LORETTO - Three years ago, former St. Francis softball head coach Sabrina Lane tried to hire her husband, Bill Graham, as an assistant, but she was informed by a superior that she could not make such a move.
"You're not allowed to have direct supervision over a family member, that's what she was told," Graham, who has gone on to become the most successful softball head coach in IUP history, said of his wife.
What Sabrina Lane was told by Erika Renwick, St. Francis' senior woman administrator, was false, according to the university's own policies.
"She asked Erika three-four times," said Graham, whose wife is expecting the couple's second child any day now and was unavailable for comment. "Sabrina looked for the policy but couldn't find it. Erika then said they were developing it."
No such hiring stipulation existed then, nor has one been developed, according to a November update of the school's Policies and Personnel Handbook.
Lane's request wasn't just turned down by Renwick, whom the school would not allow to comment for this story. Graham said St. Francis athletic director Bob Krimmel also disapproved of the hire based on the family connection.
No need to apply: Top candidates SFU didn't consider
Qualifications: A St. Francis alum and Hollidaysburg native, he was general manager of the New Orleans Hornets from 2002-03 and 2005-10 and served as the NBA team's head coach in 2009-10; he also served an assistant at Penn State and Marist
Why he may have been a good fit: It's his alma mater, plus he has an extensive NBA history and connections that may have helped lure recruits to Loretto
Why he may not have been a good fit: He's never been a college head coach, has been away from the college game for many years and may not have been affordable given the school's low salary
Qualifications: The best St. Francis player of the past 30 years (22.8 ppg in two seasons), the Altoona native led the Red Flash to their only NCAA Tournament appearance (1991) before playing two years in the NBA, two in the CBA and eight overseas
Why he may have been a good fit: Instant name recognition within program and goodwill of seeing a favorite son return to school
Why he may not have been a good fit: Half of his six-year college coaching tenure has been in the women's game (Duquesne and George Mason), and three years on men's side have been at Division III level (St. Vincent)
Qualifications: An assistant on SFU's 1991 NCAA Tournament team, he's been head coach at Division II IUP the past six seasons and led team to the national championship game in 2010; has gone 82-15 the past three seasons; also served as assistant at Pitt, La Salle and St. Bonaventure
Why he may have been a good fit: He may have been the best possible choice, given his experience, success and affordability
Why he may not have been a good fit: He has everything going for him at IUP and probably could beat St. Francis head-to-head many years, plus he probably already makes similar money to what SFU can pay
Qualifications: Head coach at Division II Bloomsburg the past six seasons and spent 11 years as an assistant at St. Francis, including the 1991 NCAA Tournament season; also was an assistant at Vermont and UPJ
Why he may have been a good fit: He was with SFU during its most successful run of the past 30 years, has head coaching experience and recruiting connections in region
Why he may not have been a good fit: He's probably not big enough name and hasn't enjoyed enough success as head coach to believe he could convince quality recruits to come to the small Loretto campus
All in the eyes of the beholder
Rob Krimmel's resume shows mixed results when determining his qualifications for the St. Francis head coaching position:
Family: He resides in Duncansville with his wife, Aileen, an SFU alum, and their two sons: 2-year-old Alex and newborn Thomas
Coaching experience: An assistant at St. Francis for the past 12 years under Bobby Jones and Don Friday; during his time on the bench, the program compiled a record of 107-235, had only one winning season (15-13 in 2004-05) and posted no NEC Tournament victories
Playing experience: He played for St. Francis from 1996-2000, was a three-year starter and two-time team captain; ranks fifth on the school's career 3-point shooting list (39.8 percent) and led the NEC in 3-point shooting as a senior (43.5 percent)
Off the court: Two-time ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American who has earned respect of everyone around him through his character, morals and people skills
Speaking on his behalf: Former SFU teammate Tom Fox wrote this about Krimmel in a letter to the editor to the Mirror: "Rob has been committed to St. Francis. His love for the school and its men's basketball program is second to none. I can think of no one more dedicated. Here is a guy that has had plenty of opportunity to move onto bigger and better things, but his heart remained in Loretto. ... Loyalty is a quality needed in every coach, Rob has shown it, and by naming him head coach, St. Francis has rightfully rewarded it."
Not a fan of the move: Longtime SFU fan and Stokes Club board of directors member Don Facciani of Johnstown believes the hiring is entirely about nepotism. "I've watched Rob for 12 years ... and he never, ever impressed me as a coach. I would watch him during the game, and he would sit there like a statue. ... He never got up, he never questioned an official's call. There would be a timeout and the players would gather around the head coach, and Rob would always stand way back. ... I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't think he was a good choice as the coach."
SFU's policy on hiring relatives
Policy on hiring relatives
"Saint Francis University strives to employ the most qualified individuals available for all positions. The University does not consider family relationship a disqualifying factor for employment, but special consideration will not be given to relatives of current employees. Employment depends exclusively on the applicant's qualifications and suitability for the position. This policy may extend to different offices and departments dependent on the nature of the work involved and the potential for conflict of interest. The University reserves the right to make the final decision with regard to the employment of relatives."
Source: SFU's Policies and Personnel Handbook, last updated in November (this also was in effect in 2009, when former softball coach Sabrina Lane was not allowed to hire her husband)
- Compiled by Cory Giger
"Bob backed [Renwick] every time," Graham said.
In that instance, when it came to someone else at St. Francis hiring a family member, Krimmel took a stand and said no. But presented with a similar opportunity 2 1/2 weeks ago, when selecting the athletic department's most prominent coach, the AD supported and did nothing to prevent hiring a member of his own family.
Krimmel signed off on a university decision to hire his son, Rob, as the new men's basketball coach. That decision was made by school officials with no outside search or interviews having been conducted, and it occurred in blistering time.
The university had its mind set on the younger Krimmel less than three hours after Don Friday was ousted April 18, following four seasons and a 32-86 record. A source told the Mirror that Friday, who would not comment for this story, received the news at about 4 p.m. By 6:30, Bob Krimmel knew his son was getting the job, although the school did not make it official until the following afternoon.
Rob Krimmel, a St. Francis alum and former player, has never been a head coach at any level, and in the past 12 years with him as an assistant, the program's record was a dismal 107-235. Yet without even considering anyone else, university officials - his father included - gave him the job.
Some of the Red Flash's most diehard fans believe Rob Krimmel has no business being the head coach and that his hiring was a clear case of nepotism.
"I'm very upset. Very upset," said Ed Danyluk of Johnstown, former president of the Stokes Club, which supports SFU athletics. "It was a campus-wide search. The normal thing is to do a nationwide search. Well, St. Francis had a campus-wide search."
Don Facciani of Johnstown, a lifetime member of the Stokes Club who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the school, said he does not believe Rob would have been hired if his father weren't the athletic director.
"Rob probably is a great fellow, probably a great husband, and his dad, he's also a quality person," Facciani said. "But that's not what we're talking about here."
Danyluk said he's "100 percent" certain the decision was based on Krimmel family ties. He referenced the fact that the school also employs Bob Krimmel's son John as assistant AD for student-athlete academic services, and that John's wife, Melinda, works for the university, as well.
"Talk about nepotism," Danyluk said. "Boy, how many of them are there up there?"
Just as perception isn't always reality, determining if hiring a family member is blatant nepotism or merely the appearance of nepotism can be a blurry distinction that's left up to each individual to decide.
As strongly as Danyluk and Facciani feel about one side of the issue, another one of St. Francis' biggest supporters, Tom Burkholder of Hollidaysburg, passionately agrees with the decision to hire Rob Krimmel.
"I was hoping [Bob would hire Rob] before it ever even happened," said Burkholder, treasurer of the Stokes Club.
Burkholder believes the younger Krimmel has impeccable character that makes him a perfect representative of the university's Franciscan values.
"If I were at a school on a search committee and Rob's resume came and I met him personally," Burkholder said, "I would say it's a guy you really have to look at."
Look at, perhaps. But hire?
Based on his resume, would Rob Krimmel be hired as head coach by any other Division I team?
While that's up for debate, this much is not: The younger Krimmel doesn't need a Division I head coaching job because he already has one, and both he and his father say it has nothing to do with them being related.
"From what I was told, it was a university decision," Rob said. "My dad just happened to be a part of that process."
"It was a decision made by the institution," Bob confirmed. "I'm part of the institution, and I support the decision they made."
Who made decision?
It was not Bob Krimmel, not him alone anyway. In fact, one source suggested the ultimate decision was made not by Krimmel, but by university president Father Gabriel Zeis and vice president of student development Frank Montecalvo.
Despite repeated requests, neither Zeis nor Montecalvo was made available by the university to comment for this story. Bob Krimmel agreed to be interviewed but offered few details about the process and repeatedly cited school policy that prohibits discussing personnel matters.
The Mirror interviewed more than a dozen people in and close to the St. Francis program. Most provided background information but wouldn't speak on the record.
One who did, however, was Burkholder, who does not work for the university but has extensive knowledge of some of its hiring procedures. Burkholder was on the school's search committee when Bob Krimmel was hired as athletic director in 2005, plus he served on the search committees for former women's basketball coaches Myndi Hill and Jill Poe.
"I know from talking to Bob, [the decision to hire Rob] was taken out of his hands," Burkholder said. "He didn't pull the trigger to make it happen."
Asked who did, Burkholder replied, "Father Gabe and Frank Montecalvo."
"They made the decision," he added. "Bob told them up front, 'I can't make that decision,' and they told him, 'We will take it.'"
If that's true - and no one from St. Francis, even Bob Krimmel, has confirmed Burkholder's comments - it would seem to negate some of the criticism the AD has received from fans and media about the nepotism issue.
Then again, the argument can be made that, as the athletic director, he has to be able to stand up to higher-ranking university officials and try to stop them from making potentially detrimental decisions. Bob Krimmel has given no indication he ever did so in this case.
Still, during two separate interviews about the hiring, the AD has in some ways tried to distance himself from the decision-making responsibility. He has chosen his words carefully, using pronouns such as "they" to refer to his bosses or "we" to refer to the university as a whole.
"I think Father Gabe was aware, as was Dr. Montecalvo and the other people that were privy to it, that some people would disagree with the decision," Bob Krimmel said. "But people have always disagreed with decisions we've made, and they made the one that they felt was the best decision."
Those words could be interpreted as if Bob Krimmel had little to do with the decision and, by merely agreeing with it, has been placed in the middle of a tough situation because he has to bear the brunt of the criticism over potential nepotism. It's not Zeis' or Montecalvo's son who was hired, so they aren't on the hook for the criticism.
"I can't comment for my dad," Rob Krimmel said when asked if his father may be feeling like he's in a no-win situation when it comes to public scrutiny. "I know that this situation, the relationship that we have as father and son, to people who don't know my father, don't know myself and don't know the university, they're going to form an opinion."
Some opinions may be shaped by the revelation that Bob Krimmel, who has no problem surrounding himself with family members in the workplace, did not allow former softball coach Lane to hire her husband.
Comparing Graham's resume in 2009 - he had been a college head coach in softball and baseball - one can easily argue he was more qualified to be a Red Flash assistant than Rob Krimmel is to be a head coach. (Graham, by the way, led his IUP team to a 38-8 record and berth in the Division II World Series last season.)
When pressed on the Lane-Graham decision, Krimmel said, "You also have to look at when you have a head coach/assistant coach situation and you have student-athletes. If there's something that the student-athletes want to bring forward, when you have a head coach and assistant coach, that's a little bit different than when you have a coach and an administrator."
But what happens in this particular situation if the coach struggles and his administrator father is forced to face a tough decision about whether or not to fire him? Bob Krimmel, who has no plans to retire any time soon and could face that scenario in a few years, did his best to dance around the question.
"To say that is to think that we're not going to be successful," he said when asked about possibly having to fire his son someday. "We believe we're going to be successful."
Burkholder, who admires the work Bob Krimmel has done to enhance all of the athletic programs at St. Francis during his tenure, said people should keep that in mind rather than levy criticism over the nepotism issue.
"He is the greatest person I have ever met, literally," Burkholder said. "There's no gray area with Bob. He's the consummate gentleman. You can never get him to say anything bad about anyone.
"He's been so good for the school. He has changed the entire athletic department. He's upgraded everything. He's brought us up to a whole different level. And he's also stressed academics like no one has ever stressed them before."
Why hire Rob?
St. Francis is a Division I job that doesn't come with the usual Division I perks. It's one of the smallest D-I schools in the nation with an enrollment of 2,400 (1,750 undergrad), and it's believed to be near the bottom of the nation in head coach's pay.
No salary figures have ever been made public, and while Burkholder said he doesn't know for sure, he estimated a ballpark range of $80,000 per year. Former head coach Bobby Jones, who had extensive assistant coaching experience at Pitt and Minnesota, was thought to be making close to $100,000 when he was fired after the 2007-08 season, according to a source.
In USA Today's survey of coaches' salaries among 2012 NCAA Tournament teams, a figure was listed for 62 of the 68 schools, and only one paid less than $100,000 (Mississippi Valley State at $87,500).
"I've sat on search committees, I know we're the second-smallest school in Division I sports," Burkholder said. "If we're not the bottom-paying school in our conference, we're very close to it. So I know we're never going to get a Division I coach leaving a job to come to us, unless he was fired.
"So the other thing is you go with a Division II or III coach that's won, and we sort of proved that didn't work [with Friday, who previously was the head coach at Division III Lycoming] . ... Everybody would like to see us get some big name that can come in and change it, but the bottom line is it's Loretto, and it's a tough recruit, especially with the academic standards they want to have."
Jones had a good background as an assistant coach, and he failed at St. Francis, going 85-167 in nine seasons. The Red Flash also have had only five winning seasons in the past 34 years and are coming off a 6-23 season, so it's not an overly enticing job to those unwilling to take on a massive rebuilding project.
School officials, who again wouldn't comment on the matter, may have figured they've tried various types of coaches and achieved no success, so why not give a shot to someone already on campus. And in Rob Krimmel, the school knows what it's getting, which is someone who has given his entire adult life to the university and is widely respected as a person by the St. Francis community.
Since getting the job, the younger Krimmel said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of support he's received. He hasn't paid much attention to the criticism and said he frankly hasn't heard much of it anyway.
"The support on campus, from alumni, from our players, from our players' parents, from our coaches, I'm unbelievably humbled," he said.
St. Francis is such an isolated college community up on a mountain in Loretto that in many ways it's sheltered from potential criticism from its major fan bases 20 miles away in Altoona and 30 miles away in Johnstown.
"The support from the university community has been outstanding," Bob Krimmel said, "and these are the people we work with."
Some fans, however, have expressed different feelings. They are angry about the hiring of Rob Krimmel, while others believe the school's decision to make the move so quickly without conducting a search sends a bad message.
"I'm very, very disappointed they didn't have a search," Facciani said before later adding, "They just seem like they don't care."
Facciani didn't hesitate when asked if he thinks the school is committed to winning in men's basketball.
"No," he said, "just because they let things fester so bad."
Why the change now?
St. Francis let Jones stay for nine years despite major struggles throughout, although it did end Friday's tenure rather quickly, forcing him out after four seasons and with one year remaining on his contract, according to a source.
The timing of the decision to oust Friday, however, was peculiar for two reasons.
First, it came eight weeks after the season ended. Some sources speculated that may have been because the school allowed Friday to network himself and try to find another job around the time of the Final Four in early April, but a source close to the coach said that option was never presented.
Bob Krimmel offered no explanation for why the decision on Friday took so long, saying, "It may not agree with everyone's time frame, but it was done when the institution felt it was appropriate to go forward."
The second issue about depriving Friday of the final year of his contract is that the team, on paper at least, stands to be much improved next season. Standout guard Umar Shannon returns after suffering a torn ACL in the 2011-12 opener - an injury that derailed the team for the entire season - and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Ronnie Drinnon is expected to be a big factor his first year.
It was suggested by one source who knows the program well that Bob Krimmel, realizing next year's team should drastically improve on this past season's 6-23 record, orchestrated the move to set his son up for immediate success, thereby proving the decision to hire him was the correct one.
"I'm not going to change people's opinions if that's the way that they view things," Bob Krimmel said. "The institution made a decision at the time that they felt was best for St. Francis."
Bob Krimmel does not feel that naming his son as the head coach is detrimental to the university, despite the fact that more attention - much of it negative - has been paid to this move than anything else the program has done since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1991.
Throw in the lack of a search and quick turnaround between Friday's departure and Rob Krimmel getting the job, and it could lead some to wonder if St. Francis even cares about the negative publicity.
"Care, I don't know if that's the word because you can't make decisions strictly based on how people are going to perceive your decision," Bob Krimmel said. "You've got to make the decisions that are the best things for the program at the time and with the people involved, and that's what we did.
"The perception by people outside of our community might be one thing, but I think within our campus, those close to the program have supported it."
Just because some fans are angry about the Rob Krimmel hiring now, it doesn't mean they won't continue to support St. Francis basketball.
"Yeah, I will," Facciani said. "I'm not going to be one of these people that says, 'I'm not going to go up and watch them play.' No, no. I've been supporting them for a lot of years, and I just can't walk out. I just can't do that. A lot of people are saying that's what they're going to do. I hope Rob, I hope that he does well. I really do."
Some fans have been able to say that personally to Rob Krimmel already, and several took the opportunity to do so during last weekend's Blair County Sports Hall of Fame banquet in Altoona. To those fans, the hiring wasn't about nepotism at all, and some of them believe the media has blown it out of proportion.
"You would be amazed at the number of people that came up to Rob and congratulated him," Burkholder said of last week's banquet. "Then as they were walking away, they said, 'Forget about what the paper said about you. Don't let it bother you.'"
Cory Giger has covered St. Francis basketball for the Mirror since 1999. He can be reached at 949-7031.