Less than 48 hours after our track and field team dominated at its annual Wes Kittley Invitational, head coach Keith Barnier was relieved of his duties, effective immediately, according to director of athletics Lee De Leon.
Three years ago, when Barnier arrived at Abilene, he was tasked with carrying a legendary track and field team through a tough transition to Div. I college athletics.
The team has experienced success all around, but the shining beacon of ACU athletics has been the women’s cross-country team. Not just any coach, or any program, can convince two outrageously talented athletes to move 1,922 miles to run for a West Texas school. And yet, Rhode Island native Allie Hackett regularly breaks personal and conference records, and is also nationally ranked.
As an example of the sought-after, well-rounded athlete, the women also claimed the Southland Conference’s Student-Athlete of the Year the past two years thanks to Diana Garcia-Munoz in 2014 and Hackett last fall.
The team also experienced an unfathomable personal tragedy when assistant coach Drew Graham was paralyzed in a freak swimming accident in the fall of 2014. The team, and ACU community as a whole, came together to support Graham and his family, blood-related or otherwise.
Back on the track, the team worked its way up the Southland Conference the past few years, finishing seventh in 2013, fifth in 2014, and winning the title last fall. Championship titles are what newly minted Div. I schools dream of, and Barnier delivered.
The Department of Athletics has experienced significant change in the past few years: moving to Div. I, adding a new Director of Athletics, the releasing and hiring of several employees in the department and an elaborate overhaul of athletic facilities.
I disagree with De Leon’s decision to fire the first coach who put ACU back on the national stage, the first coach to bring us a Div. I championship title since returning to the Southland Conference.
Barnier is in direct contrast to the current state of ACU Athletics. Like De Leon, he came to ACU in the midst of a complex, expensive transition period. Unlike De Leon, he kept his head down and let the success of his team speak for him. He did his research and hired a tight-knit staff and let them take the reins, working to build a successful team quietly and confidently.
In the press statement regarding Barnier’s release, De Leon said, “we have to improve in several other areas aside from our competitiveness so that we can put together the type of overall program of excellence we all desire.”
Barnier delivered on all fronts: a Southland Conference Championship title, several athletes recognized for academic achievement, and team that came together in the face of unimaginable hardship.
What qualifies as an “overall program of excellence” more than Barnier’s too-short tenure at ACU?