On April 17, Rick Vanderhook, the head coach of the Cal State Fullerton Titans, a powerhouse in Division I college baseball, was placed on administrative leave. He returned to the team a month later, but the reason for his brief absence remained a mystery. Now, thanks to documents obtained from Cal State Fullerton via the California Public Records Act, we know why Vanderhook was told to stay away from the team for a month: He flipped the fuck out on them, and somebody recorded it.
A little context: The Cal State Fullerton Titans entered the 2014 college baseball season as the top-ranked team in a variety of preseason polls. They stumbled out of the gate, though, and needed a late-season surge to sneak into the NCAA tournament, where they were bounced in the regionals. A bummer of a season, overall.
It was in the midst of those early-season doldrums that Vanderhook was placed on leave. The Titans dropped two one-run games to UC Santa Barbara on April 12 and 13, and Vanderhook was sent away from the team after an 8-0 loss on April 17.
After the April 13 loss, Vanderhook savaged his team in a Q&A with ESPN reporter Eric Sorenson. It began:
Eric Sorenson: Coach, I heard you being very "animated" with your team in right field after the game, what did you say to them?
Rick Vanderhook: Dude, the offensive guys are just in fear of failure, and that's what I told them.
He went a little further later on:
ES: We're just past the halfway point of the season, what is your take on the team right now?
RH: They're soft. They're a soft group. And if they keep doing what they're doing, they're going to be the first team from Fullerton not to play in the postseason in 26 years. And I would hate to be them coming back to an alumni game and have to look all the other guys in the face and say they were the team that didn't make it.
Vanderhook was a lot more animated after the game. Below are two videos of the coach berating his team, both apparently recorded after that April 13 loss and sent the following day to an assistant athletics director by a female student-athlete, according to the university's report on the incident. (The athletic department had also received anonymous complaints about the coach's behavior on March 27 and April 8.) The woman had gotten the videos from an unnamed baseball player. We got our hands on them after submitting a public-records request to the university:
Vanderhook starts off nicely with that salmon metaphor, but then he kicks into another gear. "You motherfuckers joked around about being more smarter," he says, "and you are the stupidest group of motherfuckers I have ever seen."
He apparently kept it up on the bus ride home. The context here appears to be the team's upcoming series against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
"They're going to be up your ass so far next weekend with a sellout every night," Vanderhook says, now hoarse, "and you don't think your fucking shriveled balls are gonna go up inside you? You should get castrated before you get there. Because they're gonna fucking be right up in you—those people are gonna be all over your ass, because you have short-term memories. You can't think. Start thinking. And provide some fucking leadership, suckers."
Cal Poly wound up sweeping the three-game series.
Upon receiving these recordings, the university decided to place Vanderhook on leave while conducting an investigation The school also provided us with its report detailing the results of the investigation. (The full report can be found at the bottom of the page.) Cal State Fullerton decided that Vanderhook didn't deserve to be fired, but informed him that he will have to serve a two-week suspension at some point.
There were apparently other "allegations of misconduct," but those accusations were redacted from the report we received:
Investigators spoke with all 32 Cal State Fullerton baseball players. Twenty-eight of them, according to the report, "did not find Vanderhook's style to be offensive. The majority of them felt that Vanderhook, per his contract, was professional, collegial, mature, rational and positive. The majority of them said his style is motivating, makes them tough and teaches them how to be a man."
The report includes two letters that were sent to the university by angry parents, one of whom had just seen a video of Vanderhook "being verbally harassing and abusive" to the team." (It's not clear if it's one of the videos here.) That email reads:
A couple of my buddies played in the major leagues, not one of them was ever talked to that way. I sent them the video and they were shocked. They were suprised he wasn't fired on the spot. You need to remove Vanderhook from Fullerton. You were given fair warning by the player who sent that video. You are aware of the verbal abuse that is going on. Now you have to take action. I really want my son to be able to play next year and get his shot at being drafted. If Vanderhook is back foranother season, I will take this video to the media and my son will sue for verbal abuse/harassment.
The report also chides Vanderhook for using a punishment technique known as "Dipper Dan," which involves players being locked in a port-a-potty when they forget to communicate with teammates on fly balls. According to the report, players are sent into the port-a-potty and forced to yell, "Ball, ball, ball!" until the coach tells him to come out. The report states that this punishment usually lasts between 20 seconds and two minutes, but that one player was alleged to have been locked in the port-a-potty for 40 minutes. The university's investigators could not corroborate that story, though, and the player who was supposedly sent in for 40 minutes told them he was only inside for only two minutes.
But my favorite part of the report is this bit:
Vanderhook described his coaching style as "passionate, demanding, aggressive and caring." He authenticated his voice on the audio. He stated that in the Santa Barbara series, the players made a lot of mistakes, but he admitted, after hearing the audio, that some of his language was inappropriate. He stated that calling the players "mother fuckers" was inappropriate, but calling them "stupid mother fuckers" was okay because he shouldn't have to keep repeating himself when coaching. He stated that while he's tough, he also gives them hugs.
Vanderhook's contract runs through the 2018 season. Those stupid motherfuckers have a lot of hugs coming their way.
More coaching meltdowns:
College Baseball Coach Has Violent, Profane Locker-Room Meltdown
High School Baseball Coach Loses His Shit, Curses Out Team
Profane Rant By D-III Christian College's Golf Coach Is A Thing To Behold