SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former Australia women's coach Alen Stajcic says his shock sacking last month had ruined his reputation and called for an independent inquiry into his termination by Football Federation Australia.
Stajcic, who struggled to hold back tears in a media conference on Monday, said he had considered legal action against the FFA and rejected the governing body's assertion he allowed "a poor culture" to develop around the Matildas team.
"I'm here today to clear my name and restore my reputation ... after having spent 20 years coaching the game," the 45-year-old said after reading from a lengthy statement, pausing to take regular sips of water to compose himself.
"In 20 years of coaching, I've never had an issue around the culture of any single team that I've coached, let alone the Matildas."
The decision to terminate Stajcic's contract came after the FFA conducted an internal survey of players and staff, followed by a supplementary review by women's rights group Our Watch.
Stajcic said he had only one meeting with FFA CEO David Gallop for "about 20 minutes" on Jan. 18 before being sacked the next day. He added that his requests to see the survey results or get more information had been ignored.
"I was terminated without cause, one. Two, there were no actions or behaviours that could be attributed to me. That was the FFA's response," he said.
"And if I could add a little bit to that, I saw a tweet from (FFA) board director Joseph Carrozzi saying there is no smoking gun, so that's all I can say."
The FFA, in a statement issued later on Monday, said the former coach had admitted to Gallop during their meeting that the team environment was "dysfunctional" and was "always going to be this way."
"Our decision to act was driven out of care and concern for our players and people," said FFA Chairman Chris Nikou.
"It was and remains our sole motivation. Any suggestions to the contrary are incorrect."
'FIGHT TOOTH AND NAIL'
Stajcic, who took charge in 2014, guided the team to the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup and the same stage at the Rio Olympics the following year.
His sacking just five months before this year's World Cup sparked a media storm and a number of Matildas players, including striker Sam Kerr, expressed their shock at the decision.
FFA CEO Gallop called a media conference days after Stajcic was fired but declined to expand on the reasons behind the dismissal, citing confidentiality agreements.
Stajcic said the resulting speculation due to the lack of transparency had ruined his reputation and taken a toll on his family.
"As a father and as a person who is highly engaged in my community, that has certainly been the toughest part to take," he added.
The national coaches association has thrown its support behind Stajcic and has pressured FFA to review the decision.
"We will fight tooth and nail to get exactly what Alen just spoke about - due process, procedural process, fairness," Football Coaches Australia President Phil Moss, sitting next to Stajcic at the media conference, said.
Australia will be one of the favourites at the June 7 to July 7 World Cup in France where they will face Italy, Jamaica and Brazil in the group stage. The FFA is looking to appoint an interim coach through the tournament.
Stajcic stopped short of saying he wanted his job back.
"For now, I look forward to the search for truth, honour and integrity in this awful saga," he said. "I concur with others who are demanding a full and independent investigation."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)