 in 2007 to play for Horton at Tulane. When reached by phone in New Orleans, a shocked Atiyeh talked about the time Horton and his wife, Sydnie, brought smoothies and soup to her dorm after she had all four wisdom teeth removed, and how the couple helped when her car flooded.
“He always did his absolute best to help all of us on the team,” Atiyeh said.
Stephanie Wagstaff, now a medical student at LSU-Shreveport, was the first player to sign with Tulane when the program restarted in 2007. She described Horton as a determined coach who pushed his players but never crossed any lines.
“He was honest with me about my skills, and sometimes that was hard to hear,” Wagstaff said. “But looking back, he wasn’t wrong. I think that’s his job, to deliver tough news sometimes.”
Sue Bower, former women’s golf coach and associate athletic director at Tulane, was instrumental in the hiring of Horton at Tulane.
“He did a good job, and did everything I asked and more,” said Bower, who no longer works for the university. “Was he an intense coach? Sure.”
Bower knew when she hired Horton that if Clemson started a women’s program, he’d want to go after it. What stings the most about Horton’s dismissal, she said, is that she believes he would have finished his career at Clemson if given the chance.
Horton told Golfweek that only one parent had come to him with concerns about his daughter’s experience at Clemson before the decision to fire him.
“I’m heartbroken about this,” he said.
The Ramsey family had two daughters on Horton’s team, including Ashlan, who now competes on the LPGA. Ashlan, a former No. 1-ranked amateur by Golfweek and U.S. Curtis Cup player, left after one season and turned professional.
Her older sister, Taylor, who has played sparingly, has been a part of the program since its inception.
“On a daily basis things happen where I feel like I’m being put down or disrespected,” said Taylor, who thought she couldn’t leave Clemson because she needed the golf scholarship to earn her degree.
“We really have just been fighting the whole time for someone to listen to us.”
Al Ramsey was at the LPGA event in Portland with daughter Ashlan when the news of Horton’s firing hit and said he had thank-you text messages from all but two players on the 2016 roster. Ramsey has been vocal with the administration for years, alleging Horton’s shortcomings as a coach.
Jeff Legacy, whose daughter Sydney transferred to Clemson last year as a sophomore from Seminole State in Florida, said Horton had “lost the locker room” due in part to poor communication and a lack of respect. Legacy said he could “feel the tension at tournaments.”
Sydney told her father that at times she clashed with her previous coach at Seminole State, but at the end of the day knew that coach “cared about me as a person.”
“I don’t feel that here,” Sydney’s father said he told her. “(Horton) just wants to win.”
Another Clemson parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was angry that it took this long for the administration to take action.
“The school did nothing to protect my daughter,” the parent said. “None of them.”
Horton wants to stay in the coaching business, and said he has gotten an “amazing amount of support” in the past 24 hours.
England’s Alice Hewson, adding perspective from a continent away, had this to say about what comes next for Clemson women’s golf:
“Everyone now has a fresh start,” she wrote, “and I think we need to wipe the slate clean and have a good season.”