Mark Plakorus North Dakota

Montana soccer coach Mark Plakorus during the Grizzlies' game against North Dakota on Oct. 22, 2017.

Montana Athletic Department

Former University of Montana women’s soccer coach Mark Plakorus said he was “devastated, disgusted, upset” after the University of Montana said that he'd been fired for using a university-issued cellphone to text escort services during recruiting trips.

“I’m a bit devastated that the athletic director would trash me and involve confidential information and false information throughout that whole story, and violate my rights to confidentiality,” Plakorus said in a phone interview late Thursday night, referring to a Missoulian story about his dismissal. “It's wrong. I was not fired, I did not resign. I was told I was having my contract not renewed.”

Plakorus has a yearly contract. He denied using an escort service and said that he texted women in response to "personal ads."

Two members of the soccer team told the Missoulian that at the end of the fall season, more than a dozen players went to Athletic Director Kent Haslam and Senior Associate Athletic Director Jean Gee with complaints that Plakorus’ behavior made them uncomfortable. The two players requested anonymity.

A former player, who also requested anonymity, contested those allegations, attributing them to players who didn't get as much playing time as they wanted and accusing them of having "a vendetta" against Plakorus.

Plakorus said he was never aware of any actions that made players uncomfortable until the Athletic Department, with help from the Title IX Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, conducted a "climate survey."

But those complaints were not the reason Plakorus was fired, Haslam said. Rather, Plakorus was dismissed after the discovery that Plakorus had used a university-issued cellphone to text escort services while in Las Vegas in June and November 2017, January and March 2016, and February 2015 on recruiting trips. That’s as far back as the Athletic Department looked, Haslam said.

Friday afternoon, the university released a statement from President Seth Bodnar about the process.

“The University’s first priority in our athletic programs is the success and support of our student athletes. In this case, when concerns were raised, the university initiated a careful process with qualified professionals to examine the situation thoroughly," Bodnar said.

"In early November, when athletic department leadership became aware of the concerns, the process began. The news of this week, the fact that we are seeking a new leadership direction in the soccer program, is the result of that process," Bodnar said.

In an email Saturday, Bodnar said that while the decision to part ways with Plakorus "was the correct one,'' the communication to the public "could have and should have been handled better.''

He said he and Haslam did not discuss the press release terming Plakorus's departure as a "resignation'' before it went out.

"Transparency at the University of Montana is extremely important to me,'' Bodnar said Saturday. "Equally important is that we maintain a culture in which our students and employees feel safe and comfortable reporting possible concerns.

"With situations like this, we must strike a delicate balance. We must act in accordance with Montana state law to protect the individual rights of our students and employees, while being as clear and transparent as possible and rigorously protecting an environment in which our students and employees feel safe and comfortable to report any concerns they may have,'' Bodnar said in the email.

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In his phone conversation with the Missoulian, Plakorus repeatedly denied using an escort service.

“I did, you know, when I’m on recruiting trips by myself, sometimes I’ll want to go out to dinner and I’ll want some companionship and so I’ll respond to a personal ad,” Plakorus said. “And I did contact people through a personal ad, but I did not ever use an escort service as it was termed, or anything of that manner whatsoever.”

Plakorus said he used Craigslist or Bumble, a social and dating application that, in heterosexual matches, permits only women to start a chat with their male matches.

“It’s a place that I do let loose a little bit, because I don't ever really do a lot here in Missoula,” Plakorus said of Las Vegas. “I keep to myself and try to keep a low profile here. So I’m just like any normal red-blooded American guy, you know. I like to have a little fun every once in a while. And I don't see anything wrong when I’m on a university trip, that when I’m done with my work for the day, that I go and have a little time for myself.”

Plakorus said he went home with some of the women, and that it’s his choice how he spends his personal time on recruiting trips. His mistake, he said, was using the university-issued cell phone to respond to personal ads.

“I fully admit that I used my university phone, sometimes for personal use,” Plakorus said. “Should I have? No, I shouldn't have and I'll admit that. But to me, that's the only crime that I committed, or not even a crime. I violated a university policy of usage of your cellphone.”

Plakorus said the allegations players made against him are false. He said he had never heard about any complaints until Dec. 5, when Haslam and Gee told him they were conducting a climate survey to evaluate the players’ claims.

For the survey, members of the school's Title IX office questioned team members to examine perceptions and experiences regarding sexual harassment and assault.

Plakorus said the university looked into complaints concerning his communication with players in terms of playing time, concerning his “emotional inconsistency,” and his interactions with his staff, specifically that he didn’t listen to them and take their input. “Really a lot of things that a lot of players will kind of say about a lot of coaches when they complain about things when it comes to playing time,” he said.

“And then they brought up this uncomfortable thing,” he said. “They told me that the allegations were: I touched players’ hair, that I texted players excessively into late hours in the night, that I put my arm around a player. They said that I’ve met with players one-on-one without other staff members there.”

Plakorus said he was not asked to respond to these claims in any way.

The former player, who suited up for Montana for four seasons while Plakorus was coach, said that "not once did I ever experience or hear about anything from other girls on the team about anything that made them feel uncomfortable in any situation, or like a hint of anything sexual at all. … It's truly heartbreaking. I don't think the girls that went in understand what they're doing to him. They're literally ruining his career, ruining his life."​

She called Plakorus an "amazing" coach, adding that "the big thing is, he cared about us not only as soccer players but as human beings. He wanted to see us grow into adults after we were done with soccer. That's why I keep in contact with him still. He cares about me as a person. I think a lot of girls that I talk to feel the same exact way."

And, she said, "any way you look at it, there's betrayal. It's really upsetting."​

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