Swim coach leaves Brandeis after HR investigation

After a human resources department investigation into his conduct, Coach Mike Kotch is no longer the Brandeis University Swimming and Diving Team (BUSDT) coach. Brandeis University has declined to comment on whether Kotch was fired or if he resigned.

Kotch was placed on administrative leave on May 2 pending the outcome of a human resources department investigation—not by the athletic department—according to an email to the swim team by Acting Athletic Director Jim Zotz, obtained by The Brandeis Hoot. A subsequent email from Vice President for Student Affairs Sheryl Sousa informed BUSDT that Kotch no longer works at Brandeis, but did not explain the circumstances of his departure.

As of press time, Brandeis has not released an official statement regarding Kotch, or the search for a new swim coach. Kotch’s Brandeis athletic webpage has been removed and replaced with “TBA,” or “To Be Announced.” Kotch’s page was not updated on May 2 to indicate his placement on administrative leave.

The Hoot spoke to several sources about the circumstances leading up to Kotch’s departure. Due to the nature of the investigation, the sources spoken to preferred not to be identified.

Formal investigators, brought to Brandeis as part of the investigation into and firing of former basketball coach Brian Meehan, prompted members of the Brandeis swim team to reach out to them. The complaints of Kotch’s behavior were not new. Swimmers had told athletics director Lynne Dempsey, who is currently on administrative leave, about Coach Kotch’s alleged “unprofessional conduct” in the past.

Dempsey “heard us and she let us just speak our minds, and she was just kind of like, ‘I understand how you feel, I’m sorry’—and then just goes, ‘There’s nothing I can do,’” one swimmer said. The Hoot cannot confirm how many swimmers spoke to Dempsey or how frequently.

Multiple swimmers spoke to formal investigators during set office hours, which began on April 11, hoping that their concerns would be addressed. Some swimmers could not attend because of scheduling conflicts. One swimmer suggested that those interested should draft a collective, anonymous letter and send it to investigators. According to a source on the swim team, most of the team participated in drafting the letter.

The letter was about three pages in length and listed “unprofessional actions” that Coach Kotch had engaged in. One swimmer told The Hoot that the actions were nuanced and “not on the same scale as the whole basketball coach situation.” Kotch’s unpopularity among team members, she explained, contributed to how harshly students took his behavior. A lot of the complaints constituted grievances built up over time. Kotch was the head swim coach for the combined men’s and women’s swim team at Brandeis for over six years.

The letter stated that the coach would make inappropriate comments, sometimes about students’ weight. A swimmer recounted another incident mentioned in the collective letter that occurred last year during a BUSDT training trip. According to the source, it’s a tradition for coaches to go out drinking. On last year’s training trip, while intoxicated, Kotch messaged the swim team group chat making fun of a person who had recently been kicked off the team.

The letter was followed by notice of an investigation. Zotz emailed the team on May 2. The email read, “Concerns have been raised regarding Coach Kotch’s conduct which will be investigated. Pending the outcome of the investigation, Coach Kotch has been placed on administrative leave.” This was the first and only email that the swim team received concerning an investigation.

Zotz is serving as acting athletics director while Dempsey continues to remain on administrative leave. According to one source on the swim team, the athletic department is in good hands with Zotz. “He pays very [close] attention to the teams and he is probably one of the best hands in the athletic center to lead the school in athletics administratively.”

A month and a half later, on June 14, Sousa sent another email to the team notifying them of Coach Kotch’s departure. Sousa gave no cause of action. She did not explain whether Kotch had resigned or been fired. The Hoot asked Zotz and the Human Resources Department to comment on Kotch’s status in June, but both declined. Between the two emails, the human resources department did not reach out to the swim team collectively.

Sousa’s email also mentioned that the search for a new BUSDT swim coach would begin immediately. In addition to this position, Brandeis must also hire a new assistant coach. Kotch fired the former assistant coach in March. An advertisement for the position has been posted in SwimSwam magazine.

The swimmers who spoke to The Hoot are optimistic about the search process for their coach’s replacement. Members of the team will be able to give input on the candidates once the search pool has been narrowed. A source on the team mentioned that the new swim coach is expected to be hired by mid-August, and that resumes have already been collected.

One source said that the new coach is going to have a clean slate, which might be challenging. “Naturally someone starting their career at a school which already has a program, it’s going to be difficult for them to acclimate to the climate of the team and what the team needs. It’s going to be definitely a challenge planning and setting up things that have happened year after year.”

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