Here’s a full transcript of Cody Stavenhagen’s interview with former St. Gregory’s University track and cross country coach Matt Aguero, who was fired after running the 2014 Boston Marathon.
What initially compelled you to record that meeting and share your story with Deadspin. What was the process and the thought process for you?
I was terminated that morning, Wednesday morning at a 10 a.m. meeting and so obviously when you’re fired and it’s kind of shocking, I was pretty emotional and I said, ‘Will you guys give me some time to process it?’ I said, ‘Will you guys give me some time to calm down and act logically? I have a lot of questions and I want to calm down and ask them properly.’
We met again at 3 o’clock, and by that time I had come up with a lot of questions. I was like, ‘This is really strange, what’s going on?’ so I wanted to document everything. That’s why I recorded that conversation. I made sure, I looked up Oklahoma law, I made sure I was doing everything legal, so that’s the main (reason) I recorded it.
And then as far as going to Deadspin, I’m definitely not a guy to want publicity. I’m kind of laid back and like to be in the shadows. So what happened was I kept getting calls and text and emails from people finding out what was going on, so I finally just posted on Facebook. What had happened, just in general, I was fired for running the Boston Marathon is what I was originally told, and later I was fired without cause.
So that’s kind of what … Actually Runner’s World had seen my post, or a lady that had ties with Runner’s World, and she sent it to them. A reporter called me from Runner’s’ World — they were originally going to do it but felt it was a little too sensitive for their website. So that’s when Deadspin, the reporter sent it to another guy that had done a lot of running articles for Deadspin. That’s how Deadspin got involved.
OK, so how exactly were you initially told you were being fired?
I was called Tuesday afternoon and asked to come in Wednesday morning to meet with the HR director, Cheri Boyd. When I came in there, her and Dr. Potter were in there and that’s when I was initially told.
So you ran the marathon the previous year, and there was an issue with that?
Yes. I had ran the previous year, and Dr. Potter did not want me to go. He suspended me, he sent me a letter, put a letter in my file, I responded to that letter. And that’s actually in the Deadspin article and that’s some of what his reasons were. Last year, the Boston Marathon is always held on a Monday. I had given him more than three weeks’ notice, which was in the student handbook, and one of the reasons was he felt like he needed more notice than he got.
It was a weekend we were off. We didn’t have a track meet. I didn’t miss anything. The only thing I missed was that Monday. The school was open, we did have practice, my assistant coaches handled that. So I understood where he was coming from. He didn’t want me missing practice. So I was actually planning on running the Oklahoma City marathon on a Sunday or something where I wouldn’t miss anything. It just so happened that the Boston Marathon fell on Easter weekend. And I really wanted to run Boston. I was bummed out that I wasn’t going to be able to, or I thought I wasn’t go to be able to, but just because of everything that happened last year it would be a really special event.
So since it fell on Easter weekend, at St. Gregory’s we’re out of school on Thursday, Friday and Monday. Well, the conference meet was Friday and Saturday. I coached the conference meet, I flew out Sunday morning to Boston, ran the race Monday morning and then flew back after the race. And I actually had practice Tuesday morning. So I didn’t miss any school time, no practice, the campus was basically closed down. No one was there. Maybe a couple of international students. So that’s why I didn’t think it would be an issue this year.
And you essentially end up getting fired for that? Do you think that’s the reason you were fired, or is there something else to it? Some kind of alternative motive, or do you have any idea?
I really have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate. But to be honest, I really do not know why I was fired. I thought I was doing a good job. I think everybody makes mistakes. I think I probably made some mistakes along the way. There was some things I could have done better. But at no time was I ever called in and said, ‘This part of your job you could do better. Try to do that.’
No time did that happen. I feel like if you’re going to fire somebody, there should be times where you give them chances to correct what they’re doing wrong. And that was never the case.
So that you know of, you never had any other issues with Dr. Potter or anyone else beyond the 2013 Marathon?
No. If you listen to the whole audio, it feels like he’s just trying to stretch. He gets on my case about letting a guy, one of our international athletes, go back to France, where his grandfather was dying. So it seems like there’s a bunch of things that he was stretching on.
You didn’t think there would be any issue with you running the marathon this year, but in retrospect, do you think you should have at least notified someone, ‘Hey, I’ll be out of town this week’? Have you thought about that at all?
I had a meeting with him on Feb. 28, and I just asked him what his objections were for me running the Boston Marathon. I actually emailed myself to document the meeting, and I think that’s mentioned on the audio as well. It was basically that you missed class that day, you missed practice, your assistant coaches had to run practice, you weren’t there for that. The reason I had that meeting was because I wanted to make sure I knew what his objections were and I wanted to make sure I didn’t break any of those objections.
And that meeting was this year?
So what again exactly were his objections?
His objections were, and just in the letter that he had wrote me the year before basically the same thing, missing practice time or missing a day of school, missing class time.
So he knew you were going to run the 2014 Boston Marathon?
No, he didn’t know I was running it this year.
So you reviewed his objections, you thought, ‘OK, I’m not going to miss any time, this is fine.’ You didn’t miss any time, and then we get into the whole ordeal. In retrospect, do you think you should have at least given him a heads up? Or since you were off that day should it not matter? Just in your opinion.
I don’t know. If I could go back I would want to do everything I could to keep my job obviously. But then again I feel like, I even asked him if I would have been fired had I went to visit my mother in my hometown that weekend, and I wouldn’t have been fired. So it didn’t make sense to me.
I don’t know where the communication would start, what I would need to tell I’m dong, what I need to tell I’m not doing. If the problem was that I was going out of town, then if I was going from Shawnee to Poteau it seems like I would need to tell him that, but that wasn’t the case. That’s not what he communicated. I really don’t know.
The only thing I can say is I still wish I had my job. If I could go back and make it work, I would do everything I could to keep my job.
From what I’ve listened to, it sounds like he was concerned not just with you going to the marathon, but do you think he was concerned about your training? Is that something you did on “work time”?
Well, the thing with coaching is you don’t really have set hours. It’s not an 8-5. So personal time and work time get mixed in a lot of times. If I didn’t do some things at certain times, then a coach would never have a personal life, especially this time of year, recruit heavily, which is basically all night. You get home at 6 or 7 that night, and that’s when high school students are in class up until 3 or 4 o’clock and then usually they have a practice at that time. So you’re calling recruits at night. So I don’t know if that was the problem. If coaches aren’t doing a little bit of personal things during the day, then it would almost be impossible for a coach to have a meaningful personal life.
So let me ask you this — on a normal day, what type of personal things are you doing?
Probably the only thing is I might run in the morning. I have practice at usually 6:30 a couple of days a week. Sometimes I would get them started and even run while they run on easy runs. It’s almost better for me to run at least close to them on easy runs, that way I can make sure they’re not going too hard, which with college athletes, sometimes their egos get in the way and they always want to show that you know how good they are.
So the easy ones were almost harder for them sometimes. So running with them I think would help to slow them down, keep them in check.
I might take a longer lunch. I’d get to work at 6:30, run there, shower there, do some administrative stuff until lunch time and then take a two-hour lunch and come back for practice around 2, 2:30. We usually started practice at 3:30. If my assistant coaches were there I’d usually meet around 3 and kind of go over anything. The only thing I know is maybe run or take a longer lunch.
Prior to your firing, had you ever heard any complaints or suggestions as far as, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t do that”?
No, not at all. No. Never. I didn’t feel like any of that was influencing my job and no one ever mentioned that to me thinking that either.
One more thing about running, the athletic director disagrees with this, which makes no logical sense to me, but I feel like my continued running and training and trying to perform well — I’m not an elite runner but I get out there and still try to push myself and improve — I think doing that gives me credibility. Running races like the Boston Marathon or the Chicago Marathon can give me credibility with recruits or current athletes. But he didn’t think that for some reason. I have no idea why. And that’s on the audio as well.
So what’s the deal now? Are you still trying to get your job back? Do you want it back?
I’m currently unemployed so I need a job. I would love to have my job back. I’ve applied at several places, so I hope to be employed by the end of the summer at a college or university.