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Critics blame racism after NCAA Division I school hires white man as head coach over black interim head coach

Main: John Gallagher as University of Hartford head coach in 2019 (photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.) Featured: RaShawn Stores as interim head coach of Manhattan College in January (screenshot of DM 2.0 YouTube video.)

A Catholic NCAA Division I school in Brooklyn, New York, is facing a mass exodus from its men's basketball team after a decision to hire a white man as head coach over the black man who had assumed duties on an interim basis last fall.

On Wednesday, the Manhattan College Jaspers announced that John Gallagher, 45, had been named the new men's basketball head coach. The Jaspers' former coach, Steve Masiello, was fired last October after 11 seasons with the program, leaving the team in a bit of a lurch with its first game just weeks away. Fortunately, assistant coach RaShawn Stores, a Manhattan alumnus who once played for Masiello, was ready to step into the head coaching vacancy on an interim basis.

Despite the chaos of Masiello's unexpected exit and the transfer of three key players just days later, Stores managed to lead the Jaspers to a respectable season. They finished 10-10 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the best conference record they had had in eight years.

After Marist defeated Manhattan in the opening round of the MAAC tournament earlier this month, ending the Jaspers' 2022-2023 season, many players and alumni hoped that Stores would be named the permanent head coach. Players campaigned to "remove the interim tag" from Stores' title, but that never happened.

Now that Gallagher has been named head coach, some players are openly alleging that Stores, a 31-year-old black man, was overlooked because of racism.

"Unfortunately during my time here, I’ve seen racism kind of play a role in a lot of things," said fifth-year senior guard Nick Brennen. "I don’t want to believe that’s what it was, but there’s no other black [head coach] on this campus."

Fellow fifth-year senior guard Samir Stewart expressed similar sentiments. "Honestly, whoever made the final decision made it clear he didn’t want a black head coach," Stewart said.

Brennen alleged that, during his first season with the team, some Manhattan alumni complained about the players wearing a Black Lives Matter patch on their jerseys and that player requests to have a BLM message featured on the Jaspers' home court were denied.

Marianne Reilly, the director of intercollegiate athletics at Manhattan, vehemently denied that race played a role in hiring Gallagher over Stores. "Any [assertion] that race had to do anything with this is absolutely incorrect," she stated.

"RaShawn did a great job, he really did," Reilly added. "But when you have a national search, and you interview multiple people, it’s open. And when you look at things like experience, or head coaching experience — those things play a factor."

Gallagher does bring considerable head coaching experience with him to Manhattan. He was the head coach of the University of Hartford from 2010 to 2022 and led the Hawks to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2021. However, his overall record with the team is just 169-207.

Brennen clarified that his issue is not with Gallagher. "It sucks to be in the position of the new coach. No one is … attacking him," Brennen claimed. "It would have happened to anyone who got the job because no one but [Stores] deserved the job."

Though Brennen and Stewart have both exhausted their eligibility and were always going to leave Manhattan after the 2022-2023 season, other players with eligibility are considering leaving the team as well. Adam Cisse, a forward with one year of eligibility remaining, and Aryan Arora, a guard who will be a junior in the fall, have already entered the transfer portal, though neither player said whether they were transferring on account of the head coaching controversy.

Transferring to another school, especially now that transferring players no longer have to sit out a year, is not uncommon when a beloved coach is fired or accepts a job elsewhere. Last year, former Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams notably followed former Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley to USC and won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.

Brennen has expressed similar loyalty to Stores. "I know that I will never be coming back to a game here," Brennen said about the school where he played for five years.

"[Stores] taught us a lot more than just basketball," Brennen explained. "He really taught us how to be men."

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