Last month I wrote a piece about Rutgers University and the scandal that rose from the firing of head basketball coach Mike Rice after damning video surfaced of Rice abusing his players both verbally and physically in practice. After coach Rice was fired, the university was “forced” to also terminate Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, saying he should have fired Rice upon seeing the video even after he gave the recommendation to have Rice terminated, which was ignored. If you recall, Barchi went through a horrific press conference where he came off aloof and basically passed blame from himself to anyone out there. It also should be mentioned that the Rutgers athletic department is in the middle of a huge transition to the Big 10 Conference this next school year. After Pernetti was released, Rutgers went on a full scale search to secure not only a a new men’s basketball coach, but an Athletic Director who could guide them through and out of this scandal into the Big 10, as well as hopefully restore the name and reputation of Rutgers University.
On April 19, the Scarlet Knights hired Eddie Jordan. Jordan is 58 years old, played college basketball at Rutgers and played as well as coached in the NBA. The media and Rutgers family seemed to be generally excited about the decision to bring back one of their own to take over the basketball program. In early 2004, Jordan was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. All looked up to him to restore prestige to the basketball program. There was just one problem…Jordan never actually graduated from Rutgers.
Even though Rutgers claimed that Jordan was part of the class of 1977, it was reported by Deadspin on May 10 that Jordan never achieved the necessary amount of credits to actually graduate. Once again, some scrambling took place, and within 24 hours both Rutgers and Jordan had to make statements that he never did graduate and they would be correcting the errors in any documents. Again, this isn’t the end of the world, but when you are already under such scrutiny as a university, it probably makes sense to be 100% sure that everything is buttoned up before a hire. There wasn’t nearly the public outcry for Jordan’s job; it was more as if people were just shaking their heads and wondering what could possibly happen next.
Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long! On May 15, Rutgers hired their new Athletic Director, Julie Hermann. Hermann came from the University of Louisville, where she served as the Assistant Athletic Director under Tom Jurich for the last 17 years. She became one of only a small handful of women to become an Athletic Director for Division I athletic programs, and again, the hire seemed as if it would help turn over a new leaf for the program.
Hermann made it abundantly clear at her introductory press conference that there would be no more surprise videos surfacing from practices while she was in charge:
“We will no longer have any practice anywhere, anytime that anybody couldn’t walk into and be pleased about what is going on in that environment.”
The high praises of Hermann lasted a solid 10 days before the skeletons started falling out of the closet. Hermann’s quote regarding walking into a practice “pleased about what is going on in that environment” must not have applied when she was coaching volleyball at the University of Tennessee. On Saturday, a story broke that all 15 members of the Lady Vols volleyball team wrote a letter to administration asking to remove her as coach, accusing her of both physical abuse as well as calling them:
“whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly seem like the type of environment people would be “pleased” to see. The letter went on to state that Hermann purposely pitted the girls against each other, made fun of their weight, made them do 100 push-ups on the sidelines during games, and forced them to wear their warm up gear inside out after losses. None of this sounds like healthy behavior.
It gets even worse from there. While Hermann was the volleyball coach at Tennessee, she brought in a woman named Ginger Hineline to be one of her assistant coaches. After three years on the job, Hineline became engaged and began to openly talk about having a family. At the wedding in 1994, Hermann went so far to look into the camera of the videographer and basically say that she better not have too much fun as they can’t have a baby around the volleyball office.
Hineline was so nervous about losing her job that she and her husband put off starting a family, but they were greeted with a surprise in 1995 when Ginger found out she was pregnant. Shortly after informing Hermann, she was terminated and the reason given was that her performance wasn’t up to par. Hineline filed a suit for wrongful termination and settled for $150,000. When the suit was brought to Hermann’s attention at the press conference, she denied even being at Hineline’s wedding, saying the couple eloped and that the termination had absolutely nothing to do with her pregnancy. How she could deny being at the wedding when she was a bridesmaid is pretty difficult to comprehend.
Believe it or not, it even got worse from there. A NYT report came out yesterday that while Hermann was at Louisville she fired a female assistant track coach, Mary Banker, after Banker went to Hermann in confidence to report sexist behavior and discriminating behavior by the head track coach. Banker also reported the incidents to the Louisville Human Resources Department, but less than three weeks after she came to Hermann, she was fired. Banker sued Louisville for wrongful termination and won the case, but it was later overturned in an appeals court.
This Rutgers saga continues to play on and has forced Governor (and potential presidential candidate) Chris Christie to also be involved in the situation:
“I don’t know Julie Hermann. I haven’t met Julie Hermann, I haven’t spoken to Julie Hermann, I wasn’t involved in vetting Julie Hermann. As I shouldn’t be. I’m the governor of New Jersey. I’m not a recruiter for Rutgers University. My point is let Rutgers handle this.”
It is honestly difficult to fathom how all of these issues could not have been vetted before hiring Eddie Jordan and Julie Hermann. The school is already under an incredible amount of scrutiny, and to make those mistakes is a gross lapse in judgment. Just this week, something else has come to light which may have led to their decision to quickly hire Hermann without the standard background check process…a vacation to China!
The process was fast tracked because someone on the hiring team had already planned a vacation to China. From the piece:
But two additional sources described the process as all but predetermined, as well as fast-moving. Hermann was already the favorite of search committee co-chair Kate Sweeney, multiple sources confirmed, and the entire search was under pressure to wrap up quickly because committee co-chair Richard Edwards had booked a June 1 trip to China.
So rather than take its time and be extra diligent with its vetting procedures, Rutgers, in need of a new athletic director because of its mistake-filled past, targeted an early candidate and rushed her to the top.
This entire debacle has gotten to the point of being laughable. A person with an extremely checkered past is brought on, with next to no vetting process, to lead the athletic department in its biggest time of need ever because someone didn’t want to mess up their vacation plans. Both Athletic Director Julie Hermann and President Robert Barchie are still employed as of May 29. It is truly difficult to believe. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a tangible reputation management lesson from this debacle other than to handle your university athletic department exactly the opposite as Rutgers has handled theirs.