NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — The woman hired to clean up the scandal-scarred athletic program at Rutgers University quit as a volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players submitted a letter complaining she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse, The Star-Ledger newspaper reported Saturday night on its website.
Julie Hermann, hired May 15 as athletic director of the New Jersey university, has promised a restart for the program following the ouster of its men's basketball coach and the resignation of other officials. The basketball coach was fired last month after practice videos surfaced of him hitting, kicking and taunting his players with anti-gay slurs.
The letter about Hermann was submitted by all 15 team members of Tennessee's women's volleyball team, according to The Star-Ledger.
"The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the players wrote about Hermann.
The 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."
It's the latest controversy to hit Rutgers, which was recently was in the spotlight after an unrelated incident in 2010 when a gay student killed himself after his roommate used a webcam to record him kissing another man.
The 49-year-old Hermann, who is set to take over the Rutgers' program June 17, told The Star-Ledger she didn't remember the letter. The newspaper said when it was read to her by phone Wednesday, she replied, "Wow."
Hermann, the first woman to head Rutgers' athletic program, is set to replace Tim Pernetti, who quit last month after the firing of basketball coach Mike Rice. She is one of three female athletic directors at the 124 schools that make up the top tier of U.S. college football.
Rutgers will join the most lucrative conference in the country, the Big Ten Conference in 2014, which means millions in additional revenue from TV contracts and more national exposure.
"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 Rutgers President Robert 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.
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 push-ups 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."