Incoming Rutgers Athletic Director Addresses Embattled Past
Incoming athletic director Julie Hermann believes her failure to deal professionally with players, on and off the court as a volleyball coach at Tennessee, has taught her much and that’s part of the reason she is "uniquely qualified" to run Rutgers’ scandal-plagued department.
Time will tell.
Speaking to reporters briefly during a campus visit Wednesday, the embattled Hermann -- selected as Rutgers’ first female athletic director on May 15 -- said she is looking forward to June 17, her first day on the job, and is preparing to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten Conference. She admitted she has a lot of work to do, especially in the area of alumni and boosters. After all, funding for the athletic programs, amid the scandals, will not be an easy task.
Despite saying she was an "open book," the 49-year-old Hermann didn’t reveal anything new about the controversies that have hounded her the past two weeks and led some politicians to ask for a resignation.
The sticking point is a recently revealed allegation made by players from her 1996 Volunteers’ women’s volleyball team. They complained Hermann was verbally and emotionally abusive to the team. In a letter the players gave to a Tennessee administrator, they said Hermann called them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled."
That made such a wave at Rutgers, because men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired in April after it came to light that he verbally and physically abused players, starting a chain of regrettable events at the state university of New Jersey.
"That lesson of 17 years ago was honestly why I felt I was uniquely qualified, not only very qualified but uniquely qualified because I have been a student-athlete, been an assistant coach, been a head coach and now an administrator," Hermann said. "I have been in every spot that exists in an athletic department, and I understand the challenges.
"I have been successful with them and I had a failure with them."
Hermann said she used that experience to start a model system to support student-athletes and coaches when she became an administrator at Louisville. When asked specifically whether she verbally abused her players in the 1990s, Hermann said she wasn’t "a name caller."
Hermann also refused to say much about two litigations in which was she named, including one by a Tennessee assistant coach who said Hermann fired her after she became pregnant. The woman won the case and was awarded $150,000. Hermann said she disagreed with the jury verdict.
Hermann made a four-minute opening statement in her news conference outside the Hale Center and fielded about 8-10 questions. She showed little emotion, but admitted she was close to doing so when asked whether all the attention and criticism her appointment has generated made her wonder whether it was all worth it.
"The reason I got into athletics -- the single reason I got into athletics -- is because I had a great experience being a volleyball player at Nebraska. It was game-changing me and if we can provide 500 or so opportunities to youth for kids to do that, I’ll go to the mat. I’ll deal with it. I’ll put up with it," she said. "I’ll deal with a national embarrassment. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure these students have that same opportunity to live out that dream and I can’t wait to get started.
"I’ll see you on June 17."
During her visit, Hermann also met with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, university president Robert Barchi and athletics administrators. The meetings are another clear indication that Barchi is not backing down from Hermann’s appointment despite calls from state politicians, who are upset that she was not vetted properly.
"I look forward to Julie joining the Rutgers team later this month," Barchi said in a statement handed out as the hastily-called yet well-attended news conference ended. "Julie and I had a great discussion today about her priorities and plans to strengthen the student-athlete experience and support the excellent coaches and staff at Rutgers by making sure they have the resources to succeed. "
The press conference was called earlier in the day by school officials. According to an email, it was to last 15 minutes. It ran 13 minutes instead.
Hermann said Rutgers’ predicament was part of her 90-minute meeting with Delany in New York. The Scarlet Knights will join the Big Ten in 2014.
"It’s been tough for everyone on campus," Hermann said. "It’s been a bout of turmoil. All of our dialogue was about moving through that and getting back to the students as fast as we can so that every student-athlete on campus really has a best-in-class type of experience."
It was the first meeting with the media since an impromptu conference call Hermann held during Memorial Day Weekend with reporters.
"Rutgers is truly a special place uniquely positioned to do something great," she said.
The biggest problem for Hermann might be getting the alumni to contribute. Many were upset when Tim Pernetti was forced to resign because of his handling of the Rice situation. And Pernetti, a former tight end at Rutgers and a New Jersey native, was a prime source of fundraising, someone many alumni could relate to.
"When I was awarded the job, I was told that would be a tough challenge and I believe it is going to be tough challenge," she said. "Has it been made harder? No doubt. Am I going to have to work double-time to connect with the people who are passionate about Rutgers? I am."
However, Hermann insisted once people get to know her, they will realize her values are in alignment with Rutgers.
The university’s board of governors has the right to replace Hermann, but the school would probably owe her $2.25 million based on her five-year, $450,000 contract.
Members of the selection committee that chose Hermann also are upset that they had little say in the process until informed of the final two choices, Hermann and Sean Frazier, the deputy athletic director at Wisconsin.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said last week that he won’t micromanage Rutgers, and Barchi added that he stands behind Hermann, who for the past 16 years had been the No. 2 sports administrator at Louisville.
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 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 them in the fall. Rice was fired and Pernetti, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli and interim senior vice president and university counsel John Wolf resigned.
Former Rutgers guard Eddie Jordan was hired to replace Rice in April, but even that did not go as planned when Rutgers said he had his degree from the New Jersey school when he didn’t.
Earlier this week, Delany said the recent string of problems at Rutgers would not prevent the university from joining the league.