NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Rutgers University is standing by its new athletic director in the wake of a newspaper report that she had been accused of abusing her volleyball team 16 years ago at another school, the New Jersey school’s president said on Monday.
The athletic director, Julie Hermann, had been hired earlier this month after her predecessor resigned under pressure for not firing Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice for abusive behavior toward his players.
The Newark Star-Ledger said in a report on Saturday that Hermann resigned in 1997 as women’s volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee after all 15 players on the team signed a letter accusing her of mental cruelty.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vowed over the weekend to investigate the report.
But on Monday, Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a statement the school is standing by its decision to hire Hermann, who had been associate athletic director at the University of Louisville before coming to Rutgers, the state’s largest public university.
Barchi said Hermann had passed an extensive vetting process by an executive search firm and a background check by a leading U.S. private security firm.
“Since the announcement of her selection, some media reports have focused on complaints about aspects of her early career,” Barchi said in the statement.
“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.”
Hermann’s predecessor, Tim Pernetti, resigned in early April after ESPN aired video showing Rice berating players with homophobic slurs and throwing basketballs at them during practice. Pernetti had originally decided to discipline Rice rather than fire him, but after the video became public, the coach was dismissed.
Christie’s spokesman said on Sunday that the governor was not involved in Hermann’s hiring.
The Star-Ledger reported that the letter signed by Hermann’s players said she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse and called her volleyball players “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
Hermann said in a statement on Monday that she was never notified of the letter and called the allegations heartbreaking.
“I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach,” Hermann said. “For sure I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior.”
She added that Rutgers was aware of a lawsuit filed by a former assistant coach at Tennessee who accused Hermann of firing her because she was pregnant. A jury in 1997 awarded the former assistant $150,000.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Philip Barbara