Though he was relieved as head coach of Cal Poly volleyball only four matches into the season, Jon Stevenson has neither been fired nor has he resigned his position, Mustangs athletic director Don Oberhelman said Sunday.
Oberhelman said it was his decision to replace the seventh-year head coach with third-year assistant coach Caroline Walters prior to the team’s trip to Utah for a three-game tournament this past weekend.
But the athletic director declined to explain specifics of the decision, pending the completion of a separation agreement that the university is negotiating with Stevenson’s attorney. Stevenson remains on Cal Poly’s payroll in the meantime.
“All my decisions are based on what I believe is best for our student athletes,” said Oberhelman, who was hired in March. “The timing, I understand, is probably the worst possible timing you can have for a situation, but I’m new to Cal Poly and needed to study the situations and decided a few weeks ago that this was the best.”
This is the second head coaching change in as many months after former men’s tennis coach Justin McGrath acknowledged resigning in late July amidst an NCAA investigation into his program.
Oberhelman said there was no current NCAA investigation into the volleyball program.
“There’s no NCAA rules when it comes to our student athletes getting a first-rate experience,” Oberhelman said. “When it comes to how you treat people, that’s up to university administration to make those determinations.”
Stevenson tweeted about his lack of access while Cal Poly lost to “inferior teams” Saturday, and he clarified his comments Sunday.
Stevenson said the point of his tweet was to express concern about the student athletes’ experience.
“This team should be winning & the girls should be having a great experience,” Stevenson said via text message before declining the opportunity to speak about being removed from the team.
Since Walters took over the Mustangs, they have lost matches to Michigan, Santa Clara and tournament host Utah Valley over the weekend. They were 3-1 this season under Stevenson, the coach who twice took the team to the NCAA Tournament after a prolonged absence from the postseason.
Oberhelman said it’s still to be determined how long Walters will carry the interim tag. He anticipated a national search for a replacement at some point.
“It’s going to be a highly sought-after position,” Oberhelman said, “because it’s a great job. With that said, it’s in very capable hands, and we’re going to see what she can do.”
Oberhelman did confirm that Stevenson was investigated for rules violations based on allegations made by an anonymous source within the past two years.
Anonymous letters claiming to have correspondence with NCAA enforcement investigators and alleging rules violations were sent to Cal Poly administrators and copied to The Tribune beginning in December and ending prior to Oberhelman’s hiring.
Oberhelman said the resulting investigation yielded no findings of violations and that Stevenson’s removal was not related to those allegations.
“I would say it’s related to a pattern I’ve seen related to our student-athlete welfare,” Oberhelman said.
“I think Jon has a good heart and I think he’s a good person. I just felt like it was best for our volleyball program to have somebody else lead it.”
Walters was Santa Clara’s all-time leader in digs when she completed her senior season with the Broncos in 2007. Since the three-time All-West Coast Conference performer finished her college career, she’s worked as an assistant for the Los Gatos-based Vision Volleyball Club in addition to her years as a Cal Poly assistant.