The new athletic director of Rutgers University, Julie Hermann, was brought in to restore credibility to a program tarnished by the news that the former basketball coach had engaged in repeated verbal and physical assaults on his players. But The Star-Ledger reported that, while she was a volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville 16 years ago, Hermann was accused of verbally abusing her players to the point that the entire team signed a letter of protest. "The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the letter said. It accused her of calling them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled." A number of team members discussed the way they said Hermann had upset them -- distress that returned when they read stories about her being named athletic director at Rutgers. (She left Tennessee shortly after the allegations, and became assistant to the athletic director at the University of Louisville.)
In an interview with the newspaper, Hermann said she didn't remember the letter, or such accusations being made. "I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever," she said. The word "whore," Hermann added, is "not part of my vernacular. Not then, not now, not ever."
New Jersey politicians are now questioning the ability of Rutgers to put its athletics house in order. The university was criticized a few weeks ago when it had to admit that its new basketball coach lacks the Rutgers degree that the university said he had earned. And that was before the latest uproar. The Assembly speaker, Sheila Oliver, said she had lost "any semblance of confidence" that Rutgers could fix its problems, The Star-Ledger reported. "The questionable decision-making at this program so heavily funded by taxpayers continues to astound me," she said. A former governor, Democrat Richard Codey, called for the removal of the Rutgers president, Robert Barchi. "This is becoming Comedy Central. It's an embarrassment to the students and alumni of a great university and it's time Mr. Barchi takes his show on the road." The current governor, Republican Chris Christie, said Sunday that he plans to ask Rutgers officials about the controversy.
On Sunday, Hermann issued a statement reiterating her commitment to the Rutgers job and denying that she abused players verbally. "I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach. For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior," she said.
And President Barchi issued a statement of support for Hermann. "Since the announcement of her selection, some media reports have focused on complaints about aspects of her early career," he said. "Looking at Julie’s entire record of accomplishment, which is stellar, we remain confident that we have selected an individual who will work in the best interests of all of our student athletes, our athletics teams and the university."