Last month, Oakland University head women's basketball coach Beckie Francis was mysteriously fired after several years of leading what — from the outside, at least — seemed like a successful collegiate sports program. Now, more than a dozen former players have come forward to reveal that behind the scenes, Francis was a religious zealot obsessed with her players' virginity and weight, to the point that some under her iron fist developed eating disorders. And here I thought I had it bad when my high school basketball coach benched me after I told him he was dumb for forcing us to practice motion offense before playing a team that always, always killed us with a half court 1-3-1 zone. Perspective!
According to the players who have spoken to the media (current players have been strictly prohibited from doing so), Coach Francis' coaching methods during her 13-year tenure went beyond "hardass running a tight ship;" the woman was downright terrifying. Picture the coaching equivalent of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? meets the crazy ball-chucking Rutgers dude meets Reese Witherspoon's character from Election meets Michele Bachmann. Now picture that character forcing you to go to church with her.
The entire piece on her antics is worth a read if you feel like bumming yourself out on a Monday, but for the sake of brevity, time, and your internet-disabled attention span, here's a short list of some of the crap Coach Beckie Francis allegedly pulled during her tenure at Oakland.
- gave incoming freshman the "virginity talk," which consisted of the Coach telling her players, in no uncertain terms, that they better be hard-studying virgins while they play for her;
- penalized players with social lives by benching them;
- basically forced players to attend her weirdo Christian church, including one player who was Muslim;
- showed Christian-themed videos on bus trips, which is a shame because everyone knows that bus trips are for quote-along viewings of Dirty Dancing or Mean Girls;
- instituted an unspoken but enforced "Pray to Play" rule;
- constantly criticized players about their weight, forced players to diet, and refused to play players who weren't skinny enough;
- forced to pose for pictures in their sports bras and spandex shorts while flexing their muscles, so the coach could document their body changes and progress toward a platonic ideal of perfection that existed in Coach Francis' head;
An assistant coach brought an infant son on a 2010 road trip to South Dakota State. With the team in a study session, the baby was sleeping in a carrier when the assistant was sent by Francis to run a short errand, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was present on the road trip. The person said that while the assistant was gone, the baby began to cry and Francis picked up the carrier, placed it in the hallway and returned to the room. The baby was left alone in the hallway for about 10 minutes until the assistant returned.
- during pickup games during practice, Francis would put her hands on players' stomachs and demand players let her feel their six-packs;
- banned her team from socializing with the men's basketball team. Because sex.
Players reported that they were afraid to speak out because Francis' husband Gary Russi was President of the University. But this summer, both were fired Russi resigned within a day of Francis' removal under a SHROUD OF MYSTERY.
Now, it seems that both firings may be related to the fact that Beckie Francis (aside: is "Beckie Francis" not the perfect sanctimonious jerk name?) is a dangerous abuser with serious control issues. Coach Francis' tactics have led to several of her former players exhibiting symptoms of eating disorders, and an abnormally high number of them have transferred out of the program under her watch.
What makes this extra sad is Francis' own tragic history; she recently revealed that she was sexually abused by her father when she was a child and last year testified before the Michigan legislature in favor of a law protecting victims of child abuse. In the months leading up to her termination, she was recognized for her courage in the face of personal adversity and her team's success was rewarded with a fancy new conference membership.
As we'd say in the North Country, uff da.