This one is a little awkward. While attempting to heal from the departure of abusive men's basketball coach Mike Rice, Rutgers hired a woman as their new athletic director who used to engage in some of the same abusive activities during her coaching career that got Rice fired.
Eleven days ago, Rutgers announced Julie Hermann would be the new athletic director at the school. The ceremony was a cheerful one. Hermann, a 15-year administrative veteran at the University of Louisville, would lead the school through the healing process and into a new, cash filled Big Ten era after one of the darkest scandals in recent memory. Former men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after a video surfaced showing him physically and verbally abusing his players. The ensuing scandal also cost athletic director Tim Pernetti his job, too. Hermann would be one of small handfull of women running division 1 athletics programs in the NCAA. Everything was lining up to a be a triumph.
Saturday night, the New Jersey Star-Ledger's Craig Rolff reported Hermann had a history as an abusive coach herself. While coaching the University of Tennessee's women's volleyball team in 1996, the entire team wrote a letter to their coach accusing her of physical and verbal abuse. "We feel that to continue this program under the leadership of Julie Hermann is crippling mentally, physically, and most importantly to our success as a division 1 volleyball team. The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the letter reads. They accused Hermann of calling them whores and alcoholics and leading through fear. They accuse her of trampling any love they had left for volleyball. "It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue," they say. The letter was written on behalf of the entire volleyball team. Hermann did a brief six-month stint as administrator before leaving the university altogether after that.
Wolff also obtained a wedding video from 1994. In it, Hermann advises the bride, Ginger Highline, one of Hermann's assistant coaches at Tennessee, that having a baby isn't the best idea because it would interfere with work. Highline won $150,000 in a 1997 lawsuit against the school because she felt she was wrongly terminated. Highline had a baby shortly after the wedding and was subsequently fired by Hermann. At the press conference announcing her new position at Rutgers, Hermann claimed there was no video of her at Highline's wedding. She couldn't remember being there, and said she thought they eloped. This is the video of Hermann at Highline's wedding:
She was a bridesmaid. She caught the bouquet. "I hope it's good tonight," Hermann tells the bride and groom. "Because I know you've been waiting for a while, but I hope it's not too good, because I don't want you to come back February with any surprises, you know, the office and all, and it would be hard to have a baby in there."
So this is all leading to some very serious questions about the search committee at Rutgers, and how they could have possibly missed this. "How did Rutgers let this happen? Who, exactly, does the vetting for this university?" asks the Star-Ledger's Steve Politi in a furious condemnation of Rutgers' hiring Hermann. Rutgers' vice president of academic affairs and the co-chair of the athletic director search committee Richard Edwards told Wolff the school's legal team researched the lawsuit, and "were satisfied that it was not an issue." The other co-chair of the search committee, Kate Sweeney, told Wolff she had no knowledge of the lawsuit and that it never came up during the formal interview process. Politi reports in his column that Hermann's name was not on the initial list of candidates brought forward by a headhunting firm early in the search process. Hermann's name was brought to the University later by Sweeney.
This is the second major blunder in Rutgers' redemption process. In retrospect, the first one seems trivial by comparison, but still. Deadspin were the first to notice newly hired Rutgers basketball coach Eddie Jordan lied about being a Rutgers graduate. He had some credits from when he was a Rutgers student, but he never completed his graduate requirements. That something as trivial as "did he actually graduate from Rutgers?" should have been a signal that something larger, like a history of abusive coaching, could fall through the cracks. Hindsight is always 20/20, though. Especially in the messy world of scandal recovery.