New Controversy For Rutgers Athletics
The woman hired to clean up Rutgers’ scandal-scarred athletic program quit as Tennessee’s women’s volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players submitted a letter complaining she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse, the Star-Ledger reported on its website.
“The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable,” the players wrote about Julie Hermann, hired May 15 as Rutgers’ athletic director after serving as the No. 2 athletic administrator at Louisville.
In the letter submitted by all 15 team members, the players said Hermann called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled” and they wrote: “It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue.” The players told The Star-Ledger that Hermann absorbed the words and said: “I choose not to coach you guys.”
Governor Chris Christie plans to speak with Rutgers officials about the story. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak says the governor is aware of the report but wants to get more details before commenting. “He’s not going to make any judgments at this time,” Drewniak said in an email to The Associated Press on Sunday.
The 49-year-old Hermann, set to take over the Rutgers’ program June 17, told the Star-Ledger she didn’t remember the letter. The newspaper said when it was read to her by phone Wednesday, she replied, “Wow.”
Most of the former players told the paper they did not want the allegations of the past to harm her future. One player, however, pointed out that “We have yet to be acknowledged or apologized to by Julie.”
Among the allegations about her by players: she yanked players by their jerseys when making changes, forcing them to wear their workout clothes inside-out to a restarant meal after a lopsided loss and asking a player if she was going to lose the game for the team and then lightly hitting her in the stomach with the back of her hand.
Herman the told the paper after hearing the allegations that “These are people I cared about and still care about. I just don’t feel it’s my job to guess their motivations. Like I said, it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. I’m going to try to focus on leading Rutgers into the Big Ten, and that’s all I know to do.”
Hermann, the first woman to head Rutgers’ athletic program and one of three female ADs at the 124 schools that make up college football’s top tier, has promised a restart for the program following the ouster of its men’s basketball coach and the resignation of other officials.
She is set to replace Tim Pernetti, who quit last month after the firing of basketball coach Mike Rice. Practice videos surfaced of Rice shoving and throwing basketballs at players and yelling gay slurs at them.
Hermann Not On Headhunter’s List?
Star Ledger columnist Steve Politi also reports that the recruiting company hired by Rutgers, Parker Executive Search, submitted 47 candidates for the Athletic Director position and Hermann was not on the list. Search committee Kate Sweeney added Hermann’s name to the list after Parker submitted their list.
“No one on the coaching staff doesn’t believe that we need to be an open book, that we will no longer have any practice, anywhere at any time, that anybody couldn’t walk into and be pleased about what’s going on in that environment. It is a new day. It is already fixed,” Hermann said at her introductory news conference.
At that news conference, Hermann was questioned about a 1997 jury verdict that awarded $150,000 to a former Tennessee assistant coach who said Hermann fired her because she became pregnant.
Rutgers’ problems started in December when Rice was suspended three games and fined $75,000 by the school after a video of his conduct at practices was given to Pernetti by Eric Murdock, a former assistant coach. The video showed numerous clips of Rice firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. It also showed him grabbing players by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice can also be heard yelling obscenities and using anti-gay slurs.
The controversy went public in April when ESPN aired the videos and Rutgers President Robert Barchi admitted he didn’t view the video in the fall. Rice was fired and Pernetti, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli and interim senior vice president and university counsel John Wolf resigned.
After a series of interviews with many of the former Tennessee players about Hermann, The Star-Ledger said:
“Their accounts depict a coach who thought nothing of demeaning them, who would ridicule and laugh at them over their weight and their performances, sometimes forcing players to do 100 sideline push-ups during games, who punished them after losses by making them wear their workout clothes inside out in public or not allowing them to shower or eat, and who pitted them against one another, cutting down particular players with the whole team watching, and through gossip.
“Several women said playing for Hermann had driven them into depression and counseling, and that her conduct had sullied the experience of playing Division I volleyball.”
The Star-Ledger asked Hermann about the players’ lingering grievances.
“I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever,” she told the newspaper. “None of this is familiar to me.”
Rutgers will join the Big Ten in 2014.
The Associated Press contributed to this story