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In official resignation letter, coach explains what has really been going on at D-II Humboldt State

Humboldt State is one of the only Division II programs that play football in all of California, and many will remember late last year when rumors began to pick up that leadership at the school was engaging in serious discussions about dropping the football program - which under head coach Rob Smith had seen a good deal of success the past decade.

On December 4th, University leaders delivered news that the program was being dropped...but then completely changed course the very next day, formally announcing that the program would return for the 2018 season after boosters led a drive that committed to provide $500,000 annually for each of the next five years to help fund the program.

A number of former coaches, students, and players have come forward to help the program, and one former player went as far as to share with us that the problem at Humboldt State isn't a financial problem, it's a leadership problem.

Those close to the drama that has unfolded there have been through a roller coaster of emotions the past several months. Yesterday, head coach Rob Smith formally announced his resignation, and someone close to the program shared his resignation letter with us.

Here's what's really been going on Humboldt State, according to a firsthand, behind the scenes account from coach Smith.


It is with strong emotions that I announce my decision to resign as Head Football Coach at Humboldt State University. The past 10 years have been very special to me and to my family, and I am proud of our programs many accomplishments over that period. These accomplishments include:

-2 GNAC conference championships

-The first post-season appearance since 1968 and first home playoff game since 1960.

-A 10-year record of 63-44. HSU was 40-65 the 10 years prior.

-A top 25 national ranking at some point during every season since 2010, with a high ranking of #7 in the country.

-Harlon Hill runner-up for National Player of the Year in 2015

-Senior Bowl invitee, 2017

-Five 1st team All-Americans

-74 1st team All-GNAC selections

-GNAC Academic Team Champions in 2011.

-GNAC Offensive Players of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2017

-GNAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.

-GNAC Freshman of the Year in 2013 and 2014

-GNAC Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

-GNAC Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2015.

These accomplishments were only made possible through the hard work and perseverance of a group of dedicated players and coaches that bought into a common goal, took tremendous pride in representing Humboldt State, and loved “Jacksball” in the Redwood Bowl. I thank all players and staff, both past and present, as it has been my privilege to serve as your Head Coach. I also encourage all current players to remain committed to HSU. I am a strong believer that this game has always been about the players that play it, not the coaches that coach it. Stay together, work together, and continue to persevere through the tough times to enjoy the benefits often waiting on the other side. 

I also want to thank our community supporters and alumni. You are simply the best. The support shown by this group throughout my 10 years, but more specifically during the past five months is what has made our time at Humboldt so special. Your passion and commitment for this program clearly played a role in the on-field success we were able to enjoy as the Jacks consistently led our conference in attendance and developed the best game day atmosphere around, making “Game Day Saturday” an event for many in Humboldt County. I encourage all to continue to support Humboldt State, HSU Athletics, this football program, and maybe just as importantly continue to fight for it.

Finally, I want to thank my 2017 assistant coaches and support staff who persevered through the difficulties of past five months with me. Their commitment to me, to our players, and to this football program is what led to our success in 2017. They should all be applauded for this.

However, the events of the past months combined with more recent developments on how this situation continues to be dealt with by the Administration has led to this decision to step down as Head Football Coach. Let me explain…

In an email to Interim Athletic Director Duncan Robins dated Wednesday, January 3rd, I indicated my intent to resign as Head Football Coach. That email read, “I have made the decision to resign. I simply am not comfortable with the direction of things at HSU and believe that the work environment is not conducive to quality athletic programs and achievement.” I then reemphasized this decision to resign in a face-to-face meeting with the AD on Thursday, January 4th and indicated that I was working with legal counsel to navigate the process.

Later that evening and in an interview broadcast on News Channel 3, the AD referred to my resignation as “rumor.” He was then quoted in the Times Standard saying “I think the rumors took many of us by storm and shocked us and even pissed us off a little bit given how much we’ve been working to build this program.” Then in the Lost Coast Outpost, Duncan Robins is quoted saying “He hasn’t resigned as of today and there are no expectations that he will resign, My view of it is he’s here with us, he hasn’t resigned, and I’m looking forward to building the program with him.”

These public statements are not only confusing but also appear to question my credibility and have placed additional strain on my relationship with my supervisor. I had made it clear to both the AD and to the local media my intent to resign. Never has me staying on as Head Coach been discussed. Stating that he was “pissed off” and then to make the statement of “how much we’ve been working to build this program” is incredibly disingenuous. Duncan Robins has done nothing to build this program. He advocated dropping the program, recommended such to the President, and once that effort failed has since began to initiate programmatic cuts. I’ve committed 10 years of my life to building and delivered a top 25 program to this University. Finally, his claim that I have participated in “tearing down” the program as he does later in that same article is professionally damaging, highly disrespectful, and extremely unfair during a time where I believe our programs accomplishments and contributions to Humboldt State and this community should be celebrated.

These statements continue a pattern as the events of the last year have dealt a crippling blow to our football program. To even the most casual observer, the entire process has been handled in a haphazard, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable manner. Some underclass players were granted their NCAA releases with absolutely no consultation with the head coach. Indeed, this was discovered only after the fact through social media posts. The coaching staff and their families, despite their loyalty, dedication, and hard work have been placed in an utter state of chaos and uncertainty for many months, and through the many delays in the decision-making process. This process was extremely unfair to each of these fine coaches, and already has resulted in valuable assistant coaches leaving the program.

Several months ago and with complete uncertainty as to the future of the program, it was decided in consultation with the AD not to recruit any 2018 student-athletes. Recruiting is a year round process, and is very clearly the life blood of any successful intercollegiate athletic program. Once the decision of December 5th was made to retain the football program, recruiting became our top priority and we had coaches visit all 31 Junior College’s from Bakersfield north the week of December 11-15. The initial NCAA letter of intent signing date for mid-year transfers was December 20, 2017, and it turned out that both the Athletic Director and the Compliance Officer, were completely unaware of this critical date. Their job is to know and be prepared for these important dates on the recruiting calendar and they did not. In fact, the Compliance Officer began a vacation authorized by the AD two days prior to signing day and was not even available to execute her duties. Due to our late entry into recruiting, and with many student-athletes having already made their college decisions, it was essential that we make scholarship offers to get back in the game. This is what we did. Scholarship dollars remained available from the over $100,000 raised by boosters for this specific purpose the previous recruiting period. The boosters, Jim Redd, Burt Nordstrom, and Steve Brown who led this campaign had met with then Interim Athletic Director Tom Trepiak prior to initiating the fund raising effort in December, 2016 to receive assurances that every dollar raised would go to football and that Title IX would not be an issue. We got that promise. Yet, interim Director Robins now informs me that because of Title IX, these dollars raised for this specific purpose are no longer available. That is a complete contradiction from what Mr. Trepiak had promised and it is clear that through this the boosters who donated for this have been both misled and deceived. This is an ominous and debilitating position to be in, and this fact alone might well cripple the program for years to come.

The administrative handling of the events of the past five months have made the job of Head Football Coach a very difficult one. In a press conference held on November 1st, President Rossbacher in her only public comments on the status of football was asked the question as to her communication with the Head Coach during this confusing time. The President responded that she communicated with Coach Smith “with regularity.” This statement was simply not true. Not once during the entire time that the future of football was an issue was there any communication, not direct, not by email or by phone call between the President and the Head Football Coach. Her statement gave the public a false impression as to the dialogue between the administration and football program during this time of uncertainty. The truth is I went right up to decision day not knowing if I would have a job or not.

My frustration and disappointment with this Universities leadership and decisions made by that leadership runs deep. On June 9th, having been on the job less than a week new Interim AD Robins informed me in our first individual meeting that the football program would either be dropped altogether or scaled back to a non-competitive level. He went on to say that this is what he was “brought in to do” and even offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I chose to pursue other work at that time. I left that meeting blindsided and feeling that I was being pushed out the door. Over the summer and working on the assumption the program would be dropped, the AD canceled a scheduled 2018 game with Idaho, a game negotiated by the previous interim AD, and paid Idaho a $10,000 buyout. Our program is now left with only nine games for next season and will find it difficult and expensive to add a 10th and impossible to add an 11th. In early August, strategic planning meetings were held with all other head coaches. These meetings were scheduled as football practice began and were set at times that directly conflicted with our practices. As a result I could not attend. It became clear that these meetings were held to discuss and plan for a future without football. This was confirmed in conversations I had with other head coaches after the meetings, who also confirmed that many of them were being told that their budgets would increase once football was eliminated. This attempt to divide the staff continued on August 23rd where at a BBQ held for all returning student-athletes, cards were passed out to those in attendance titled “Our Fight Song,” containing a rewritten version of our school’s fight song. The fight song that has been our school fight song for decades contains words specific to football. The new fight song, I assume written by the AD and others had replaced these words with more sport neutral words. This raises two questions… why was this done and what was the rationale behind it, and who gives an Interim Director this authority? I believe it was simply another indicator pointing to the attitudes in place and directed towards the football program.

Given what has most recently transpired, it is clear that it will be nearly impossible to rebuild this program within any reasonable time-period. More plainly, the Humboldt State University Administration has greatly diminished my ability to successfully do my job, has set this football program back significantly, and the cumulative effect of all these detrimental factors I believe clearly constitute a constructive discharge of my employment.

I have been working with the University to achieve an amicable resolution of all remaining employment separation issues, but have received little response. That lack of response has left me with no other option than to release this statement and I am prepared to offer more examples of the toxic work environment and chronic lack of support that has led to my decision.

Regardless, I leave this position with tremendous appreciation for both the opportunity and for the experience, but more than anything I value the many friendships made along the way.

As always, GO JACKS!

Rob Smith

Head Football Coach