Friction between Bev Kearney, Bubba Thornton revealed in 2004 correspondence

A pair of letters obtained by The Daily Texan highlight an enduring friction between Bev Kearney, the former women’s track and field coach who resigned in January, and Bubba Thornton, men’s track and field coach.

The letters, from Kearney to DeLoss Dodds, men’s athletics director, in 2004 were obtained by the Texan through the Texas Public Information Act.

In a May 4, 2004, letter to Dodds, Kearney filed several complaints against Thornton: that he had spread negative comments about her to her players and peers, that he publicly disrespected her at the Texas Relays and that he was angling to be the director of both the men’s and women’s programs.

“Recently I feel my character, my professionalism and my integrity has been defamed and slandered by Coach Bubba Thornton,” Kearney said in the letter. “Bubba has not only brought into question my coaching capabilities but more importantly his actions against me have begun to effect [sic] my reputation.”

A week later, Kearney sent a follow-up memo to Dodds and Chris Plonsky, women’s athletics director. Kearney again addressed Thornton’s desire to be the track director, claiming that Thornton had offered Kearney’s job to an unnamed track coach at another major university. The coach then informed Kearney.

“I was informed from the [coach] that Bubba has indeed offered my job to the current head track coach of this other university as he is anticipating taking over both of our programs,” Kearney said in the May 11 memo.

“As I am sure you can understand, I also feel that I have been put in a very awkward and overwhelmingly precarious position,” Kearney continued in the memo. “In addition, I do not want to jeopardize my relationship with you. I am sure you would agree that being forthcoming about what I have learned is the only thing I can do.”

Kearney declined to comment for this story through her attorney. Thornton did not return multiple requests for comment.

In an interview Thursday, Dodds said the relationship between Kearney and Thornton was “fine.” When shown the letters, Dodds said he could not remember them.

”Overall, I would say their relationship was OK,” Dodds said. “[Those letters] must have been before last week. I can’t remember that long ago.” 

Nick Voinis, senior associate athletics director, who was present for the interview in Dodds’ office, said he was aware of correspondence from Kearney regarding Thornton.

“I heard there may have been a memo or two there,” Voinis said. 

After she was told the University was prepared to fire her for having a relationship with a former student-athlete in her program in 2002, Kearney, the head coach since 1993, resigned in January. She led the Longhorns to six national championships — three indoor and three outdoor — during her 20-year tenure. 

Thornton became the head of the men’s program in 1996 after a 13-year stint as head coach of his alma mater, Texas Christian University. He served as the head coach of the men’s track and field team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 

Rose Brimmer, an assistant coach under Kearney, is the interim head coach of the women’s track and field program. Dodds said they are still in the process of deciding what to do about the position for the future.

Asked if the athletics department is considering combining the men’s and women’s programs with Thornton in charge, Dodds — a former track coach himself — said they are a few weeks from making that decision.

“It seems the world has pretty much gone to one head coach and assistant coaches,” Dodds said. “We’ve stayed with a two-coach system, but [putting Thornton in charge of both programs is] part of the discussion about what we need to do.”

— Reporting by Christian Corona, Shabab Siddiqui and Trey Scott

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Published on February 22, 2013 as "Letters reveal Kearney's rift with coach".