Jim Gardner announced he would return as the head women’s soccer coach for Laramie County Community College during the public comment portion of the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Feb. 1.
Gardner was terminated from his job of the last 16 years on Monday, Jan. 28.
In a statement, LCCC President Dr. Joe Schaffer apologized for the way Gardner was terminated.
“The problem is, we handled the delivery of that decision poorly and completely forgot about the human side of this work,” he said. “I am ultimately responsible when we do not perform the way any of us would expect. That is why I want to offer this public, sincere apology to Coach Gardner for the manner in which we handled this situation. I also want to assure the community that this not a reflection of our typical practice at LCCC.”
Gardner said he came to his office Monday and was immediately called to first-year Athletics Director Clark Rasmussen’s office. According to Gardner, he walked in and saw Bobby Baker from LCCC Human Resources. Gardner said that Baker handed him a note that said “as of today, January 28th, your services are no longer required at Laramie County Community College. Thank you for your service, you have one hour to clean out your office and turn in your key, computer, phone and badge.“ Neither Baker or Rasmussen told Gardner why he was being let go, but told him “we can’t comment on the matter,” Gardner said. Gardner said he went on without saying a word to clean out his office, just down the hall from Rasmussen’s.
“I had no chance to rebut any charges, or explain my side of any story, no chance to discuss how to correct or improve, no chance to even resign!” Gardner said in a statement to his former players that was later posted to Facebook.
Wyoming is a right-to-work state, meaning employees can be terminated at any time.
But on Friday, the LCCC Board of Trustees held an executive session in the Petersen Boardroom in the Administration Building to “discuss a personnel matter.” That was followed by a public comment opportunity, to which many supporters would show up to the meeting in support of Gardner. Gardner would be the first to comment.
Gardner explained how he received a ton of support from former players, coaches, and other LCCC staff. He also said that the way things turned out was unfortunate.
“The way I was treated was not good, it shouldn’t happen to anyone, where you don’t have a reason why after you’ve been there for so long,” Gardner said.
He went on to explain how there should’ve been a way to have an improvement plan but to not have any information was not a way to.
“Mistakes can be taken care, and I have to give thanks to (President Joe Schaffer) and how he’s talked to me,” Gardner said.
Then the breaking news came out.
“We’ve came to a conclusion, even though the things that happened were embarrassing and shameful… that I’ll come back and go for a year and then I’ll retire and we can have a smooth transition into a new transition that our Athletic Director wants to go into,” Gardner said.
Rasmussen would agree.
“One of the biggest lessons we teach our students is how to leverage your mistakes to make you stronger in the future. This is one of those situations, and I am pleased that coach Gardner feels the same and is ready to help us prepare for the future of the program,” Rasmussen said in a statement from LCCC. “Over the next season, he and I will work closely to not only have a successful season, but to also prepare for the successful transition of the program after Jim’s retirement.”
Gardner also said in his statement at the board meeting that he wasn’t planning on retiring for two to three more years but accepted the one-year appointment because it would give him a conclusion.
“I appreciate the board for listening and thank you. I can come back and hold our heads high and take care of the team, the team would’ve been devastated,” Gardner said.
Gardner shared his happiness with to be returning with his players.
“We are over the moon that we have our coach back. Very relieved now that we know we will be looked after,” Shaney McCabe, a freshman defender, said
“Losing him as a coach was like losing a parent. It was surreal,” McCabe said.
McCabe said that even though she only knew Gardner for five months, it was the greatest five months of her life. She said she felt like part of a family, and a huge reason of that was all due to Gardner.
Gardner has coached several of his players longer than just their two years at LCCC. That includes two-time, first-team all-american Katie Loken. Loken went to Cheyenne East High School, where Gardner coached her for all four years of high school and now two seasons at LCCC.
“It’s crazy he’s been my coach for six years. He’s a tough coach, but he always gets a ton of respect out of the players. He always put his players first before the wins and losses,” Loken said.
Along with the players, he received support from former Athletic Director Scott Noble.
“I do not have a comment on LCCC’s decision to release Jim Gardner. I will tell you that while I was the Director of Athletics at LCCC, Jim Gardner was one of the finest collegiate women’s soccer coaches in the country,” Noble said.
Gardner has led LCCC to a 234-68-24 record and 10 NJCAA tournament appearances over 16 seasons. They have finished third nationally three times.