Julie Hermann said she won’t quit as Rutgers University athletic director after what she called “heartbreaking” allegations that she humiliated and emotionally abused players when she was women’s volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee in the 1990s.
Hermann said she was never notified of a letter 15 former Tennessee players submitted to school officials in 1997 describing her “mental cruelty” before she was replaced as coach. The letter was detailed in the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, this weekend.
“I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach,” Hermann said in a statement yesterday. “For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior.”
Hermann was hired by Rutgers on May 15 to replace Tim Pernetti, who stepped down last month amid questions about his handling of evidence that former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally abused players. Hermann, 49, spent the past 16 seasons in athletic administration at the University of Louisville before agreeing to join Rutgers as the first female athletic director in school history. She is due to start in the role June 17.
“If it is clear that the newly hired AD misrepresented herself to Rutgers, yes, she should go,” Catherine Lugg, a professor in Rutgers’s graduate school of education, said in an e-mail.
If the Star-Ledger report is correct, the athletic director search process has been “a massive failure” for a school that needs “leaders who are as terrific as our students and alumni,” Lugg said.
“As a member of the Rutgers family, I am just mortified,” Lugg said. “Rutgers is a world-class university, but it looks like we’re being led by inattentive amateurs, who would rather command then lead.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is aware of the Star-Ledger report and will meet with officials at Rutgers this week to get details, spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail.
“He was not involved at all in the selection of the new athletic director and has never met her,” Drewniak said. “He’s not going to make any judgments at this time.”
Hermann said on a conference call yesterday that she hasn’t considered stepping down from the Rutgers post. She said in her statement that she intends to take her passion and experience as an advocate for student athletes “into my leadership role as athletic director of Rutgers University.”
When Hermann was hired, she faced questions about a $150,000 jury verdict awarded to a former Tennessee assistant who claimed Hermann fired her because she became pregnant. The allegations of emotional abuse from former players weren’t known at the time, the Star-Ledger reported.
Hermann coached at Tennessee from 1992-97 before being moved into a different role in the athletic department. She joined the U.S. national women’s volleyball team as an assistant six months later before being hired at Louisville.
Pernetti stepped down on April 5 after the incident involving Rice, who was fired by the school three days after the national telecast of a video showed him punishing players by throwing balls at their heads in practice and attacking them with vulgarities and gay slurs.
Pernetti, with the support of Rutgers President Robert Barchi, initially suspended Rice in December after the school’s former director of player development made him aware of the coach’s behavior. Christie was among those critical of Pernetti, asking why Rice hadn’t been fired in December.
Barchi is a neurologist and former provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Since becoming the school’s 20th president, he has set about implementing Christie’s directive to reorganize the state’s higher education system, including the merger of Rutgers and the state medical school.
State funding for Rutgers, New Jersey’s flagship public university, fell 10 percent to $262 million in the three fiscal years through June 2012. The school’s subsidy to sports programs was $28.5 million in fiscal 2011, the largest among 54 U.S. public universities in the six biggest football conferences, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Tom Jurich, athletic director at Louisville, told ESPN that Hermann was a model administrator during her time at the school, where she was senior executive associate athletic director.
“In 15 1/2 years, I never had one problem,” Jurich said. “She did impeccable work for us. No one has said anything the past 15 years. She is beloved here.”
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