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Column: It’s judgment time for Fort Lewis’ Travis Whipple

Skyhawks’ coaching has almost all been hired by Whipple
Travis Whipple, right, Fort Lewis College Director of Athletics and Mike Knipe, FLC deputy athletic director, external relations, talk about the Forts newest scoreboard on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, that sits on the south end of the football field. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

By all accounts, Fort Lewis Director of Athletics Travis Whipple has done a great job raising money for the school and its athletic department. There are numerous projects underway that will upgrade certain Skyhawks facilities to help the FLC sports programs compete better in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and in the Division II landscape as a whole.

Whipple is a passionate, personable leader who is easy to work with and nice to talk to.

But, it is noteworthy how much coaching turnover there has been since he became FLC’s Director of Athletics.

Bryce Kelly

Since Whipple took over in June 2022, both basketball teams, both golf teams, the girls lacrosse team, the softball team and both the men’s and women’s track and cross country teams have changed coaches.

Both soccer programs have remained the same. Men’s soccer head coach David Oberholtzer is entering his ninth year at the helm after an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2023. Women’s soccer coach Damian Clarke is back for his 13th season after leading the Skyhawks to a 9-4-6 record in 2023.

Skyhawks football coach Johnny Cox returns for a third season as he looks to rebuild the program after two winless seasons. FLC volleyball coach Giedre Tarnauskaite will be back for her fifth season in 2024.

Now, turnover at a Division II school is expected with coaches moving on to better opportunities, or when coaches are let go as they fail to succeed.

Certainly, there have been coaches at FLC who deserved to be let go after their teams performed poorly or there were issues behind the scenes. Whipple shouldn’t be dinged for that, especially since he didn’t hire most of them.

But seven new coaches in two years is noteworthy, regardless of what level of collegiate athletics we’re talking about.

So therefore it’s judgment time for Whipple. Most of the coaches on FLC’s payroll were brought in by him.

The two basketball teams stick out with the history each program has. New women’s basketball coach Lauren Davis did well retaining a lot of last year’s roster.

New men’s basketball coach Jordan Mast has great energy, enthusiasm and looks like he has all the intangibles to be an excellent recruiter. But with men’s basketball being the premier sport at the school, there’s more expectations and pressure for Whipple to get the hire right.

Every Skyhawks fan should be cheering for Mast to succeed. If he does, huge credit to Whipple and the athletics department for the hire. But it must be noted that if Whipple promoted one of the assistant coaches, either one of them could’ve kept most of last year’s roster together.

Mast is starting from scratch, so it will most certainly get worse before it gets better after a 29-4 season.

If you’re a Skyhawks fan, support the teams and their new coaches because Whipple’s hires are out of your control.

The best-case scenario is that most of these hires work out, the school receives more accolades, donations and FLC graduates champions like Whipple loves to talk about.

If this happens, Whipple should be praised for his ability to make quality hires at the Division II level, which isn’t easy to do.

But with the constant turnover, things could go wrong. Losing programs continue to lose and winning programs fall into despair. It’s certainly a possibility, as it’s hard to graduate champions from a program if the coach gets replaced regularly.

The FLC athletic department lacks transparency about its hires and firings, which doesn’t help its case. Regardless, Whipple, for better or worse, will impact FLC for years to come with these hires.


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