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Winters wants to reclaim old job

The ex-USF women's basketball coach will accept nothing less.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 4, 2001


TAMPA -- During the past seven months, former South Florida women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters was willing to agree to a monetary settlement with the university.

Not anymore.

After William F. Quattlebaum, a Florida administrative law judge, ruled Monday that Winters was wrongfully dismissed and should be reinstated, Winters said nothing less than returning to her former job would be satisfactory.

"Why would I not want to take that position? Yes, I want my job back," Winters said Tuesday, speaking to the media in her lawyer's office. "I want to coach. That's all I've wanted to do since this thing first started. When I was suspended, that's what I wanted to do, and when I was fired, that's what I wanted to do. I want my job back."

Winters' attorney, Robert F. McKee, said he is, and always has been, open to discussing a settlement with South Florida officials that must include back pay. Winters earned about $90,000 in salary and benefits.

"If they want to to talk to us, we're willing to listen," McKee said. "Obviously, they don't want to talk; they would rather fight this out through the court and spend more of the taxpayers' money. So be it. In the meantime, the battle goes on."

USF president Judy Genshaft said in a statement Monday that the university stands by its decision to fire Winters and will not follow the judge's recommendation.

Speaking for the first time since she was fired in December, Winters, 52, said her life has gone "steadily downhill" since allegations of racism within the program surfaced in August. She said she needs to return to USF to regain her good standing in the coaching community. She is working as a real estate agent.

In four seasons at USF, Winters compiled a 47-64 record. She has a 351-304 record in 24 seasons overall. She said she has applied for nearly a dozen coaching jobs but has not gotten an interview.

"I'm getting letters after the fact saying they found another suitable candidate, and obviously, I have to attribute it to the fact that my career has been destroyed at USF," she said. "I think I have an opportunity to (repair it) if I have an opportunity to get my job back."

On the advice of her attorney, Winters would not comment on allegations she mistreated black players. Federal discrimination lawsuits have been filed against her by Smith and seven black former players. She said she considered her three-day administrative hearing in April as the first chance to air at least part of her side of the story.

"Obviously, somebody believed me," she said.

Several of the former players said Tuesday they were disappointed with the judge's ruling.

"It's like a slap in the face to us. They're not even listening to what we had to say," LaToya Ward said. "(Quattlebaum) disregarded us -- the athletes, the school, everyone except for Coach Winters and her legal staff."

Quattlebaum never heard from several key figures in the case. USF's attorneys did not call Smith, former assistant athletic director Hiram Green or former athletic secretary Lisa Walker -- all witnesses in the university's investigation -- to testify at the administrative hearing.

Attorney John W. Campbell, who represented USF, did not return phone calls to his office. USF attorney R.B. Friedlander could not be reached for comment.

"That was their choice, their strategy, and you'll have to ask them why they didn't call other people," McKee said. "It's not my job to call their witnesses for them. There were three days of testimony and over 600 pages of transcripts. The administrative judge came to the right conclusion. We win."

Asked if she believed she could be effective as a coach and recruiter at USF in the midst of eight pending lawsuits, Winters said she could.

"It was extremely difficult in the fall before I was suspended to continue my recruiting efforts and be successful at that, but we were," Winters said. "I was in the home of every player in the fall that we signed for the upcoming season. I explained and defended my position to every set of parents and to every player, and we were still able to sign these players."

Winters said she also would be willing to coach Smith, who has been reinstated to the team.

"I want my job back, and I want an opportunity to coach Dione Smith if Dione wants to be coached," Winters said. "If I got my job back, that would be Dione Smith's choice, not mine. If we had problems, I would address those problems like I did in the past."

Smith doesn't think having Winters as her coach again is a viable option.

"As far as me working with Winters, as I've said before, it probably wouldn't be able to happen because of the fact that the trust we had between each other is no longer there," Smith said from the office of her attorney, Jonathan L. Alpert. "If you can't have a player-coach relationship trusting each other, you can't advance anywhere."

South Florida officials have 13 days left to issue its formal statement to McKee saying they will not abide by the judge's ruling. McKee then will have 30 days to take the case to the 1st or 2nd District Court of Appeal. "If (USF's decision) doesn't include reinstatement and back pay, we will appeal," said McKee, who added that the case could go on for another six months.

Winters said she's in it for the long haul.

"This has been going on, to me, for an extremely long time, so I'll wait as long as it takes."

- Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.

Recent coverage

Judge: Coach's dismissal wrongful (July 3, 2001)

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