Suzanne Baker took the news like a boot to a bug.
After 25 years at Capital Christian High School, such a fixture that she was embedded into the fabric of the campus, Baker learned that she was finished as athletic director and girls basketball coach.
Fired. Done. Turn in your keys.
Baker on Wednesday afternoon was relieved of duties just weeks into the academic year, with the football team thriving and her young basketball team eager for her guidance and leadership as the season looms.
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“It’s just a shocker, and oh my goodness, I don’t understand,” Baker said by phone on Thursday afternoon, her emotions heavy. “I’m trying to be a leader still, trying to calm everyone down because people have reached out — players, coaches, parents — and they’re as heartbroken as I am.”
So what happened? Nothing concrete beyond that this is a cautionary tale. If this sort of exit can happen to Baker, it can happen to anyone. Baker is the definition of sportsmanship and class — a winner beyond the scoreboard and her string of league and Sac-Joaquin Section championship basketball banners. She was feisty and organized as an athletic director, and she invited fair critique to anyone who dare suggest her program bent rules to get a student-athlete on campus.
It’s this simple: At-will contracts for coaches and athletic directors guarantee nothing. A school can let someone go just on the belief that they want to go in a different direction, which is what Pastor Rick Cole told Baker in a meeting on Wednesday.
Cole, who acts as a school spokesperson, said Baker did not engage in a fireable offense and that “no moral issues were involved.”
“We’re looking for different leadership here,” including Baker’s roles, he said. “It’s a season of change, and it’s not meant to be harmful. It’s never easy doing this. That’s the hard part. We and the team that works with me at Capital Christian came to the conclusion together, carefully, that this is a moment to move in a new direction. That’s really all it is. We have great appreciation for what Suzanne did for us. Her impact runs deep.”
Cole knows there will be continued backlash from parents, players and staff. And Cole understands that this can certainly look unfavorably for a program big on character and doing the right thing.
Cole said a replacement for AD and coach has not been decided, suggesting the roles would likely be filled by two people.
“We feel the pain of people affected, and we want to care for anyone affected by change like this,” Cole said.
Baker said she cried as she emptied her desk, packing away years of memories, including team photos. She was preparing for her 20th season as girls coach. She had been AD for the last 10.
“I have no ill feelings toward the school,” said Baker, a Santa Barbara native who played basketball at Sacramento State in the early 1980s. “I loved every minute of my 25 years there. But I don’t know what the thought process was of letting me go. I asked in the meeting when I was let go, ‘What have I done wrong?’ They said nothing. Just want a change. It’s just a weird feeling.
“I’ve been a woman in a man’s world for a long time. I won’t say if that’s what got me fired, but it’s a feeling I have. It’ll be interesting to see who takes over my roles.”
Guy Anderson understands what Baker is going through. The winningest baseball coach in Northern California history with 927 wins over 45 seasons at Cordova, Anderson was fired in 2015. He was told the school wanted to go “in a different direction.”
He had an at-will contract, like all area coaches.
Anderson was soon hired by Baker to be an assistant baseball coach to Nelson Randolph at Capital Christian.
“I’m just stunned by this and I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard it,” Anderson said of Baker. “I’m more than alarmed. I’m pissed. I have all the compassion in the world for her because I’ve been there, been fired without warning, and she came to my aid and kept me in baseball. This is as fine a lady as you’ll ever meet anywhere in education. I have dealt with a lot of athletic directors over the years, and there are none better than Suzanne Baker, none.
“To me, it’s the most unjust move I’ve seen around here, and just three weeks into the school year?”
Baker is uncertain about her future in athletics. In the coming weeks, she will head to Arizona to visit grandchildren.
Baker said she already misses “my girls.” She said she was not allowed to say goodbye to the team on Thursday morning, so she sent her daughter, Brittany, to do it.
Bridget Donlon, a sophomore captain, said the team is numb.
“We sat together and cried, trying to process what was going on,” she said. “We shared memories of seasons past and goals for the future that we want to achieve for her. We talked about how Coach Baker has left a legacy and given us the tools that we need to move on through this difficult time.”
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: email@example.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.