Chico golfer left in rough

Claim against Chico State University: $75,000. Apology from the hiring committee: priceless.

That’s what local golfer Steve Brown thinks, anyway. When the university’s golf coach, Denny Varley, decided to retire, Brown jumped at the chance to take a part-time position coaching for his old golf team. He played for the Wildcats from 1990 until his graduation in 1992. Since then, he’s become the owner of Nevada Bob’s Golf Shop and has still taken the time to keep up his ties to the school.

“I’ve been a member of the Century Club off and on,” he says of Chico’s sports boosters club. “Just four weeks ago I played in a tournament to support the team.” Brown has also raised money for Chico State golf by holding fund-raising tournaments. As a former Wildcat and a current businessman, he was brimming with ideas to strengthen the team as a coach.

“I’m not all that organized,” Brown confesses, “but for this interview, I was. I went in there and nailed it.” He brought a binder, color-coded and full of his innovative ideas. They included plans to partner up Chico State golfers with junior-high golfers in a community tournament as well as steps to connect the players to their community sponsors.

“I wanted to create a social atmosphere,” Brown says. He wanted sponsors to see the benefit of their contributions to the golf program, “whether it’s just getting a Chico golf shirt or having the players come out and help with a tournament.”

Brown says the hiring committee was impressed with his ideas and offered him the job, which he accepted. Days later, though, the offer was rescinded. Then, Brown says, university Athletics Director Don Batie—who didn’t return phone calls by press time—told a friend of Brown’s to have Brown reapply, which he did. This time, though, he didn’t even land an interview.

Brown wanted an explanation for this strange sequence of events, but what he got instead was a letter with an apology from Chico State President Manuel Esteban. The president told Brown that “the [first] search was not conducted according to our own rules and regulations,” so it was cancelled.

“I fully understand the frustration you must have experienced by the manner in which the Department of Athletics treated you and handled the whole head golf coach recruitment process. Again, I say that you deserved to be treated better and apologize to you on behalf of the University,” Esteban wrote.

Brown says the letter was a nice gesture, but it’s not what he was after. “I want the people who did this to tell me why, even though I already know why.”

Joe Wills, who handles public affairs for the university, said the hiring process is kept confidential in the interests of the job applicants, and so the university won’t comment on what went on between the committee and Brown.

Brown charges that two members of the hiring committee, who didn’t attend his hiring meetings, later rejected the other members’ decision to hire him. These members donate money to the university, Brown figures, and they were able to use that as leverage to get the job for a friend they had hand picked—a man toward whom Brown has no ill will.

Brown had six months to file a claim about the incident with the State Board of Control. He finally did so in February. “I really didn’t want it to come to that,” he says. “I wanted to keep it informal.”

His claim specifically names Batie and Paul Moore, Chico State’s vice president of university advancement and student affairs.

He doubts his claim will be accepted. “More than likely it will be denied. People have told me about 95 percent of claims are denied.”

If that’s the case, his next option will be to file a lawsuit and take his case to court. Will he do it in order to get the committee members to own up to how he believes they handled the process? "If they don’t open up some dialogue, yeah, I guess so."