A former Minnesota high school boys’ hockey coach got a bit of redemption recently when he sued a parent who forced him to resign after her son was cut from the team in 2012. As part of the out-of-court settlement reached last year, Felicia Busch retracted what ex-Roseville coach Jeff Pauletti claimed were defamatory statements that alleged he mistreated and abused players, Busch’s attorney Chris Heinze confirms.
“I made statements about Jeff Pauletti that I felt were accurate but that I now understand were not accurate,” Busch said in her retraction sent to The Washington Post be her attorney. “Although I don’t agree with Jeff Pauletti’s coaching philosophy, I understand that other parents and players supported Jeff Pauletti and that his style of motivating and disciplining players is generally accepted conduct by some high school hockey coaches. In that context, my statement that he engaged in extreme verbal and psychological abuse of players and physical acts of violent aggression and intimidation toward players was not accurate.”
The outcome of Pauletti’s case is seen as a good thing for coaches everywhere, according to the Minnesota High School Hockey Coaches Association, which is now advising coaches to talk to attorneys when parents get too pushy.
“Coaches need to protect themselves, too,” Executive Director of the coaches association Mike MacMillan told the Star Tribune this week. “I think far too often they haven’t and they need to and Jeff’s case is an example of that.”
Part of the reason MacMillan and others are advising coaches to seek legal council is because of a unique law that went on Minnesota’s books in May 2013, roughly three months before Pauletti filed his suit against Busch. (Pauletti’s suit did not cite the law, however.)
The Star Tribune characterizes lawsuits such as Pauletti’s as “unusual” in Minnesota, but reports that they have become more common in recent years because of the law, which was designed “to protect coaches from being dismissed solely because of parental influence, according to State Rep. Dean Urdahl, who proposed the measure.”
“The main purpose of this bill is to give coaches comfort in knowing their job won’t be on the line over every decision they make,” Urdahl said when the law passed in 2013. “Parents are far more involved these days and, with that, we have seen a greater number of complaints. Those complaints will remain an important part of the process, but other factors should be considered when deciding whether a coach should be removed. We just needed to do a better job of insulating coaches from situations that can get out of control.”
The most virulent complaints in Minnesota seem to come from hockey parents, who spend thousands of dollars on their kid’s sport for equipment, camps and travel. This could explain the statistic provided by MacMillan to the Tribune in 2013 that of the 110 boys’ hockey coaches who left their positions in the previous five years, 38 — or around 35 percent — were at least partly due to complaints from parents. Other sports, however, are affected as well — and they continue to be affected, despite the law, according to a 2014 report in the Tribune.
“This new legislation has had zero effect on protecting coaches,” Minnesota Girls Hockey Association director Tim Morris told the Tribune last year, adding parental complaints affected “more than half” of the 16 positions that opened up for coaches since the end of the 2013-14 season.
Pauletti, whose store Top Shelf Athletics went out of business after his forced resignation, has not been re-hired at Roseville.
Correction: This article and its headline has been updated to more accurately describe the outcome of Pauletti’s lawsuit, as well as to note the 2013 law did not affect the outcome of Pauletti’s case.