MISSOULA -- Embattled Loyola Sacred Heart girls' basketball coach Carrie Heaphy wasn't fired last week, as she claimed, but she has resigned, the school said Monday, 12 days before the Breakers' season opener.
"Yesterday, Coach Heaphy decided not to return as the Breaker basketball coach," said a media announcement signed by Tim Uhl, superintendent of Montana Catholic Schools, which include Loyola. "We respect her privacy and reasons for her choices. We are currently searching for a new head coach to lead the Breaker program."
The announcement was distributed Monday afternoon to media outside the high school, where Uhl and Principal Jeremy Beck met in closed session with roughly 40 parents, players and others.
"The purpose," Uhl said, "was to explain what we were doing going forward."
That entails finding replacements for both Heaphy and her varsity assistant, Travis Spinder. Spinder resigned last week. The school has been negotiating with a couple of people interested in taking what Uhl said most likely will be interim positions.
"We thought we might have an announcement today but we couldn't get to that," he said.
The Breakers open their season Dec. 12-13 at a tournament in Three Forks. Troy Waters, a teacher, softball coach and assistant football coach at Loyola, has agreed to conduct practices this week. Rajiem Seabrook and Katie Grutsch are returning to coach the freshman and sophomore programs.
Heaphy, who played high school ball at Whitehall, told the Missoulian last Tuesday prior to a Missoula Catholic Schools' advisory council meeting that she had been wrongfully terminated.
"I took a stand for what I thought was morally and ethically right and stood up for my program and my team," she said at the time, reading from a prepared statement. "The school said I refused to follow their directives and released me."
In an email to the Missoulian on Monday, Heaphy said she enjoyed her time coaching at Loyola.
"I’ve tried to instill into each of my players the values of integrity, heart and hard work," she wrote. "I've done my very best to nurture the meaning and purpose of being a student athlete at Loyola Sacred Heart High School. I am heartbroken that my position was released."
Uhl on Monday called Heaphy's claim that she was fired "peculiar to hear."
"Coach Heaphy wasn't under contract for this year, and when she was given the terms for her employment decided she didn't want that," he said.
He was in negotiations with the fourth-year coach three or four times over the past week, and offered her conditions that she would not agree to, Uhl said.
"I can't really speak to what those conditions were, but we were never able to come to an agreement that was acceptable to her so we're going in a different direction."
The 40-year-old Heaphy, a dental hygienist in Missoula, was a head basketball coach at a school in Milwaukee before joing the staff of at Loyola as an assistant. She succeeded Randy Stobb, who was dismissed in 2011 after three seasons. Her teams have gone 42-33 in the three seasons since and qualified for the State B tournament twice.
Heaphy told the Missoulian last week her termination was "over cutting players." Uhl denied that.
"It was never about who was cut, and it was never about an issue with any student-athlete," he said. "That's never been a discussion and that's not really pertinent to this. It's a very complicated situation.
"Loyola Sacred Heart is much bigger than its sports programs. It's a great school and a fantastic community, so keeping the focus on our mission and our values going forward is really important."
Uhl, who is headquartered in Helena, is superintendent of 24 Catholic schools in Montana, five of them high schools. He said he's spent most of his time the past week in Missoula to help Loyola administrators address the girls' basketball situation.
Monday's meeting with parents and players "didn't conclude with hugging," he admitted. "I think there are people who have made up their minds and sort of staked out their territory. To those people, it probably doesn't matter what is said. The pope himself could probably come in and they wouldn't believe what he's saying."
Uhl said he thought he, Beck and Toby Stack, Loyola's athletic director and assistant principal, were "able to present a united front and thoughtful process to how we're addressing those concerns. Those parents who were there to try to understand the situation and calm the uncertainty, I think we might have reached them. It's hard to know."
"We've got to learn from this," he added. "Obviously there are concerns about accountability and there are concerns about the way things have been done in the past. We're trying to listen to that, trying to adapt and put some practices in place to make sure that there's a successful season at Loyola Sacred Heart."