BUTTE — Fired Montana Tech Athletic Director Charles Bradley has hired a lawyer and said he’s still seeking an explanation from the university on why he was dismissed.
In a sweeping interview with The Montana Standard, Bradley said there was tension between him and boosters, but he said it was nothing that led him to believe his job was in danger.
Bradley repeatedly said he was never warned by the university that he wasn’t meeting expectations, and he wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal when he met with Chancellor Don Blackketter on Saturday in the chancellor’s office.
“I really don’t have a reason,” Bradley told the Standard. “I never heard one.”
Montana Tech again declined to comment on the firing Thursday but released a statement through Kevin McRae, the director of labor relations and human resources for the Montana University System.
McRae said Bradley hasn’t formally waived his right to privacy, which has legally prevented Tech from speaking about the firing.
The Standard asked Bradley on Thursday to waive the right — which would have allowed the university to comment — but he declined. He said he wants to meet privately with university leaders.
Bradley, who is black, said he couldn’t rule out racism as a factor in his firing — the closest he came in the interview to speculating on the motivations behind his dismissal.
The interview with the Standard took place Thursday at the office of Bradley’s attorney, W. Wayne Harper. Bradley said he hired a lawyer when Tech sent him a letter threatening to stop paying his wages through the end of his contract unless he immediately returned files, clothing, Pepsi products and other items he’d taken from his campus office.
A former Boston Celtic, Bradley was hired in June 2013. Tech will continue to pay out his one-year, $87,163-contract through the end of this June.
Editor’s note: Charles Bradley sat down Thursday with The Montana Standard in the former athletic director’s first extended interview since he was fired by Montana Tech over the weekend. An excerpt appears below. Hear the full 36-minute audio version by clicking on the icon on this page.
Q: What reasons did the school give you when they let you go?
Charles Bradley: I really don’t have a reason, I never heard one. Just dating back to Saturday when the meeting was called … I met with chancellor Blackketter on Thursday. He had said ‘we would like to schedule meetings to find a way that we could have athletics and the foundation work together.’ On either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning I received an invite to Microsoft and on that invite, he emailed it to himself, myself, Joe McClafferty, the vice president, (inaudible) vice president, and Doug Abbott, vice president. We were missing one, which was a concern of mine, which was Bev Hartline. If we have all the presidents, why weren’t we all present? How come Bev wasn’t invited? I didn’t think anything of it … it was 10 o’clock on a Saturday (Jan. 18) morning, I go up to the Chancellor’s office for the meeting and as I walk in, Chancellor Blackketter got up from his desk, walked over to me and gave me a piece of paper. He then says ‘Charles, things aren’t working out and I know you wouldn’t be happy here and he gave me a piece of paper and I read a few sentences that were on there and I removed myself from the office.
Q: (So Blackketter) said you weren’t happy there?
CB: That’s what he said. When I walked in no one was there. I got there five after because the building was locked up and the security team let me in. It wasn’t like they were late. No one was there. Maggie Peterson was in her office, but no one was at the conference table like we have been in meetings before.
Q: Did you ask for clarification on ‘why do you think I am unhappy?’
CB: He made a decision and his mind was made up. For me to ask these questions … if they had been a point of fact maybe he could have told me the reasons why. But the reasons he told me were ‘things aren’t working out’ and I knew ‘you wouldn’t be happy here.’ So the thing that stuck in my mind, I thought I was content and I thought Butte, America was kinda cool, I was enjoying myself. I attached myself to Butte, America. I thought they did a wonderful job embracing myself and my wife. So, I didn’t know I was that unhappy?
Q: On Thursday, you didn’t feel any indication that anything was amiss at that point? Even in the weeks leading up to the firing?
CB: : Not at all. We are always having conversation. I meet with the chancellor once or twice every two weeks just to give him what’s going on in the athletic department, that’s what my responsibility was. My responsibility was to oversee the athletic department and he was my supervisor, so, just like anyone else, you want to give them information … what’s going on with the football program, the women’s basketball program. Those were our conversations.
Q: Were there any kind of rumblings on campus or gossip that you can share?
CB: Am I going to make 100 percent of the people pleased? Not really. But, I think anytime there is change you get a little bit of pushback, ‘you know this is how we’ve always done it.’ But, the changes I was in the process of implementing, they were embraced…we were still pushing forward here and I hadn’t got here until May myself. We’re still finding ways to make things happen to get out and raise corporate dollars and for corporate sales. Corporate sales were doing fantastic, they were doing fine.
Q: Can you think of any examples where you didn’t meet the Chancellor’s expectations or did he ever make clear to you that you fell short in some areas?
CB: No. Again that where I go back and I look … you take a look, there is not a lot of gap in there. My football season — was disheartening — but I didn’t have a lot to say about that with the win/loss. I am there to support the football coach. The volleyball program, those took place, I mean I was in the position where I didn’t even have a chance to evaluate my football coach or my volleyball coach at the end of the season. Basketball season just got started. There weren’t many windows for disenchantment. I am searching and searching myself, I mean, where’s it at? You put a whole year in place and then you have a chance to evaluate what we can make better, what are we pleased with? That’s what we’d be looking for in June. When my contract is up for evaluation, then I am up for some criticism.
Q: How did you feel about the relationships with the sponsors?
CB: Realistically, a large percentage was fine and enjoying working with me and having a new relationship and seeing the newness of the athletic department. There were others, again, set in their ways. But the ones that we lose, there are others that want to come on board. This isn’t my first rodeo in that aspect because of taking on new programs.
Q: If they didn’t give you anything, why do you think you were fired?
CB: Oh my gosh, it does seem unusual. To keep it in context here. You are walking around a corner and someone takes a baseball bat and ‘bam.’ Why? Because I walked around a corner? I’m sorry, it does look a little shady here. I wish I could give you more.
Q: If your contract was up in June are you basically saying that you should have been given more time to either succeed or fail and that this was a little too soon in the process?
CB: … it is kind of strange and it is kind of odd that, ‘what led up to this?’ I would say that if I was brought in…and given a three-month evaluation or a six-month evaluation … I didn’t see that. I don’t know where that evaluation comes.
Q: You never got a sit-down?
Q: You never got a write up?
Q: You were given no reason, correct?
Q: Should we assume you will be taking legal action against Tech, or what’s the next step?
(Attorney W. Wayne Harper): Our goal is to just talk to them.
They sent a letter subsequent to the one-sentence termination that listed six items that said ‘if you don’t return them by tonight,’ literally ‘by tonight’ that ‘you will be let go for cause and not be paid until June. 23.’ One was as silly as a deal of water that was $2.78 that was in the office two weeks before he left...When he was told to clear out his office, he did. When he found out he may not continue to get paid and issues like that, yes, he retained me, not to sue, not for litigation, but to make sure they honored his contact and honored the person who moved up here, moved his family, and changed a lot of his life situation.
Q: Is that normal that you have X-amount of hours, not even days (to wrap up one’s employment)?
WWH: I have done 24 years as an AMA employment attorney and I have never seen anyone given less than a week to do basically anything. So, it’s not normal to me.
Q: How were your relationships with the coaches?
CB: It was a protocol issue that it was something new and changed. I thought we had a straight relationship. The main thing was that we were just trying to know each other, but that’s in anything…It was fine, it was working out OK.
Q: Was there some tension there that may have happened over the weekend?
CB: I can’t answer that, because I just didn’t know. If there was … but I didn’t know. There are going to be some people who are happy and some people who embrace newness and some that don’t want anything to do with it. It could have been. But did I know about it? Probably not … Because in the position of athletic director, we are there for support. When I was coaching I didn’t go to my A.D. a lot … My job wasn’t to be a best friend with A.D. The A.D’s job is to raise money for my program and be a support for me when times get tough.
Q: So you never had any face-to-face meetings with coaches who may have had issues with you?
CB: Not that I know of. I brought coaches in, I’d ask how everything was going, and their reply to me was ‘everything’s going fine.’ So that’s all I can go with.
Q: Do you think there was any motivation behind this move due to racial issues?
CB: You hear a lot. Whether it is a positive or a negative, I wouldn’t rule it out.
Q: When you say ‘hear a lot’ what does that mean?
CB: Certain things are said to the African-American players up there and they’ve been in my office quite a bit and expressing concerns. I’ve heard some things that were said to the Hispanic population, so, these are racial tensions, but there are racial tensions all over, right? I am not saying it’s not just here on our campus. They probably felt comfortable having a person of color now in an authority position they could reach out to.
Q: Were you subjected to anything that would be considered an act of racism or any type of prejudice?
CB: I think for me, because of where I have been, I am a little stronger than most. I don’t take things too personal. I am more concerned with other people. That’s where I fall into play. I don’t like it when others are bullied. I sense that sometimes when they come to me. As far as Charles Bradley is concerned? I am fine, I have a tough skin. It concerns me when things are going like that in a department that I am overseeing.
Q: What would you have done different, better at this point, if you could look back?
CB: What would I change? Realistically, I don’t think I’d change anything ... We got to take a whole look at the whole gambit and take a look at all of it in May, Now you put it all together and say ‘I didn’t like this, I didn’t like this…’ I didn’t make any modification because I didn’t know what their wants or their needs are.
Q: When you started what expectations or criteria were given to you that said ‘if you accomplish this, you will be successful?’
CB: The expectations were always vague. ‘Let’s make the athletic program better and let’s work hard to take us to a national level.’ Let’s identify what is the next level, because that was never identified.
Q: Did they ever give you a job description?
CB: If they did give it to me I am not remembering. The only time I saw a job description was when I applied for the job.
Q: They never had you sign anything that made you aware of what you needed to do as part of the evaluation process?
CB: I don’t recall that. If it is that I signed it, I don’t recall going over a job description.
Q: Are you bitter about what happened? Disappointed? Sad?
CB: No. Montana Tech, I want to make myself perfectly clear, is a fine institution. What I am talking about here is that I preserve my integrity because I did nothing inappropriate here. I know I am a fine athletic director, I do a fine job, I am very good at what I do, and I want people to understand that.
Q: What’s next?
CB: Obviously we are going to continue to move forward and stay in this industry. It’s what I do…it’s what I am.