PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Incoming Rutgers University athletic director Julie Hermann was doing damage control Wednesday over the latest scandal, saying the problems she encountered as a women’s volleyball coach at Tennessee are part of the reason she’s a good fit as a sports administrator.
Speaking to reporters during a campus visit Wednesday, Hermann said she learned from the experiences that have drawn criticism regarding the school’s decision to hire her.
Players from the 1996 Vols team have said they complained Hermann was verbally and emotionally abusive to them. They said in a letter at the time that she called them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
There was also video of Hermann at the wedding of a former assistant coach, who claimed she was discouraged from getting pregnant based on Hermann’s own words.
“I don’t want you to come back in February with any surprises,” she said.
The case resulted in a $150,000 discrimination settlement.
But as CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported, Hermann denied that she ever abused, harassed or discriminated against players or staff. She also sidestepped any questions on the subject.
“I went through a difficult time for the team, and it was difficult for them, and it was difficult for me,” Hermann said. “They were young and I was young, and because of that experience, the truth is, I feel uniquely qualified.”
She continued: “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. 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.”
As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, Hermann also admitted to having doubts about taking the job. But now it is time to move forward, she said.
“I’ll put up with it. I’ll deal with a national embarrassment. I’ll do whatever it takes to make certain that these students have that same opportunity to live out their dreams,” she said.
The allegations against Hermann followed the uproar in which predecessor Tim Pernetti was forced to resign days after men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for physically and verbally abusing his players during his three-year tenure.
Rutgers is joining the Big Ten in 2014, and Hermann said everyone is looking forward to it.
“They’re ready. They’re excited. They’ve been through a lot, and everyone in that room is passionate about moving forward, as I am passionate about moving forward,” she said.
“Am I going to have to work double-time to connect with the people who are passionate about Rutgers? Yes,” Hermann continued.
The news 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.
“I’ll see you all on June 17,” Hermann said in closing, referring to her official start date.
Moments after the conference ended, Rutgers president Robert Barchi issued a statement.
“I look forward to Julie joining the Rutgers team later this month,” he said. “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.
“Our smooth integration into the Big Ten is a top priority for the university. I am confident that Julie and her team will set the stage for a great transition.
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.
During her visit, Hermann also met with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, and the whole procession of events is 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.
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. However, the only student athlete on the selection committee told CBS 2 last week that they were aware of the abuse allegations when they were making their decision.
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.
Hermann was selected as Rutgers’ first female athletic director on May 15.
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, Delaney said the recent string of problems at Rutgers would not prevent the university from joining the Big Ten in 2014.
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