Howard University's athletic department, already under heavy criticism for alleged mismanagement of its football program, came under attack yesterday by its veteran soccer coach, Lincoln Phillips.
Phillips, whose teams won NCAA championships in 1971 and 1974, said his highly successful program is being "threatened" by the department's administration. He also said that athletic department administrators, principally Athletic Director Leo Miles, are deemphasizing soccer at Howard.
"The athletic department doesn't particularly want soccer to do well," Phillips said. "They want soccer to stay in its place, whatever that means. He (Miles) has told me, in effect, that we don't have to win championships for me to keep my job, just do okay. That's because we have been a threat to football because we are successful.
"People know that I'm patient. But this whole thing began to hurt me a year or so ago. I never even thought about doing anything else but helping educate and teach soccer at Howard. Over the years, I've had offers to return to the professional level, but I've declined because I love Howard.
"Still, I was forced to examine whether or not they (the athletic department) appreciate me. Now I know they don't. I'd like to sit down and discuss the problems with them, work things out. But if the situation can't be solved, I'll split. My teams haven't been flukes. Somebody will appreciate me."
Phillips' public complaint comes almost one year after Howard promised that a school task force would promptly investigate charges from various quarters that its athletic department is incompetent.
Howard President James Cheek said months ago that he would evaluate the committee's finding and issue a statement outlining how the athletic department would be shaped to reach a standard the nation's most prestigious black university would be proud of.
But the results of the task force report have not as yet been disclosed. Cheek refuses to return reporters' phone calls. Dr. Carl Anderson, the vice president for student affairs who oversees the athletic department, insists the task force investigation -- which was supposed to be concluded last fall -- has been delayed by the basketball team's three-day trip to the NCAA tournament last month.
And now, Phillips, the school's highly respected soccer coach, also is unhappy. "We face enough adversity on the outside without having to put up with turmoil from withi;n," he said.
Miles said yesterday, "Nobody is deemphasizing soccer. We operate a program based on what's in the best interest of the university. If the coach isn't satisfied, then he can consider other options. Soccer started here in 1929. It is not in any danger now."
Miles said he would not comment further on Phillips' status as coach until he meets with him next week.
Phillips' dissatisfaction with the athletic department has created anger and frustration among students, athletes and alumni.
"I don't want to do a public washing of dirty linen, but the problem lies in leadership," said Dr. Ewart Brown, a student activist, soccer player and track star at Howard in the middle 1960s. Brown is now a physician in Los Angeles.
"This is not a new problem. When Mr. Miles got the job, he was in over his head. In 1973, Anderson told me Miles would be good for the program for only a few years, until the program (just embarking on what it called a permanent commitment to big-time athletics) got off the ground."
Brown, who started the Students Negotiating for Athletic Progress in 1966 and says he has been intimately involved with the program despite living in California, sent President Cheek a telegram Monday expressing his anger over recent developments.
It read: "It appears that incompetence and instability abound in Howard's intercollegiate athletic program. Phillips is apparently being booted out like (former football coach) Doug Porter; all the result of incompetent leadership and Carl Anderson's failure to inform you (of the department's real problem).
"I am spearheading a national alumni effort," the telegram continued, "to save the soccer program."
Brown said if the athletic department is not improved, the university "will not be given a dime" by alumni such as himself and former teammates, now working professionals who can afford to make financial contributions.
Brown said many alumni believe the current program has serious problems directly related to Anderson and Miles.
Anderson, appointed by Cheek to oversee the athletic department, said last week the process of clearing up problems with the football program is taking longer than expected. Anderson said the task force has invited five Howard football players, who last fall charged the coaching staff with physical and verbal abuse, among other things, to testify Wednesday.
"After that," said Anderson, "the president will have his own timetable for formulating and issuing an evaluation of the final findings. A university president can't devote all of his time to one matter. In the last weeks, we've had the basketball team in the NCAA tournament and a pool operator drown, among other things.
"Gathering all the facts involved in this matter and coming to some sort of conclusion isn't the easiest thing to coordinate," Anderson said. "We've invited these players to testify in the interest of fairness and thoroughness. There is no effort on our part to consciously delay the matter."
Football Coach Floyd Keith and his staff have been accused by players of conducting an illegal off-season weight-training program and of physically and verbally abusing several players before last season. Many team members were also upset because they felt food and medical facilities for the players were grossly inadequate.
Also, a Howard official has estimated that the football program, which had only $30,000 in gate receipts last year, lost between $500,000 and $800,000. Miles, while acknowledging it is "nothing unusual" for the football team to lose money, called that estimate "ridiculous." He also said he did not know the exact amount of the deficit.
A preliminary report, issued by the task force in the fall, concluded that physical abuse did occur and that the team's training table, on-the-field medical attention and tutoring program were inadequate.
Anderson recently gave Miles and third-year coach Keith votes of confidence. Keith answers his critics by pointing to the team's 6-2-2 record last season, its first winning mark since 1975. Miles simply says it's easy to criticize from the outside and such allegations of incompetence have no basis in fact.
Brown, who has asked Cheek to meet with him next week, said, "It hurts me to see this kind of incompetence and ineptitude on our athletic department. I'm not attacking Mr. Miles personally. He's a nice guy and a gentleman. But he's easily handled (by Anderson).Manageable. And Anderson has slowly put the athletic program to sleep by failing to support key individuals.
"I admire Dr. Cheek in every way except his failure to ensure competent administration in athletics, which could overshadow all his previous achievements," Brown said. "I'm afraid that athletics will be the first of a number of crises on campus that will snowball into other situations, just like they did at Howard in the '60s.
"People have gotten so frustrated they had to go to the media," Brown said.
"Then they fire you for 'going public.'"
Phillips agreed. "They say, 'You go to the newspaper. The newspaper is prejudiced. The newspaper is the enemy.' But nobody listens to us," the coach said. "The newspaper is not the enemy. I've gone from A to Z. I've taken every step I could think of to work out things within our own framework. But there's little response. So, finally, you have to tell someone who will listen."