RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — One day after Virginia Union University terminated its head football coach, players tell 8News that the school’s athletic director used ‘disrespectful’ language when notifying the team of the decision.
Several players who attended that meeting said Athletic Director Joe Taylor called them “[expletive] idiots” and “undisciplined thugs” when explaining why he thought the program was headed in the wrong direction and why the school decided to part ways fourth-year coach Mark James.
“Thug is a very offensive word,” VUU senior offensive lineman Xavier Bradford said. “It’s almost as offensive as the ‘N’ word. It’s actually today’s ‘N’ word, honestly.”
Taylor, however, denied accusations that he used offensive language when addressing the team.
“Anybody that knows Joe Taylor knows that’s not me,” Taylor told 8News over the phone. “We did let them know that the problem with the program was a lack of discipline. We don’t have to step outside integrity to let them know that.”
Asked for specifics on the team’s discipline issues, Taylor cited student confidentiality policies, but did say, “we can’t have our students using profanity in the classroom. We can’t have our young ladies on campus telling us they’re being disrespected.”
“It’s a new day in the program,” Taylor said. “It’s about preparing the kids for life after college.”
But the players insist they heard correctly.
“We heard what we heard,” sophomore Kane Smith said. “We just have to move on from it and go see the president and take affirmative action.”
The action players are taking is meeting with university President Hakim J. Lucas. They have a scheduled sit-down Wednesday evening.
“If we were thugs — thugs don’t go to college, I believe.” — VUU sophomore Kane Smith
Multiple sources also told 8News that there is bad blood between Taylor and James, stemming from the firing of Taylor’s son and running backs coach, Aaron Joseph “AJ” Taylor.
Taylor denies that as well, saying his son chose to resign at the end of the 2016 season. Taylor said it was a family decision, and that AJ is now working in government in Washington D.C.
Taylor added that the decision to terminate James was not a unilateral decision, saying that he has the support of Virginia Union University President Hakim J. Lucas.
James, a Virginia Union alumnus and former football player, guided the Panthers to a 26-15 record over four seasons with his alma mater. In 2015, he led the program back to its first NCAA Division II Tournament appearance since 1991.
“I am thankful for the opportunity that was given to me to serve VUU, and I wish them the best moving forward,” James said in a text to 8News.
The president’s office referred all inquiries to the athletic department, which offered no additional comment.
The Panthers went 5-5 in 2016 and 6-4 in 2017.
Several of Mark James’s now-former players stuck up for their coach, even going as far as to meet with President Lucas later today.
“He gave me the opportunity to play football. He’s the only guy who gave me a shot,” said one player, who did not want to be identified because he feared losing his scholarship in retaliation for speaking out. “He’s been a real role model for me. He’s been a father figure to a lot of these guys. He’s saved lives through being a football coach.”
Linebackers coach Mike Fanoga is currently serving as Virginia Union’s interim head coach.
Joe Taylor said Virginia Union will soon narrow down to a final three the candidates for new head football coach. He hopes the University will make a hire by December 15th.