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Carleton’s strength coaches leave amid reports of overwork

Correction: a previous version of this article claimed Brodjeski worked at Washington State University instead of in the state of Washington.

On September 18, 2022, Carleton’s athletic department notified student-athletes of changes to the performance staff. Former strength coaches Alex Brodjeski and Josh Neumann were no longer a part of Carleton athletics. During their time at Carleton, Brodjeski and Neumann were pivotal in giving Carleton student-athletes the customized programming they needed to be successful in their sports. This included sport-specific lifts, injury prevention and customized programs for sidelined athletes. 

Brodjeski arrived at Carleton in the fall of 2021 with a master’s degree in health and human physiology and was an experienced athlete, having played 4-years of varsity football at Gustavus Adolphus College. Having formerly been an assistant sports performance coach at the Division I level at Elon University, Brodjeski was eager to bring his expertise to the MIAC. During the hiring process, he was met by the faces of multiple long-time Carleton athletics administration professionals with an average tenure of 25 years.

Brodjeski saw this as a place where he would be able to build something, implement his philosophy and develop strong relationships with motivated student-athletes over a long period. His and Neumann’s stories at Carleton, however, would ultimately subside after one year. Upon surveying student-athletes on Brodjeski and Neumann’s departure, they expressed feelings of confusion, sadness, frustration and disappointment. 

Neumann arrived as an intern to Brodjeski, seeking experience in the performance coaching field as he worked towards his certification. Neumann was an experienced athlete, playing football at Pearl River Community College. He came to Carleton with a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology and has since earned his master’s in kinesiology and exercise science. Having previously been coached by Brodjeski, Neumann saw the value in his program and joined Brodjeski at Carleton in the fall of 2021. As things progressed, Neumann hoped to land a full-time position at Carleton, but for the entire academic year of 2021-22, he worked 70 hours a week unpaid. 

Not only did Brodjeski and Neumann work towards improving the physical performance of student-athletes, but they also had a positive impact on the mental well-being of various athletes. One athlete talked about how during difficult times Brodjeski and Neumann made it clear that they were in his corner: “Josh [Neumann] said and still says that I can call him whenever I want if there’s anything I need. Josh and Alex [Brodjeski] also helped me rehab from my surgeries and worked with me one on one to do so. They weren’t just some of the best coaches I’ve ever had but some of the best people to represent this school.”

Brodjeski and Neumann began the year as part of a trio of three strength coaches, as former Carleton baseball coach Aaron Rushing assisted for morning shifts. This allowed Brodjeski and Neumann to remain energetic as they worked through the day, monitoring data entry, injured players and making adjustments to fully customized programs. According to Brodjeski, under their watch, “injury rates were way down” and men’s soccer won a MIAC championship, among general success from all of Carleton’s fall teams. Both coaches emphasized how key a second assistant was to their success. 

As Rushing transitioned deeper into his role as a baseball coach when the season began to roll around. Brodjeski emphasized the volume he was dealing with: “I had 20 teams plus 35 athletes that needed individual programs so I essentially had 55 teams.” These 35 athletes were injured and required programs that strengthened them gradually as they attempted to return to play. These injuries were no coincidence, Brodjeski pointed out, but rather a reality of the Division III level where there is a large amount of unsupervised training time. This means when players return from their offseason and enter intense training camps, there is almost certainly an uptick in injuries. 

However, the format of Division III athletics was not the central issue for Brodjeski and Neumann. It was the lack of staff. At that point, Neumann was still unpaid, so Carleton athletics was operating with only one paid strength coach for 400 athletes. Brodjeski pushed for improvements in staffing and actively advocated for Neumann. “At the end of April I drafted a proposal to get more staff,”Brodjeski said. “We were in a position with Josh where he was unpaid but he was absolutely killing it. He basically did a 9-month interview and everyone loves him.” However, Neumann still had no guarantee of a fully paid position. 

The proposal in question was sent to Athletic Director Gerald Young on April 25, 2022. In return, Brodjeski was met with “radio silence.” Despite Brodjeski’s letter, carefully cultivated with justifications and comparisons with other programs, he was ignored. Brodjeski had tried to make things work but was “being steamrolled by the needs of the athletes.” He commented that “it was probably the most brutal workload I’ve encountered since early internship days where I was working 8 am to 8 pm.” Both Neuman and Brodjeski reported working 12 hour days. Neumann said that they would often even stay from 8 am until 9 pm, an extra hour to deal with data entry and adjust programs as needed. 

By summer, there was no increase or change in coach staffing. Their requests for additional staffing and support had been ignored. Despite their commitment over the first two terms of 2021-22, Neumann and Brodjeski felt “brushed to the side by the athletic department.”

This fall, with Coach Rushing no longer at Carleton, the athletic department gave Neumann a stipend as a replacement, with no guarantee of a future full-time job. They also agreed to contract a part-time service in ETS performance, which happened after Neuman and Brodjestki’s departure. Brodjeski commented on the “impending doom of when [Neumann’s] stipend was gonna dry up was knowing that we were gonna lose him and trying to run the level of training that we ran last year without him would’ve been impossible.”

Neumann, a new father, was hoping for clarity on his future and sought something guaranteed to stay at Carleton. For these reasons, Brodjeski reiterated their needs to the athletic department. Brodjeski and Neumann reported receiving no response. 

While there was an opportunity to stay at Carleton, even with minimal support from the athletic department, the lack of staffing would have caused quality to drop dramatically. Both Neumann and Brodjeski expressed their feelings of discontent with letting the standard fall. They implemented a “Division I level program” at Carleton for as long as they could, one that Brodjeski would put up “against any program in the country.” They chose to set “the bar really high but it had to be lowered as [they] lost people.” Brodjeski reported that his predecessor implemented a “diluted football program.”

Brodjeski made one final push to obtain additional staffing. Although he expressed a strong desire to stay at Carleton, he began actively pursuing other opportunities. He then leveraged these offers to negotiate with the department. Brodjeski said that the final meeting with the athletic department “wasn’t a debate, there was no back and forth at all, it was just congratulations and a handshake. [Gerald Young] knew what I wanted, it was evident that he had gotten the email, but he essentially gave me a pat on the back and that was it.”

The department wouldn’t budge and accepted the loss of his services. After Brodjeski was no longer employed at Carleton, Neumann was offered the full position, but without additional staffing support at his side. Neumann emphasized how he would’ve been uncomfortable with not “being able to hold the same standard.” He also felt that such a huge workload would leak into his home life, which he was also uneasy about.

After Neumann rejected the new position due to concerns about staffing and quality and Brodjeski had moved on, Carleton student-athletes were contacted via email: “We are emailing today to update you on changes to our Athletic Performance staff. Alex Brodjeski has taken a new position and completed his final day at Carleton on Friday. Josh Neumann has also decided to step away from his position.” Student-athletes did not receive any additional information.

Athletic Director Gerald Young said: “our head athletic performance coach secured another position that was a step up for him. He will be working as a military-contracted employee in Washington state training US Army personnel. His assistant has a new baby and has decided to spend more time with his family. There are no other mitigating factors in regards to the departures.”

  The stubbornness of the athletic department was frustrating for both Brodjeski and Neumann, both of whom emphasized how little money it takes to get a quality part-time trainer on board. In his final comment, Brodjeski said: “Being at a place where I was told we don’t need to fundraise because we have money, taking everybody that was under the athletic department and bringing them back underneath one program and then getting brushed off when we asked for the main thing that’s gonna make it better is just…bitter…it just sucks. Especially because getting a part-time strength coach is not expensive. You can get someone with a master’s degree and a competent coach for 25k a year. That’s not expensive and when you lead off with we don’t need to fundraise because we have so much money, I’m hearing one thing and experiencing another. Knowing the impact we can have on the athletic department and getting cast to the side sucks. I wanted to build a 20-year institution here but it’s just not the way it played out.” 

Neumann had similar things to say, even though his contact with the athletic department was less direct. He said that “especially with the turnover that there has been in this position, I just feel like we were very underappreciated and just looked at as another resource and not an actual department. We were looked down upon at different points.”

Some students commented that the conduct of the athletic department seemed “unprofessional.” One anonymous student said, “they had a broad reach that impacted hundreds of student-athletes for the better, and it’s disheartening to know that those making hiring decisions did not hold onto the gift we had of having them working with us here at Carleton. Carleton’s athletics facilities are clearly far behind those of nearly any comparable institution, and it honestly feels like this is another example of Carleton athletics being swept under the carpet when we can’t hold onto such incredible coaches for more than one year. Division III sports are filled with institutions that are willing to make financial commitments to their athletic departments. We are far behind in this regard, and losing Alex [Brodjeski] and Josh [Neumann] is an even more personal example of the lack of commitment our school has to athletics. This is shocking to me given the size of our endowment and the cost of tuition.” 

For now, Carleton athletics has zero full-time strength coaches. Brodjeski is now the H2F Strength and Conditioning Coach in Washington and Neumann is currently working at the Recreation Center at Carleton until the end of the term and seeking employment opportunities elsewhere. 

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