NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to speak with Rutgers officials about a report that the athletic director hired to clean up the school’s scandal-scarred program quit as Tennessee’s women’s volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players complained she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak says the governor is aware of the report about Julie Hermann in The Star-Ledger of Newark, 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 Star-Ledger reported that Tennessee players wrote the mentality cruelty they suffered when Hermann was coach was unbearable, adding she called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
Hermann was hired May15 to replace the ousted Tim Pernetti, who was let go after basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for abusive behavior.
The 49-year-old Hermann is scheduled to take over at Rutgers on June 17. She is set to become the first woman to run the Scarlet Knights’ athletic program and one of three female ADs at the 124 schools playing at college football’s top tier.
However, it’s uncertain whether the report will force Rutgers to re-consider the appointment. It also could give impetus to those who want new Rutgers President Robert Barchi to step down after yet another black eye for the state’s largest university.
The university had not issued a comment by 5 p.m. Sunday.
Hermann was not immediately available for comment, but told The Star-Ledger that she did not recall the Tennessee letter. The newspaper said when it was read to her by phone, she replied, “Wow.”
Rutgers board members Candace Straight and Joseph J. Roberts Jr. didn’t return telephone calls by the AP seeking comment.
“The questionable decision-making at this program so heavily funded by taxpayers continues to astound me,” Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver said in an email to the AP.
New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak said in a telephone interview with The AP that Barchi “has proven not to be up to the task” and has written a letter to Christie recommending that Pernetti be given the job back, adding he has been a scapegoat from the start.
A couple of Hermann’s colleagues came to her defense.
Louisville volleyball coach Anne Kordes has known Hermann as a coach and a former Cardinals’ student-athlete for 15 years.
I have only known Julie to conduct herself with the highest level of professionalism and integrity,” Kordes said in an email. “She serves as an incredible role model for female athletes, coaches, and administrators and has always made it clear that she is supportive of her coaches starting and expanding family.”
Susan Bassett, the director of athletics at Carnegie Mellon University, has worked with Hermann on the NACWAA Board of Directors for the past 10 years and said she has been the consummate professional whose philosophy of sport is absolutely aligned with the academic mission of her University, the NCAA, and NACWAA.
” I know through her support of Louisville student-athletes and the mentoring of aspiring female administrators through NACWAA programming, Julie Hermann has the best interests of all human beings at heart,” Bassett said in an email. “Respect and common decency are core values for her, which pervade her work. “
Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich, who was Hermann’s boss for almost the last 16 years, was surprised by the report.
“For me to say this is a shock, it totally is because of the tremendous job she did for me,” Jurich said Sunday in a telephone interview. “When she was with me at Northern Arizona, her players adored and loved her. I never heard anything about this at all from the Tennessee players and a lot of them have come through Louisville a number of times. Everybody is always singing her praises.”
The Star-Ledger report said that wasn’t the case late in her coaching career at Tennessee.
In the letter submitted by all 15 team members in 1996, the volleyball 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.”
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 pushups 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.”
Hermann had promised a restart the Rutgers’ athletic program following the ouster of its men’s basketball coach and the resignation of other officials.
“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 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.
Even when Rutgers has made a move that was well received, there was a glitch.
After hiring former Scarlet Knights star Eddie Jordan to take over the basketball program, the university made the mistake of calling him a graduate when he had never finished work for his degree.
Now the Hermann problem has popped up when many thought the worst was over, and that the athletic department could start focusing on its move to the Big Ten in 2014.