BEDFORD — Citing a negative culture, school administrators fired longtime Bedford High School girls’ varsity basketball coach Sue Thomas Monday after an investigation.
“There has been a parting of the ways between the school district and Coach Sue Thomas,” Mike Fournier, interim superintendent, said Wednesday. “She has been relieved of those duties.”
In a telephone interview, Thomas acknowledged she is a tough coach but said her departure was not by mutual agreement.
“The contract has been terminated. I am not in agreement with it. We did not just part ways,” she said. “I was let go, and in my opinion I was let go because I am a tough woman coach.”
Fournier said an investigation was launched by Athletic Director Corey Parker and Principal Bill Hagen that involved interviews with players and coaching staff.
“The team members felt intimidated, and felt as though the culture was negative,” Fournier said.
The Bulldogs were perennial Division I contenders under Thomas, who guided the program to the playoffs in each of her seven full seasons as head coach. She helped the Bulldogs reach four Division I championship games, including a title victory in Bedford’s inaugural Division I season in 2013.
Thomas was officially fired on Monday, just days after players said they would not participate in a tournament last weekend in Salem if Thomas was coaching.
After Parker spoke with Thomas, she “graciously offered” not to attend the tournament and Assistant Coach Kevin Gibbs filled in, Fournier said.
Then, Fournier said, administrators learned that nearly all of the players on the team were unwilling to play if Thomas was coaching.
“The school district is grateful for all that Sue Thomas has done for the school system … but this was not a good match,” Fournier said of Thomas’ coaching style and the team.
Thomas said she requested a meeting, which could have included parents, to address concerns, but that her request was not granted.
Thomas has coached the girls’ varsity team since its inception about 10 years ago and previously served on the school board for eight years.
She said her only motivation is what was best for the athletes, but admitted there were different perceptions of how practices should be conducted. This year’s team has 12 players — seven newcomers and five returning players.
“I am a tough coach. We had a bad loss right before Christmas,” she said. Thomas said there was a practice before she left town to visit her parents.
“Players were upset with the practice and it brought up a lot of things,” she said.
Thomas said she is passionate about the coaching position, explaining it is important to show that women can remain in a sport that they love — and that there can be accomplished female coaches.
“I texted them all yesterday and told them I always had their best interest at heart. I am sorry it wasn’t perceived that way and I wish them the best of luck in the future,” she said.
Fournier said he was supportive of Parker and Hagen’s decision to terminate Thomas’ contract. Gibbs will serve as the team’s interim head coach for the rest of the season.
Fournier said the program will be different under new leadership, adding he hopes the players will be more comfortable and have a successful season.
“I am saddened by the series of events and I wish we would have been able to address this much earlier,” said Fournier.
He said Thomas will be financially compensated for the 36 days she worked with the team this season.
Fournier said concerns about Thomas’ coaching style have been raised in the past and that previous athletic directors and administrators have worked on the issues.
Reporter Joe Duball contributed to this report.