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(Story was updated 12:20 p.m. ET Dec. 16, 2014)
Jason Horowitz’s resignation from the position of head coach for the University of Oklahoma men's rugby team was accepted by the club’s faculty advisor last week. Horowitz took over the program ahead of the 2013/2014 season, leading the Sooners to an Allied Rugby Conference championship in his first season and an undefeated campaign this fall.
The semantics surrounding Horowitz’s departure can be argued, but the fact is Horowitz didn’t want to leave, and only after weeks of turmoil did he tender his final resignation. He tendered it twice, in fact, once in November, though he continued to act in the capacity of OU rugby coach, and again last week.
The reason for his ouster is also up for debate. A narrative has developed that indicates Horowitz was forced out after an altercation with a TCU parent during Oklahoma’s win over the Horned Frogs Nov. 8. Apparently, Horowitz engaged in a verbal confrontation with a TCU parent, who penned a letter to the president of the University of Oklahoma.
“I’m not sure if I should really go into that stuff in detail,” Horowitz told Rugby Today. “All I’ll say is this – I had a referee issue when I first got there, there were some internal things that I dealt with that weren’t necessarily things that anyone would consider to be issues, but when this all kind of came together after a parent from an opposing team wrote a letter to the university, that was what they used as their basis to move me on.”
OU director of rugby Jon Velie, however, says the decision to move on from Horowitz wasn’t based on an isolated incident.
“OU Rugby never would have made the decision to get rid of an undefeated coach for a single incident of a letter to the president of the university,” said Velie. “There’s a series of things, so the resignation was accepted, and we’ve decided to move in a different direction.”
Horowitz has a track record of referee abuse. In his first season, he served a suspension and was put on a year-long probation. In October he was cited in back-to-back games.
“Jason Horowitz started cursing and dropping F bomb directed at Marc Nelson shortly before half, and at half time Marc said do not talk to me that way because I do not talk to you in that manner. Jason continued to yelling profanity at the referee [all] during the 2nd half. This kind of conduct is not acceptable and this is why people [do] not want to Ref much less be at the game,” reads a disciplinary report submitted by touch judge Randy Campbell after OU’s Oct. 10 match with Texas.
“The behavior and language from Oklahoma's coach was unacceptable. Shouting at the referee at every breakdown makes the game more likely to get out of hand. After Texas A&M scored the second try I jogged by to tell him enough was enough (about 12 minutes into the game) and he said he wasn't talking to me. He was shouting at his players that, because I was missing something, that they should be more cynical and dangerous (his exact words should be clear on the video).
“I was doing my best to get the kids to settle down and play rugby and he was inciting them to be destructive,” wrote referee Haylee Slaughter about Oklahoma’s match with Texas A&M a week prior.
“I've reported one other coach for referee abuse in my six years refereeing and this was much more egregious.”
Horowitz admits he’s had issues with referees in the past, but believes his supporters in the refereeing community outweigh his detractors. He also says the complaint from the touch judge in the Texas game wasn't shared by the referee, Marc Nelson. The complaint by Slaughter from the Texas A&M game was reviewed by the DIA disciplinary committee, and Horowitz was cleared of wrong doing.
“I made a very conscious effort over the past many years to create friendships,” he said. “I think you can talk to a bunch of referees that have had our games that will tell you that, and then there’s probably a few that don’t like me, but you can tie those few together, that’s for sure.”
The team has had this cloud over its head for more than a month, and while it remains unclear exactly why Horowitz was pushed out, the support from his players hasn’t wavered.
“There is really not much to say. My coach got removed as OU Rugby’s head coach for minuscule acts, and as he as supported me as a player, I support him as a coach and will play for him whether I have an OU on my chest or not,” captain Michael Al-Jiboori told Rugby Today.
“No one’s accepting of it…This affects 40-some players and Jason. The player perspective is that this is nonsense, and this shouldn’t be the ramifications of what had happened,” said club president Jayce Crowder, who was not present at the TCU match. “I personally believe this thing deserves punishment, but telling him to leave, telling him to resign, that’s not justified by any means.”
Players have been notified that a new coach is coming, and an announcement is expected soon.
“The people, above me, that have made the decision, have met with the players on a number of occasions since Nov. 13, addressing those situations, and for the best interest of the program, we have to move in a different direction,” Velie said.
But Horowitz hasn’t lost hope that he’ll be reinstated.
“I’m not one to give up,” he said. “I truly believe, along with alumni and parents, that there’s got to be something. This was something that kind of came out of nowhere, and the reasons for it just aren’t valid.”
Oklahoma is registered for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifier division at the Las Vegas Invitational in February, and the Sooners are set to compete in their second season in the Varsity Cup in the spring.