With school opening in two weeks and the season opening in three months, the powerhouse UAA women's basketball team is again without a coach -- and four key players who were expected to return are gone too.
Allegations of "professional misconduct'' prompted the resignation of Nathan Altenhofen on Thursday night, before he coached a single game. University officials would not explain what conduct led to the departure.
It comes less than three months after Altenhofen was hired to replace Tim Moser, who turned the team into an NCAA Division II force before resigning abruptly after six seasons.
UAA athletic director Steve Cobb would not detail the allegations against Altenhofen. He said they do not involve potential NCAA violations.
Altenhofen could not be reached for comment. He left the team before conducting a single practice and leaves the school scrambling and the team in shambles.
"It's pretty clear we're dealing with some pressing issues,'' Cobb said. "I've got a top 10 program without a coach.
"It remains to be seen how bad it's going to hurt us. We've got a group of recruits and returning players who have been twisting in the wind since May.
"This is not a positive thing. We don't have the luxury of sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to find a solution.''
The Seawolves, who open play on Nov. 9, have been a top 10 program the last five years and have gone to the NCAA tournament the last six times.
Cobb, reached by cellphone at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday morning, said he accepted Altenhofen's resignation by email Thursday night. Cobb said he spoke by phone with several returning players Thursday night to inform them of Altenhofen's departure.
He said he was first alerted to a problem a week ago, and the school quickly launched an investigation.
He said the situation involves an issue that arose after Altenhofen's hiring, but he would not reveal details, citing the school's policy of not discussing specifics in personnel matters.
Cobb said he hopes to hire a replacement within 10 days and will use the list of candidates who applied for the job after Moser resigned. He said he is concerned that potential candidates will be deterred from applying for the job because the opening comes so late in the offseason.
"That's just going to be an obstacle we'll have to overcome,'' he said.
Cobb said he spoke to returning players individually Thursday night because he did not want them to hear about Altenhofen's resignation from anyone else. Naturally, Cobb said, the news caught the athletes off-guard.
"Shocked a little bit, stunned, surprised on the initial news, but by the end of the conversation they were feeling noticeably better,'' Cobb said.
Their next coach will inherit a roster that has diminished significantly since last season. Four players expected to return will not:
• Haley Holmstead, a high-scoring guard who was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's Newcomer of the Year, an all-West Region second-team pick and an All-American honorable mention selection last season;
• Gritt Ryder, a point guard who was named the GNAC's Freshman of the Year last season;
• Bruna Diechmann, a guard who started in 14 games; and
• Katie Richens, a guard who was a key contributor off the bench.
UAA spokeswoman Dallas Baldwin said the four were all offered invitations to return to the team, but all chose to leave.
Cobb, who was scheduled to return to Anchorage Friday afternoon after attending a GNAC meeting in Bellingham, Wash,. said he expects to speak by phone to incoming recruits beginning this weekend or Monday at the latest.
He said assistant coach RyAnne Ridge, hired in June, told him she intends to remain at UAA.
Altenhofen was an assistant coach at Division I Indiana University before coming to UAA. He agreed to a three-year contract with UAA that paid him about $70,000 annually before bonuses.
Altenhofen was hired in late May to replace Moser, who guided the Seawolves to six consecutive NCAA Division II tournament appearances, including three Elite Eight appearances. Moser is now an assistant coach at Division I Colorado State.
By BETH BRAGG and DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News