Nearly a week after the University of Virginia announced that head swimming and diving coach Mark Bernardino was retiring after 35 years, there are more questions than answers about his sudden departure.
"We are very much in the dark, and I think everyone in this situation doesn't have answers," said former UVa swimmer Stephanie Glover. "We don't know anything, really."
Members of the UVa swimming and diving community were shocked when they heard the news last week.
"Mark had never indicated that the concept of retiring was anywhere on his mind," said former Virginia swimmer Matt McLean.
McLean is one of 12 Olympians that Bernardino has coached during his tenure. After winning a gold medal in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics, McLean worked alongside Bernardino as a volunteer assistant coach for the Cavaliers. Now, he is one of many former swimmers that is calling for a review of the events that led to Bernardino's departure.
"Given the circumstances in which he is unable to speak, I would just like to open up a forum for discussion in the public and determine what actually happened," said McLean.
Many of Bernardino's former athletes say he is unable to discuss his retirement with them, so they've turned elsewhere looking for answers.
"I reach out to Mark and he tells me that he can't discuss the matters, and we reach out to Mr. Littlepage, and it's his job to defer this to Mark because of Mark's statement," says former UVa swimmer Scot Robison, who won a bronze medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay at the 2011 World Championships.
"We've gotten this pattern, and it's time to move to the next step," he added.
That next step involves writing a formal letter to university President Teresa Sullivan, asking for clarity and transparency about the issue. The alumni group has also launched a Facebook page that has been liked by more than a thousand people in three days. They are also encouraging members of the swimming and diving community to write letters to Sullivan, Athletics Director Craig Littlepage, and the Board of Visitors.
"We love this place," said Robison. "There's nothing I'm more passionate about than the University of Virginia, and I'm just as tired of controversies as everyone else is. That's not what we want, but this needs to be handled in the right way."
Littlepage released a statement though a spokesperson saying, "I want this time to be about Mark Bernardino, and we should use it to reflect on his outstanding coaching career and his contributions to Virginia athletics and the University of Virginia."
Littlepage added that he will not comment until the school has hired a new head swimming and diving coach. But the former Cavaliers want that search to be halted until their questions are answered.
"That is such a high priority for us right now, because we believe that will give us adequate time needed to really assess what has gone on, and create a situation where more transparency is available," said McLean.
"If they were to do a national search right now for the best head coach for UVa swimming and diving, I'm a full-fledged believer that that person is Mark Bernardino," added Glover.
One thing that has not surprised the alumni involved is the amount of support that has poured in for their former head coach. Bernardino guided the Cavaliers to 27 ACC championships during his career and was the longest tenured coach at Virginia prior to his retirement.
"Over his 35 years here, Mark has touched every corner of the University, and he's instilled incredible values in everyone; loyalty, honesty, integrity," says McLean. "Those are the pillars that he founded the team on. That's what he taught us, that's what he displayed, and that's why we want to find out why this has transpired."
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