On Thursday, September 16, a day before the first fall practice, Head Baseball Coach Aaron Rushing emailed the team to meet in the Rec Center. This was no usual meeting. Rushing called them into his office so he could break the news to them in person: on their first day of practice, they would not have a coach.
The next day, the entire team received a text message from the athletic department, calling them to meet in Leighton. At 3:30 p.m. when the team would have been starting their first practice, they sat together in a meeting room with Athletic Director Gerald Young and Associate Athletic Director Heidi Jaynes who fielded questions from the team.
“We asked a bunch of questions, and for a lot of them, they told us they couldn’t answer,” said Michael Berler ’23. “It wasn’t at their discretion.”
When asked to comment, Young stated, “At this juncture, the only information I can provide is confirmation that Coach Rushing is no longer employed at Carleton.”
Current baseball players were not comfortable sharing speculations on why Rushing is gone, but there is a common understanding.“It’s possible he was asked to step down,” said a player who wished to remain anonymous. “But from what I’ve heard, he was fired.”
At the end of the season the previous spring, seniors on the baseball team met with President Byerly to discuss complaints with coach Rushing and the program in general. After the meeting administration asked team members to submit feedback about the program via an electronic survey. The team has yet to hear about the results of the survey, and it is unclear what role the survey played in Rushing’s departure.
Even with the survey, it was business as usual over the summer. Rushing was in contact with seniors team captains, made plans for the fall, and expected to coach. When players returned to campus, it felt the same as any other year.
This begs the question: Why was the decision made (or at least the team informed) right before the season began instead of sometime over the summer?
Team members believe the decision came from the provost of the college, Michelle Mattson. The Carletonian cannot confirm this, because, according to a statement from Mattson, she is “not at liberty to discuss personnel issues.”
In the initial Leighton Hall meeting, the team asked a variety of questions, but Young and Jaynes remained tight lipped, telling the team it was not under their discretion to discuss the issue. The rationale for the decision, as well as why it was made so abruptly, remains very much a mystery.
“I don’t understand why there can’t be more transparency in the department,” said Berler. “Because right now we are getting nothing.”
“The general perception was a little bit frustrated, just given that this came up on us right as our fall season was supposed to start,” said a senior member of the team who wished to remain anonymous. “For us seniors, we’d been with him for three years, and it was definitely a sad transition.”
Suddenly, the seniors had a lot more leadership and responsibility than what is usual. “It was a lot of seniors running the show,” said an underclassman member of the team who wished to remain anonymous.
Running practices, covering lifts, communicating constantly, it was up to the seniors to keep the ship sailing. After a few days of managing the team on their own, they got help from interim assistant coach Mike Ludwig, a St. Olaf ’03 graduate. Ludwig is serving as the assistant coach for the fall.
Ludwig has a long history in baseball: he was drafted to play professionally in 2003, and played for the Gulf Coast League Dodgers, an Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate. He is also currently on the board of the Dundas Dukes.
“It’s actually been pretty positive the last few days,” said another player, who again wished to remain anonymous. “A lot of player-led stuff and a lot of internal stuff has been happening.”
Even though players are happy with Ludwig, the feeling of limbo is pervasive. They have yet to receive any information about the coaching search or a future timeline. There are worries that the team might not have their annual spring break trip or won’t play games outside the MIAC without a coach to schedule them.
Rushing built Carleton baseball as it is known today. The upcoming 2023 baseball season would have been his 18th season since he was hired as coach in 2005.
Yet the team is taking this as an opportunity to change for the better. Student-athletes on the baseball team now have the chance to directly appeal to the athletic department about needs they feel weren’t previously being met.Many student-athletes are reluctant to share their thoughts, especially with their names attached, because they do not want to upset the athletic department.
For now, the team remains in a state of flux, waiting for clarity about Rushing’s departure and the search for a new coach. With the lack of transparency, rumors are swirling, and one player summed up the entire situation as simply “goofy.”
A historic and shocking day. When we’re all done being flabbergasted, I’d like to suggest that the Carletonian or other able parties endeavor upon some kind of retrospective study of the Rushing-Era. Who was he? How did his approach to coaching change over his 18 years? What stayed the same? The final question is one of legacy. Baseball at Carleton is about more than winning, that should be obvious to anyone who has even been to a game. Thus it is crucial that we examine his legacy as a mentor. Did he teach his athletes become better students, and better men?
No. He did not.
Far from it. He was nothing but a miserable bully to many of these players. Negative, unenthusiastic, and did the bare minimum.