KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former Tennessee volleyball player has written a blog post backing up her teammates’ accusations that incoming Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann abused them verbally and emotionally during her coaching tenure in the 1990s.
On her blog (www.erinzammettruddy.com), Erin Zammett Ruddy wrote Wednesday that the players held a meeting after the 1996 season to figure out why they were miserable, and “we quickly realized Julie was the common denominator.” Zammett Ruddy said the players detailed their grievances in a letter they brought to Joan Cronan, the Tennessee women’s athletic director at the time.
While Zammett Ruddy’s statement supports allegations that were first reported by The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., on Saturday night, she also wrote of Hermann that, “our intention today is not to see her suffer or to take her down in any way. None of us wants that. It is simply to tell the truth because we were asked. And because it is relevant.”
Zammett Ruddy added that “just because she was a bad coach doesn’t mean she can’t be a good administrator.” Separately, another Tennessee player who graduated earlier in Hermann’s tenure praised her on Wednesday.
Hermann was the Tennessee women’s volleyball coach from 1991-96 and went on to serve as an administrator in Louisville’s athletic department. Now she is set to replace Tim Pernetti at Rutgers. He resigned as athletic director after men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for throwing balls at players and using abusive language.
Hermann is scheduled to take over as Rutgers’ athletic director on June 17, but her work record has become a major issue at New Jersey’s state university, still reeling from the Rice scandal and a series of missteps since.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday he has “absolute confidence” in school president Robert Barchi, who has endorsed Hermann.
In the Tennessee matter, Zammett Ruddy wrote that Cronan called a team meeting in which the players discussed their issues with Hermann face-to-face.
Cronan issued a statement Tuesday in which she said, “I hold Julie Hermann in high regard and I believe she is well-prepared for her new role at Rutgers University.” Cronan also said she remembers the end of Cronan’s tenure being a very frustrating time for the volleyball program due to the team’s lack of success but that she did “not recall it being an abusive situation.”
Tennessee fired Hermann after she went 77-106 in six seasons.
Cronan’s statement didn’t mention a letter in which players had detailed allegations of abuse. Hermann denied having previous knowledge of the letter Monday during a conference call with reporters in which she said she had no intention of stepping down. Such a letter didn’t appear in Hermann’s personnel file, which The Associated Press obtained from the university via a public records request.
“We don’t have a copy, but it was a long time ago,” Tennessee vice chancellor Margie Nichols said. “We can’t say definitively there was not a letter.”
While Zammett Ruddy offered support for her teammates, another former Tennessee volleyball player — from earlier in Hermann’s tenure — came to her coach’s defense. Tamala Brightman, who played at Tennessee from 1990-93, raved about Hermann to the AP and said players affectionately called her “Jules.”
“When I heard these allegations, I was shocked because this was not the coach that I knew,” said Brightman, who had 1,781 career kills and continues to hold the school record in that category.
Brightman said she never saw Hermann act abusively toward any player. She added that players had such a great relationship with Hermann that they said she reminded them of Wonder Woman.
“She was a mother figure,” said Brightman, who now works as a personal trainer. “She molded us, taught us about work ethic and how to work hard and have fun. To this day, when I coach, I put that forth in my players.”
Marc Gesualdo, a graduate assistant for Tennessee sports information department from 1994-96, said he didn’t see any instances of abuse while handling media inquiries for the volleyball program. Gesualdo attended virtually all of Tennessee’s games during that stretch, but he wasn’t at all practices.
Gesualdo said he had heard the players had sent a letter expressing their dissatisfaction with Hermann, but he hadn’t been aware of the letter’s contents and didn’t believe it caused Hermann’s exit. He said it was “pretty common knowledge” going into the 1996 season that Tennessee had to show major progress for Hermann to keep her job.
Hermann resigned from Louisville after working there for 15 years, most recently as executive senior associate athletic director. When asked if Hermann would be welcomed back to Louisville if the Rutgers job fell through, athletics department spokesman Kenny Klein said, “Julie has a position at Rutgers.”
Associated Press writer Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Ky., and AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.