The Fort Lewis College women’s lacrosse coach will be looking for its fifth coach in the last 10 seasons after Sean Claussen was fired last month.
Claussen led the Skyhawks for two seasons and was previously an assistant coach since 2012 before being named head coach in 2018. During his two-year tenure, Claussen went 9-15, which included a berth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals in 2018.
Natalie Mitchell, a former Fort Lewis College player who played from 2013-16, and the current head coach of the Durango High School girls lacrosse program, was named the interim head coach on Monday.
Claussen said it was an honor to lead the program for two seasons and added that he wished the best of luck to whomever is the next coach in charge.
“Right now, I’m hurt and I’m still at a loss. Since I was 16 years old, the only thing I wanted to do was to coach a college lacrosse program, and as of right now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the chance to do that again,” Claussen said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald on Tuesday.
“I thought the administration had my back and they were supporting me and my vision for shaping the future of the program, but things turned out differently than anticipated. At the end of the day, I feel like I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to properly develop the program and really get it moving in the right direction.”
Claussen said the administration’s official reason for firing him was never presented to him.
“Players went to President (Tom) Stritikus directly and he was the one who ultimately made the decision,” Claussen said. “I never got a chance to respond or even have a meeting with the president or Barney Hinkle (former FLC athletic director) about it. Looking back, Lynne Andrews (former FLC senior associate director of athletics) did all she could to help me out and other members also had my back within the department. I’m grateful for my time up at the Fort but wish it ended on better terms.”
When he took over in 2018, he inherited a program that had just come off of its first RMAC semifinal berth in 2017. With a steady presence of veteran players, Claussen led the Skyhawks to their second consecutive RMAC semifinal, where they would go on to lose against national power Lindenwood.
Year 2 was also a challenge for Claussen after four players graduated and the roster for the 2019 season stood at just 15, which was its smallest since the inaugural season in 2009-2010, which was 14. However, he had put in the leg work after a full season under his belt and secured the program’s largest recruiting class ever, 11 incoming freshmen, all of which came without a full-time assistant coach.
But the lack of numbers ultimately hurt the Skyhawks, as they went 2-8 in 2019 and were forced to forfeit against Lindenwood and Colorado State University-Pueblo because they had too many players who were out with injuries.
Despite a tough season, Mitchell said Claussen had set the program up for long-term success.
“Sean did a great job of setting up for the future, and I’m really looking forward to what these girls will bring in,” Mitchell said. “As of right now, there’s been no changes and everybody is committed to the program still. There’s going to be a lot of potential within these next few seasons. In terms of stepping in, I know how hard it can be and I feel for Sean. The same thing happened when I was at the Fort and I was a player when there was a coaching change, and it’s always strange for a month or two in the summer. ... I am going to keep the program moving forward while it’s in this transition period, and am grateful for the chance.”
Athletic director Brandon Leimbach said the search for Claussen’s replacement has been going well. “We’ve been getting a ton of interest from our national search and have had applicants from all across the country,” Leimbach said.
“When the interview process gets going, we will be sure to involve student-athletes to help with the process. We want to do all we can to help the program get to the next level.”
The search will close on Friday. The interviewing process will begin from there, Leimbach said.
There are currently four open positions in the athletic department, including the assistant athletic director, compliance coordinator and a newly-created external relations position to help with philanthropic and marketing efforts.
“I feel confident knowing that at least the situation will be much more stable and solid than when I first took the job,” Claussen said. “There’s a lot to look forward to in the program, and I wish whoever gets the job to have long-term sustained success.”