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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Former Florida women’s basketball players detail abuse under Coach Newbauer

Former head coach Cam Newbauer led Florida from 2017-2021

Former Florida coach Cam Newbauer in the huddle with his team in a game against Alabama on Feb. 18, 2021.
Former Florida coach Cam Newbauer in the huddle with his team in a game against Alabama on Feb. 18, 2021.

Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of abuse and attempted suicide.

Tears swelled in Dana Joubert’s eyes when she saw her daughter, Mikayla Hayes, at a 2017 basketball invitational during Thanksgiving.

It was the first time Joubert had seen her daughter since she started playing basketball at UF. She anticipated minor changes typical in many college freshmen: a little weight gain, a new hairstyle and an updated fashion sense.

Instead, Hayes’ face was dotted with acne. She had put on an amount of weight that looked unusual on her skinnier frame. She was almost unrecognizable.

Every time Hayes returned to their Minnesota home, Joubert noticed she appeared less and less like herself. Around Christmas, she told her mother that her head coach hated her and the other freshmen players. 

As a former basketball coach, Joubert said it’s normal for the coach to pick on freshmen. But as a Black woman, she said Hayes knew it wasn’t just tough love. 

At the end of the season, the coaching staff called Hayes into a room with a table that hogged most of the space, Joubert said. All the coaches, strength and conditioning staff, athletic training staff and video coordinators crammed across where Hayes sat. 

The head coach said if she chose to stay at UF, Hayes wouldn’t play, Joubert said. He slid a small sheet of paper across the table and made her sign it. 

Hayes trudged out, called her mother and choked up as she told her what happened. She lost her scholarship. 

“You know how you hear about people in abusive relationships and how they’re broken and they’re almost a shell,” Joubert said. “He broke my child. She was truly broken, and he beat her down. And she didn’t want me to say anything because she thought it would get worse.”

Hayes isn’t the only former Gator who endured a toxic environment in the women’s basketball program. The head coach is accused of making racist remarks, throwing basketballs at players during practices and verbally abusing the team, assistant coaches and trainers. 

That coach was Cameron Newbauer. He resigned July 16, citing personal reasons. His resignation didn’t address any abuse allegations.

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Steve McClain, a University Athletic Association spokesperson, said the UAA had no comment on Newbauer’s abuse allegations. He pointed The Alligator toward Athletic Director Scott Stricklin’s statement following the coach’s resignation.

“We wish all the best to Cam and Sarah and their family,” Stricklin said in a release. "We appreciate their efforts during their time here, and we know Cam worked incredibly hard for the Gators and brought a high level of energy to the job.”

The Alligator attempted to contact Newbauer several times through phone calls, text messages and voicemails. He never responded. 

Newbauer had signed a contract extension in June that would’ve left him as head coach until 2025. His contract detailed that he earned $500,000 annually. After his resignation, the Gators appointed associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley as interim head coach. 

Stricklin hired the former Belmont University head coach in March 2017. Newbauer replaced Amanda Butler, who held the position from 2007-2017 with a 190-137 record, .581 winning percentage and four NCAA Tournament appearances.

Newbauer’s Gators, however, went 46-71 for a .393 winning percentage, the worst winning percentage for any head coach in Gators history during their first four seasons. The team also never made it to the NCAA Tournament once in his four seasons. 

When Newbauer first came to UF, Sydney Morang and her teammates called a former Belmont player to ask about their new coach. The former player shared something far from a glowing review. 

But Morang, then a sophomore, and the rest of the team decided to give the coach a chance. They didn’t want to judge him based on what one person said. 

And then, they saw it for themselves. 

Practices under Newbauer evolved into a toxic environment as Florida struggled to win games. Morang noticed his tone changed, how he screamed in players’ faces and yelled at assistant coaches from across the court.

“For him, I felt very, ‘You’re only useful to me on the court,’” she said. “‘I don’t really care about anything about you or how I treat you other than that.’”

Eِveryone tiptoed around Newbauer, Morang said. They dreaded mistakes and couldn’t predict his reaction. 

Players wouldn’t even dare ask the purpose of a drill, said Sydney Searcy, who transferred to Morgan State after her first season under the coach. He became defensive, as if they had criticized his character.

Morang’s brother, Jordan, who worked as a practice player during her two years at Florida, quit his job shortly after Newbauer’s arrival. He couldn’t handle watching Newbauer scream at the athletes and coaching staff. Morang also left the hostile environment later that season. She had to medically retire due to multiple concussions she sustained throughout her basketball career.

Newbauer often went nose-to-nose with players to jab at them until they reacted, and he hungered for a reason to kick players out of practice, Searcy said. 

The ejected players were welcomed back to practice the next day, but Newbauer rehashed the issue in a team huddle and told them they needed to respect him.

He didn’t have the social awareness of when to stop harassing players — or he just didn’t care, said Cydnee Kinslow, a graduate transfer on the 2020-2021 team. Newbauer made players like Kinslow feel worthless. 

“He would make them cry,” Kinslow said. “Push until they cried, whatever it was, like, he tried. There’s a breaking point for people and pushing them through a wall to make them stronger. And then there’s what Cameron Newbauer did.”

Coaches yell because teams can be frustrating at times, said Haley Lorenzen, captain of the 2017-2018 squad. But Newbauer’s behavior couldn’t compare to ordinary coaching frustration. 

Athletes felt strained playing under him. Lorenzen and the team were always doing damage control — if they weren’t the ones being damaged. 

“If you came into our locker room, sometimes, you could feel the tension,” she said. “And you could just feel people were afraid. People just weren’t themselves.”

Newbauer even degraded the team in front of Gator Boosters as they watched a preseason practice. Morang remembers Newbauer stopped the practice after the team messed up a drill and addressed the boosters.

He apologized for his players’ performance and called them “embarrassing.” The boosters later told Morang and other players not to listen to him. One even said his behavior was out of line. 

But his actions didn’t faze his family. Morang remembers how one of his daughters — instead of crying — stood at his ankles and tried to get his attention as he yelled at a player during practice.

His conduct extended beyond screaming at practices, however. 

Newbauer ordered his assistant coaches to take two Black freshmen, Jalaysha Thomas and Tameria Johnson, shopping during the 2017-2018 season. He thought the “wife beaters” and long shorts they wore to run errands were inappropriate, and the assistant coaches used UAA funds to pay for Newbauer-approved clothing.

Kinslow and Johnson, a fifth-year who now plays for Delaware, remember how Newbauer told them to change their clothes and cover up their tattoos. He asked players to do so because he didn’t want his three daughters to mimic their style. 

Newbauer also made microaggressive comments, or subtle discriminatory statements, to Black players, Kinslow said. He once told them he liked their hair but wouldn’t touch it because he knew he wasn’t supposed to do so.

The coach pushed Thomas, Johnson and Hayes off the team at the end of his first season — Morang said — because they weren’t his recruits. They committed and signed to play under Butler. 

Lorenzen recalled when Newbauer forced the three freshmen to clean out their lockers.

“I remember them going to the locker room with garbage bags to take their stuff out,” she said. “No one was there to help them … It was so disgusting to see that and to see human beings being treated that way.”

Morang accompanied Thomas and Johnson to a meeting with executive associate athletic director Lynda Tealer, in which they complained about how they were shoved out of the program. 

Tealer took notes as the players spoke about how Newbauer belittled them. She told them the UAA was investigating the accusations, but Morang never heard anything after that.

His belligerent behavior extended to assistant coaches, too. He spoke over Finley and treated her like she had no idea what she was talking about. 

“It was what he said goes, and it was basically like he didn’t need assistant coaches because no one else’s word mattered,” Morang said.

Some assistant coaches cried because of the way Newbauer spoke to them. Searcy remembers when an assistant coach addressed the team during practice, Newbauer cut her off and told her to shut up. 

“I don’t know if they were afraid of losing their job,” Searcy said. “But it wasn’t too much that they would say either, just because everybody was pretty much in the same boat.” 

Coaches understood what the players suffered, Thomas said, but never spoke up out of fear of retaliation. It was like if anyone stood up to him, he would kick them off the team or fire them. 

Newbauer also disparaged strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. Lorenzen remembered when Newbauer told their weightlifting coach that the team wasn’t in shape because he wasn’t doing his job. 

Even though he had no expertise in their field, he chastised trainers. The team branded Newbauer “Dr. Google” and quipped he received his medical degree from Wikipedia.

“There wasn’t somebody’s business he wasn’t putting himself in,” Kinslow said.

Many of Thomas’ teammates went to therapy at the recommendation of assistant coaches. It gave them a space to talk about what they went through. They also provided therapy to each other and cried together, Kinslow said.

Many of Newbauer’s athletes severely struggled with mental health. They had to take weeks off during the middle of the season because they couldn’t handle what Newbauer put them through. 

“We had a girl that just quit, like she just physically couldn’t handle it anymore,” Kinslow said. “She worked her a— off to get where she was and decided quitting was more beneficial to her mental health than it was for her to play something she used 19 years of her life to get to.”

A former Florida player even attempted suicide, Kinslow said. The former player eventually quit the team and went back home. 

Newbauer offered no sympathy, even for injured athletes.

Kinslow broke her nose, suffered a severe concussion and even developed a speech issue that led her to miss six to seven weeks of the season. Newbauer didn’t check up on her once that entire time. 

He got in players’ faces in the training room and taunted them after injuries. He told a player who tore her ACL that her condition wasn’t “that bad.” 

No matter how much time passed, Newbauer’s outbursts at players continued. He constantly told his athletes, including Kinslow, they weren’t good enough to play for Florida.

Newbauer was mentally abusive toward Thomas, a junior who now plays for LSU, and made her lose some of her passion for basketball. 

He complained she and the team were “always b—ing,” Thomas said. He said she didn’t deserve to play SEC basketball.

Thomas chose the Tigers after she entered her name into the NCAA transfer portal. She wanted to prove him wrong. 

Newbauer also targeted Johnson, Searcy said. It seemed like he was bullying her. 

He threatened to pull her scholarship and said she wasn’t smart enough to go to UF. He even told her she didn’t belong in Division I basketball. 

One time, Newbauer told Hayes at a practice before an away game that he would leave her there. He also instructed Johnson to stand by the wall during practice and perform a wall sit with her hands above her head.

He then hurled basketballs toward her head. It wasn’t the first time. Newbauer also threw a ball at a junior teammate and hit her injured leg for not paying attention in practice, Lorenzen said. The player was sitting out with a torn ACL. 

Another time, he threw a ball at a redshirt junior because she didn’t understand a drill, Morang witnessed it as she sat on the sideline due to an injury.

Newbauer hollered as the teammate walked out. 

You won’t disrespect me by leaving this practice.

Her teammate hollered back.

You will not disrespect me by throwing a ball at me.

That was one of the few times an athlete defended herself, but the atmosphere thwarted any resistance and pushed athletes into silence.

“It was so toxic and unsafe,” she said. “Everyone was so scared that no one wanted to speak up.” 

Some parents tried to take action to end their daughters’ mistreatment.

Morang’s parents, Lynn and Frank Morang Jr., sent a letter to Stricklin and UF president Kent Fuchs in 2018 that detailed their concerns about Newbauer. Stricklin emailed the Morangs back three hours later. 

“Thank you for taking the time to write to me,” he wrote. “It is truly important to me and everyone on our staff that Gator student-athletes have a valuable experience, and we are always open to learning how we can improve … Lynda Tealer met with Sydney and two other members of the women’s basketball team. We will consider all the information we have received and work to make enhancements that improves the experience for our students.”

While Newbauer is guilty of lashing out at players, Kinslow believes associate head coach Finley is just as complicit.

“Kelly did everything she could to sweep it under the rug,” Kinslow said. “She covered for him, and she did damage control.”

Finley opted to bury Newbauer’s behavior instead of holding him accountable. She called players late at night and told them Newbauer didn’t mean what he said and did.

And all these conversations, for Kinslow, were a way to manipulate the team.

That’s why Kinslow took to TikTok to expose Newbauer’s behavior and the Florida women’s basketball program’s toxicity. 

Francesca Joubran, a former Belmont player under Newbauer from 2014-2017, commented on one of Kinslow’s TikTok. 

“I got the wrath too!” she wrote. “About time someone takes action & believes us.”

Some parents took to the internet to share their frustration as well.

When the Gators tweeted about Newbauer’s resignation, Autry Johnson, a father of former player Ariel Johnson, voiced his thoughts on the coach. His daughter played for Florida from 2018-2020 but transferred to Loyola Marymount.

“Please please stop lying for him he was not a good coach,” he wrote. “The program is better off without him we know that for a fact.”

Kinslow and former players agree: The program is better off without Newbauer. They may no longer be at UF, but they feel a sense of peace. 

There are no more players he can break.

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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