Fired Coach Accuses College of Misapplying Policy

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Ryan Cordova, who as athletic director and men's basketball coach is credited with essentially launching the athletic program at Northern New Mexico College a dozen years ago, has been fired — and he's not sure why.

As reported by the Rio Grande Sun, which obtained the recording a meeting between Cordova and the college's vice president for finance and administration Vince Lithgow, Cordova was on administrative leave when the college accused him of violating the terms of said leave. In particular, Cordova was prohibited from having any contact with the college, including coaches, faculty, staff, students or regents.

The point of contention that surfaced during the recorded meeting with Lithgow involved the college receiving an email in support of Cordova from Mario Caetano, who had served as women's basketball coach at Northern. Not only is Caetano no longer a Northern employee (he currently coaches at Adams State University), he made it clear that Cordova had not asked him to send the email. Moreover, Cordova told the Sun that he had not spoken to Caetano.

As Ari Levin of the Sun reported, "Throughout the meeting, and in fact throughout the process of Cordova’s leave and firing, Lithgow and administration seemed unsure of why exactly Cordova — the former athletic director and men’s basketball coach, who essentially started the Northern athletic program — was in trouble, on leave and fired after 12 years.

"Speaking with Caetano would not appear to violate any of the terms of Cordova’s administrative leave, contrary to what Lithgow told Cordova. Even still, in Caetano’s letter to outgoing college president Bárbara Medina, he makes clear that Cordova did not ask him to sent [sic] the letter, and Cordova said in a phone interview with the Sun that he never spoke with Caetano while he was on leave."

“You have to know these things before you fire me,” Cordova said to Lithgow at one point during the meeting when discussing an issue with international students, Levin reported.

Cordova claims that the college violated its own policies by never providing specifics for firing him, and emails obtained by the Sun in a public records request paint an unclear picture of the circumstances, according to Levin's reporting.

Though he spoke with an investigator, Cordova said he had never received any results of an investigation from the college after multiple requests.The college responded to a public records request by the Sun for an investigation into Cordova writing, “No responsive records exist to this request,” or that they were exempt under attorney-client privilege. 

Medina declined to comment in response to an emailed list of questions.

According to the Sun, Cordova wrote to Medina in September that he was placed on leave with a letter saying they would investigate “concerns in your department,” and was never told specifics about the investigation. Later, according to the letter, Lithgow told Cordova the investigation was “nothing specific, it is just a generic investigation.”

In the letter, Cordova wrote that he was preparing to file a lawsuit, accusing the college of violating discrimination policies.

“I am a male employee and I stand in the way of the interim president placing herself in the Athletic Director position at Northern New Mexico College, when her term as Interim President expires,” he wrote in the letter, as reported by the Sun.

When Cordova was placed on leave, Medina initially named herself as interim athletic director, despite having never worked in athletics beyond a high school coaching position, she previously told the Sun. Later, she ceded the position to Jesus Aragon, who was hired in the summer to be assistant men’s basketball coach, his first position in college athletics, according to Levin's reporting.

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