Former University of Montana Women's Head Soccer Coach Mark Plakorus has left, and for some in the program, that will be a relief.
The university opted not to bring him back because of concerns about texts and using a university cell phone for personal ads in Las Vegas. It looks like Athletic Director Kent Haslam was right to be concerned about his coach's behavior.
It appears that some involved with the soccer program had questioned Plakorus' behavior as early as last year.
It would be sad, if not irresponsible, for Plakorus' exit to mark the end of the story for UM athletics.
A handful of players have come forward to detail questionable behavior, which includes allegation of Plakorus touching players on the legs, hair and holding one-on-one conversations with female players behind closed doors, a violation of university policy.
We don't know very much about these allegations yet because the office charged with investigating them was still in its fact-gathering phase. Yet because of university protocol, when a coach leaves, the investigation into climate and team morale ends when he or she departs.
We have two concerns with this practice. First, if a coach who has betrayed the trust of the players and university leaves before the conclusion of an investigation, it allows them to move around, essentially undetected, potentially wreaking harm and havoc on others who were not forewarned. Secondly, it seems to discount any legitimate concerns players and coaching staff members had about a rogue coach.
The players who brought these allegations forward — whatever their nature, if true — deserve to have them fully investigated. They should be rewarded and praised for their honesty and courage. And, if the university was derelict in not protecting its players from a predatory or reckless coach, then changes have to be made to ensure the mistakes are never repeated.
The University of Montana must continue its own internal — and, if necessary, external — investigation. It must guarantee that the women's soccer program is healthy enough and that players have not been harmed.
We respect the confidential nature of these investigations, but we also believe that after the evidence gathering has taken place, the university can protect the privacy of the individual players while sharing the overall results with the greater University of Montana community. The residents of this state need to be assured that the program is healthy and its players are safe.
We will continue to ask for answers, and want to make sure that players' concerns are heard. It is not enough that Plakorus is gone — the culture, if a toxic one existed, must be flushed as well.
While the sexual assault epidemic for which Missoula become the poster city is not exactly analogous to this case, what is similar is that the university may not have been properly protecting its players or listening to the concerns of those involved with the program. Because the University of Montana has had such long-standing challenges with this issue, it must also be more attuned and sensitive to the allegations.
The University of Montana must be more transparent and more open about the depth and extent of its investigation, those findings and what it will do in the future.
So far, we give new University of Montana President Seth Bodnar credit: He pledged more transparency and has repeatedly talked about rebuilding trust with the state by accountability and transparency. Nearly as soon as Plakorus' exit had been announced, rumors of his Las Vegas calls surfaced. Bodnar redoubled communication efforts with Haslam and a fuller, more complete — albeit more disturbing — version came forward.
If the University of Montana wants to live down its reputation as the kind of place where this kind of questionable behavior still exists, it will have to work twice as hard at telling the public what happened and, more importantly, how the university will ensure it won't happen again.