David Eldredge ’81, the winningest head coach in Cornell Athletics history who has led the men’s and women’s polo teams to 15 national championships, has been placed on leave by Cornell, according to an assistant polo coach and two other people familiar with the decision.
Steve Kraus, the volunteer coach of the first-year polo team and a clinical sciences lecturer, said in an email that Eldredge is on leave and that the timing of the leave is bad for the team.
“We fully support David and are not happy with how the Athletic Dept. has handled this situation, especially the timing, at a critical time of our beginning of our season,” Kraus said, adding that he expects to be able to share more next week.
“There are some parts of this issue that [need] to be kept private for another week while David is on leave,” he said.
Kraus said Cornell has tapped Anthony Condo, a laboratory manager at the Center for Materials Research and a support specialist in chemistry and chemical biology, to serve as interim coach. Condo did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning.
Ann Michel ’82, one of Eldredge’s former teammates, and Phil Wilde ’73 told The Sun that Cornell Athletics recently directed the decorated coach to retire before a certain date. Michel and Wilde, who are married and are close to the polo program, said they spoke with Eldredge earlier this week about Cornell’s action.
Wilde said Eldredge told him he’s “being forced to retire” and that Cornell Athletics has him “over a barrel.” Wilde also added that Eldredge described himself as a “thorn in the University’s side.” Eldredge is still listed as the head coach on the University website.
Wilde said Eldredge has not been allowed at the Oxley Equestrian Center since at least the summer showing of horses, which began in June.
Eldredge has not responded to multiple phone calls requesting comment.
It is unclear what led the University to place Eldredge on leave. Jeremy Hartigan, a spokesperson for Cornell Athletics, declined to comment on what he described as a “personnel matter.”
The move has been shrouded in secrecy, and the team atmosphere has grown increasingly tense in recent weeks and months, according to Wilde, Michel and a current member of the team. Other current and former members of the team declined to comment, with some saying they had been explicitly instructed not to do so.
Wilde and Michel said Cornell Athletics placed Eldredge under a “gag order,” requiring that he not share anything about the circumstances of his departure, even with those involved with the polo program.
Wilde and Michel also said Eldredge demurred when they asked him about his future as the head coach of Cornell polo, which won its most recent national title in 2016.
As a student, Eldredge served as captain of the polo team for three years and went on to become an assistant coach immediately after graduation. He was named head coach in 1985 and has served in the role ever since.
Under Eldredge’s leadership, the men’s and women’s polo teams have appeared in a combined 37 national championships. Eldredge has won 988 games as head coach, 365 more than Dick Blood, the second-winningest coach in Cornell history who led the softball team for 20 years.
Eldredge has coached many athletes to national championships, including his ex-wife Karen ’90 and their daughters, Kailey ’14 and Emma ’17. Karen served as an assistant coach for the women’s team for 23 seasons until the couple’s separation over four years ago.
Karen declined to comment in an email to The Sun. “I haven’t been involved with Cornell polo in over four years, since David and I separated, and I discontinued coaching,” she said.
The Oxley Equestrian Center, near East Hill Plaza, houses the more than two dozen horses that Cornell polo uses in its competitions. Over the course of his tenure, Eldredge has secured donations of high-class horses to the program in part because of his pedigree, according to Wilde.
“These are world-renowned polo ponies,” Wilde said.
Wilde and Michel said they are worried that Eldredge’s departure could severely impede the program’s ability to continue to receive donations of the animals used in competition — the only method by which they are acquired.
“I am very concerned about the future of the program,” Wilde said.