CRAWFORD | A second look at Hermann's Louisville tenure
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For several days now, I have been encouraged, begged and otherwise exhorted to "take a new look" at Julie Hermann's time as senior associate athletic director at the University of Louisville, and to "get to the bottom of how she was hired."
The latter of those questions is a quick exercise. She had worked for Tom Jurich at Northern Arizona. He believed in her and her potential. He hired her. He has gone on record as saying he didn't know about the allegations of abuse by her former players at Tennessee, but that he assumed that her tenure as coach there didn't end well. Most of the time when coaches quit, it has not. At the same time he took her continued employment by Tennessee after her coaching time as a good sign. Like the administration at Rutgers, he considered a lawsuit judgment against Tennessee in which she was involved and decided it did not preclude her from working for him. Hermann also came with positive recommendations from her superiors at Tennessee.
Moreover, Hermann wasn't coaching Tennessee when Jurich hired her. She had just worked -- as a coach -- for a little outfit called the U.S. women's national volleyball team. I'm sure the same people calling for a second look at Jurich's hiring of Hermann will call for a second look at that team's hiring of her -- in a coaching capacity, no less. I just haven't heard it yet.
Over the past couple of days, I've spoken to numerous people within U of L athletics, at various levels. I can report to you today that none of them claim that she ever called them a "whore." None say she called them "alcoholics" or "learning disabled." She has not, according to these sources, made anyone turn their clothes inside out. You might think that's making light of allegations against her at Tennessee. No, it isn't. It's simply reporting what some seem to be assuming about her tenure in Louisville. For those who feared that she was abusing student-athletes, they were unanimously refuted by the female athletes and former female athletes I consulted. That's not to say none ever felt like they were on the wrong end of extreme coaching heat. In fact, as we found out with Billy Gillispie at Kentucky, sometimes it takes time (and the coach or administrator in question) to be out of town before the historical record can be finally set.
At the same time, some (not all, mind you, but a few) coaches soon to be no longer under her employ report that she could be tough. She could be sharp in her critiques. She is reported to be a micromanager. Outbursts could happen. If a coach was losing, she could make life difficult and sometimes did.
Whether that's good or bad, others can judge. I don't see BCS level schools just crawling all over each other to hire women as athletic directors. In my experience, you don't get very far in those positions by being everybody's best friend. She left U of L with well wishes from most people -- including volleyball coach Anne Kordes, who called her "a mentor" -- but also perhaps with a few sighs of relief thrown in.
For those who have asked for a closer look at her time here, I offer some facts:
-- A women's basketball program that was only a few years removed from playing in a high school gym when she arrived was ranked third in the nation in attendance and coming off its second NCAA championship game appearance in four years when she left.
-- A women's program that was in danger of slipping below Federal gender equity guidelines when she arrived was held up as a model by national consultants when she left.
-- Olympic sports, which rarely distinguished themselves nationally before she arrived to take over some oversight, achieved national rankings in every single sport during her tenure. Plus there were national title-winners in track and field and swimming and national finalists in tennis, men's soccer and a College World Series trip for baseball.
-- During her time at U of L, she was chairperson of the NCAA Division I volleyball committee. No one involved with her service in that capacity has reported being called a "whore" or "alcoholic." Nor was that the case in her time spent on the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame selection committee.
-- During her time at U of L, she served as president of the National Association of Collegiate Women's Administrators; that is, a body that bills itself as, "the premier leadership organization that empowers, develops, assists, celebrates, affirms, involves and honors women working in all fields of intercollegiate athletics." In addition to her stint as national president, she served on that organization's board of directors for a decade. She is not alleged to have, during that time, called any of her colleagues in the organization "whores," nor to have acted in any way abusive to her administrative colleagues or subordinates.
To the contrary, the current president of that organization, Robin Harris, says, "Her record at Louisville, and in my dealings with her, has been impeccable. She conducts herself with a great deal of integrity and poise and dignity as well as a good sense of humor. Rutgers is fortunate to have her."
(I trust that, if the current flap brewing around Hermann at Rutgers has to "splash back" onto U of L and Tom Jurich, as one national columnist Tweeted to me yesterday, then it will also splash back onto these organizations as well, particularly onto USA Volleyball, which picked up Hermann directly off her coaching stint at Tennessee.) Continuing . . .
-- For Hermann's efforts, the University of Louisville awarded her its Mary Kay Bonsteel Tachau Gender Equity Award. I knew the professor for whom it is named, and among the short list of those who have received the award are some of the most important women ever associated with the university.
-- Within the city, in 2008 she was named a Woman of Distinction by the Louisville Center For Women and Families, an award presented to those who "improve opportunity, education and quality of life for women" in the community. That Center, on which Hermann served on the board of directors, serves all victims of partner abuse, including the providing of residential and non-residential services and emergency shelters. In other words, she spent time working to raise money, support and other awareness for women who were victims of abuse.
The New York Times chimed in that she was at the "center" of a sex discrimination lawsuit against the university. It later amended its online headline to say that "Rutgers Athletic Director Faces New Questions."
Those "new" questions, of course, are from a 2008 lawsuit. The Times did a thorough job of reporting all of the allegations against U of L and Hermann. It did not report that the court had dismissed the sex discrimination component of the suit, which the Times referred to in its headline. The awarding of a $371,000 settlement to Mary Banker, a former track and field assistant coach, was based on a jury's finding that U of L had retaliated against her for making those sex discrimination complaints to human resources. That finding was rejected and overturned by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
From the appeals court ruling: "Based upon the undisputed proof, even in a light most favorable to Banker and giving her every fair and reasonable inference that can be drawn from the evidence presented, ULAA proved that Ms. Hermann and Coach Mann had contemplated, if not decided, not to renew Banker's contract prior to Banker's complaint to HR. Therefore . . . Banker cannot prove the causal connection element between her protected activity and the decision to terminate her in order to establish her prima facie case of retaliation. Accordingly, the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it denied ULAA's motion for a JNOV (judgment notwithstanding the verdict) because the cause of action should never have been permitted to go to the jury for a decision."
Banker has appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, and The Times refers to portions of her attorney's brief of the Supreme Court in its story.
Nobody likes what Hermann is alleged to have done 16 years ago. Nobody likes the way she responded to these questions when first raised by the media in New Jersey.
There's an implication that everyone in Louisville was ignoring something in Hermann's past. But in some ways, her performance in the present over a number of years reduced the relevance of those allegations, particularly given her role at Louisville. Her role at Rutgers, and that university's situation, are different. Still, while Louisville media is catching flak for ignoring a part of her past at Tennessee, most media everywhere else seem to get a pass ignoring the vast majority of her Louisville past. Perhaps there's validity to both criticisms. But the situation is best viewed with perspective.
As for what happens to her at Rutgers, there's no telling. She is walking into a mess. When she got the job, I offered condolences. Not only is it a department smarting from the scandal of a fired abusive basketball coach who wasn't fired quickly enough, and from the forced departure of its athletic director, and from the hiring of a basketball coach without a degree, now Hermann walks into a situation where many backers of her just-departed predecessor feel like she was given lenience that he wasn't given, as if something you did 16 years ago somewhere else is to be treated the same as something a guy did 15 minutes ago on their own campus.
Yesterday I heard an ESPN anchor say victims of the alleged abuse in Tennessee "remembered it like it was yesterday." I guess that, coupled with the "this-just-in" nature of the revelations, has caused a lot of media to report this as if it happened yesterday.
Regardless, not many people in Louisville, or anywhere else outside New York or New Jersey, care much in general what Rutgers does with its athletic director spot. We'll be told we're supposed to care and that it's a huge story because it's happening in one of the most powerful media corridors in the nation. But let the same hire be made at Arizona State and Hermann's biggest issue right now would be finding a house.
Rutgers is a fantastic school. It's a serious academic institution. And it is becoming a textbook example of how a school's overall image can be dragged down by athletic fumbling. So many times, we're told that big-time athletics can lift a school's profile. It's what many schools use to justify pouring millions of dollars into sports that could be used elsewhere. And few schools in the nation have spilled more general funds into athletics than Rutgers. And for all those millions, the school now has the misfortune of having everybody pile on to its athletic misadventures.
I don't know if Hermann is the person to change that at Rutgers. Did Rutgers, given its recent history, botch this? Absolutely. But don't forget, a lot of people complaining about her now probably supported the hiring of the people who made the mess in the first place, so how much worse can she screw it up? That, of course, is hardly the resounding note to start out with. Nor did she get off to a good start with her amnesia over events at Tennessee, a tactic so stale that even soap operas have done away with it.
I just don't know. I do know this. You can't rewrite her history in Louisville based on something that happened in Tennessee. You can rewrite it based on things that happened here. But judging by her track record, and a second look at her tenure, that's a difficult sell.
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