PISCATAWAY, NJ—Rutgers University officially terminated head football coach Kyle Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann on November 29, in what the school’s President termed “a day of change.”
Flood, the highest-paid employee at Rutgers, or any other state government agency, had found himself in hot water for inappropriately contacting a professor over a player’s grades just two months earlier.
University President Robert Barchi announced the terminations, and surprised observers by immediately naming Hermann’s permanent replacement: a Seton Hall dean and close ally of Governor Chris Christie.
The personnel changes come after a disastrous football season that saw several current and former Scarlet Knights players charged in a series of violent crimes, including an unprovoked assault on a stuent, and a string of armed home invasion robberies targeting marijuana dealers with guns, knives, and baseball bats.
The shakeup also came just one day after the football team lost its final game of the season, dashing their longshot hopes of playing in a postseason bowl game.
Unlike many people who might find themselves unemployed in the state, neither Flood nor Hermann appear to be in danger of falling on hard times.
Flood is guaranteed to receive a $1.4 million payday, while Rutgers will continue to give Hermann $450,000 per year, along with pension and health benefits, for the next two and half years, or until she gets another job.
She was halfway through a five-year contract that also gave her perks including a the use of a vehicle.
According to Flood’s contract, the University was able to fire him for cause, or punish him without pay, for “willful misconduct, act(s) of moral turpitude, conduct tending to bring shame or disgrace to the University,” or any actions that were “in violation of university regulations, policies, [or] procedures.”
While the past season certainly provided ample cause to fire Flood, Barchi said he was terminating both Flood and Hermann “without cause.”
The distinction makes $1.4 million worth of difference to Flood, who otherwise would be leaving empty-handed.
After re-negotiating his contract in 2014, he was committed to be the team’s head coach through February 2019. He will be paid more than a year’s salary just to leave the job.
Flood was earning a salary of $1.25 million during this football season, a number that was set to increase $100,000 each year over the next three seasons.
“Kyle Flood has been a loyal and dedicated member of our community for more than a decade and our head football coach for four seasons, during which his teams won 26 games and played in three bowl games,” Barchi wrote in a letter to the campus community.
“However, our continued struggles on the field combined with several off the field issues have convinced me that we need new leadership of our football program.”
Barchi also had glowing things to say about Hermann, whose tenure at Rutgers included the school’s historic switch from the Big East athletic conference to the Big Ten athletic conference, one of the most powerful alliances in college sports.
“Julie came to Rutgers in 2013, at a time when the program was in turmoil, with a vision of where she could take our Athletics Program,” wrote Barchi.
“She is a capable administrator whose dedication and passion for Rutgers never waned and I wish her and her family all the best in the next step in her journey.”
NEW ATHLETIC DIRECTOR IS CLOSE TO GOV. CHRISTIE
While the decision to relieve Flood and Hermann of their duties was not unexpected, Barchi’s immediate announcement of a permanent replacement for Hermann took many by surprise.
Barchi wrote that Patrick Hobbs, the “Dean Emeritus” of Seton Hall University’s Law School, would get the job.
According to published reports, Hobbs will earn $560,000 in the position, even more than Hermann.
Barchi wrote that Hobbs, “has served on various state legal and ethics boards and commissions and most recently was appointed by Governor Christie to serve as an independent ethics ombudsman to the Office of the Governor.”
The ouster of Flood and Hermann comes amid plans for new men’s and women’s basketball practice gyms, a huge football headquarters renovation, and a new, privately-funded baseball/softball practice facility.
Some observers say the choice might be a clue that Rutgers is facing serious consequences for situations that are currently the subject of an internal investigation.
“When I made the decision last week that we needed a change in leadership, I set out to find an interim Director of Athletics who could stabilize the Department before launching a national search,” Barchi wrote.
Hobbs had served as interim athletics director of Seton Hall during a period of turmoil in that school’s sports program five years ago.
“On a strong referral, I met with Patrick Hobbs, Dean Emeritus of the Seton Hall University School of Law, who previously led the athletics program at Seton Hall University during a period of major change,” reads Barchi’s lettter.
According to Barchi, he had already made the decision to fire Hermann prior to the final football game, and Hobbs had actually been offered the permanent athletic director job on November 27.
“In my meetings and conversations with Pat, and also with Board Members Greg Brown and Ken Schmidt, it was clear to all of us that Pat had the attributes required for our next Director of Athletics. We offered Pat the permanent job on Friday and we are proud to welcome him as our new Director of Athletics.”
Hobbs will lead the search for a permanent football head coach, and he will be advised by Board of Governors chairman Greg Brown, Board of Governors member Ken Schmidt, and President Barchi.
TEAM NEVER RECOVERED FROM ROCKY START TO SEASON
Just as the football team was about to begin their 2015 season, local residents were shocked to learn that several current and former Scarlet Knights, including some of the team’s starters, had been arrested.
The players faced serious charges in connection with a number of violent incidents on campus and in New Brunswick neighborhoods.
The news broke on September 3, the same day many of the players were locked up.
Those facing charges were dismissed from the football program on September 5, just hours before Rutgers took the field against Norfolk State.
In the ensuing weeks, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office would continue to reveal new details, arrests, accusations, and evidence in the expanding cases.
According to the accusations, some were involved in repeated attempts to rob drug dealers, who the players thought would be unlikely to report the robberies.
Further complicating matters, one of the players allegedly involved in an “unprovoked assault,” Nadir Barnwell, was the same player whose professor Coach Flood had inappropriately influenced.
Barnwell and several other players were charged in a violent assault that broke a student’s jaw in April. The charges included aggravated assault, riot, and conspiracy to commit a riot.
One of those players, Ruhann Peele, would later be charged in a subsequent violent assault in New Brunswikc, one that occurred shortly after he had been dismissed from the team.
Though it seemed things could not get much worse for the Scarlet Knights, they soon did.
Leonte Carroo, the team’s best player, was charged with simple assault in an alleged incident of domestic violence outside the stadium shortly after the team lot to Washington State on September 12.
Carroo was suspended indefinitely, but was later reinstated after charges were dropped. He missed two games.
The woman claiming to be the victim had said Carroo slammed her to the ground, but declined to pursue charges.
Rutgers University’s Police Department (RUPD) had filed the assault complaint and arrested Carroo and they did not agree with the charge being dismissed.
But things still had not hit rock bottom. Four days after Carroo’s arrest, Flood became the next to be suspended.
ATTEMPTS TO COVER HIS TRACKS HURT FLOOD’S CREDIBILITY
Coach Flood was suspended for three games after an investigation found he violated the school’s academic integrity policy by contacting a professor about the grades of one of his players, an offense that could have been grounds for termination.
Rather than making a change mid-season, the university chose to limp forward for a few more months with Flood at the helm.
But the report commisioned by the university, the culmination of an investigation by Saiber LLC, revealed the damning details of Flood’s attempt to influence the professor, which appeared to indicate that he knew what he was doing was not allowed.
“I am forwarding a letter I wanted [Barnwell] to compose to you,” wrote Flood. “I am sending it from my personal email to your personal email to ensure there will be no public vetting of this correspondance.”
Under the Open Public Records Act, emails from public officials are still public documents even if they are sent to or from personal accounts. Flood apparently did not know or understand that.
Rutgers bans coaches from directly contacting the teachers of student-athletes whether they are professors, adjuncts, or other faculty.
In violation of this ban, Flood set up a meeting with one of Barnwell’s instructors, because he was concerned that his failing grade in a course titled “Dance Appreciation” would result in him being unable to play football.
Barnwell had not gained enough academic credits during the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters to remain eligible for team membership, and thus was declared ineligible.
On Flood’s suggestion, Barnwell tried to negotiate with a professor for grades that would allow him to gain enough credits, but the professor complained to the athletics academic support staff, asking them to “please ask [Barnwell] to stop badgering me.”
But Barnwell wasn’t the only persistent person the instructor had to deal with.
Against the wishes of his own support staff, Kyle Flood pushed for an in-person meeting, and eventually got the instructor to agree to allow Barnwell to submit an additional assignment over the summer.
After the university began investigating the matter, Barnwell submitted an additional assignment, with help from Coach Flood, but the professor decided not to change his grade.
In August, NJ.com reported that Flood was under investigation for an e-mail he sent to a player’s professor, a violation of university policy. The report proved to be correct, and when the details came out, Flood’s credibility was badly damaged.
According to the Saiber report, Flood was told by an academic advisor that his contact with the professor would be a problem, but Flood proceeded anyway, having a discrete, off-campus meeting to ask if the player could do any extra assignments to boost his grade.
“Coach, you can’t have contact with the Professor. You certainly can’t have contact with faculty regarding grades or eligibility. This is going to be a big problem,” the staffer allegedly told Flood, according to the report.
“There was silence on the phone to the point that the advisor asked, ‘Coach, are you there?'” the report reads.
“Yes, I’m just listening. This conversation stays between you and me,” Flood allegedly responded.
Two days later, Flood ignored the warning and met with the instructor a half-hour away outside the Princeton Public Library.
There, Flood allegedly told the instructor he “didn’t wear any Rutgers apparrel or insignia so he wouldn’t be recognized in public,” before pressing her to give Barnwell another chance to earn a passing grade.
On September 16, Rutgers suspended Flood and made the Saiber report public. He was also fined $50,000.
Although Flood was not allowed to coach the team during the game, he was still paid his seven-figure salary without interruption, and worked with the team during the rest of the week.
A DISMAL END TO SECOND SEASON IN BIG TEN CONFERENCE
What had the makings of a promising season for Rutgers football quickly turned sour, defined by controversy off the field and underwhelming play on it.
After joining the Big Ten in July 2014, Rutgers’ second football season in the competitive conference did not go as planned, and did not go as well as the first campaign.
During this season, fans were distraught over numerous blowout losses to conference opponents, including losing 28-3 to Penn State, 48-7 to Ohio State, 48-10 to Wisconsin, 49-16 to Michigan and 31-14 to Nebraska.
Flood finished his four-year stint as Rutgers coach with a 26-23 record as a head coach.
He led his teams to a bowl game in each of his first four seasons, and even won a share of the Big East title in 2012, but the wheels fell off in 2015.
Flood’s dismissal comes after a disappointing 4-8 season, capped off by a 46-41 loss to Maryland in which Rutgers squandered a 21-point lead.
The team dropped five out of its last six games, and at least one new scandal was brewing about the team: There are allegations that some players repeatedly failed drug tests.
Still, the team had a chance to make it into a postseason game, even with a losing record. But first, they had to defeat Maryland, the other recent addition to the Big Ten.
For both teams, the game capped off the school’s second football season in the Big Ten athletic conference.
The Maryland game was a chance to end on a positive note, and potentially prolong the season with a bowl game. But sloppy defense allowed Maryland to score repeatedly on big running plays.
Flood also took a lot of heat for the team’s on-the-field performance, and his decisions about who to start in the most prominent position.
Flood was widely criticized for his unwavering support of struggling quarterback Chris Laviano, as many fans were very vocal for a change to backup Hayden Rettig, creating the hashtag #FreeRettig on social media.
“Thank you Rutgers,” wrote one fan after the news of the firings, adding the hashtag.
HOW THE TERMINATIONS WENT DOWN
Hermann met with Rutgers president Robert Barchi and co-chancellor Richard Edwards at Barchi’s Piscataway home at 12:25 pm, according to NJ.com’s Keith Sargeant.
The meeting lasted just eleven minutes, and news of Hermann’s resignation broke a few minutes later.
The report states her oversight of the football program was the primary reason for her dismissal.
Just before that meeting, Barchi surprised Coach Flood by firing him over the telephone.
Flood had been so sure that he would continue as head coach that he had apparently gone on a helicopter excursion to recruit football players at a Long Island high school that morning.
At 2pm, Barchi held a 15-minute meeting at the Hale Center, the football team’s headquarters adjacent to Rutgers Stadium, where he told the football team that Hobbs would take over as athletic director and they would have a new coach soon, too.
Around the time that meeting was ending, Flood returned to campus in the helicopter, hopped in his sport utility vehicle, and drove off.
Norries Wilson, who was assistant head coach, is once again the football team’s interim head coach. Wilson went 1-2 when he filled in for Flood this season.
HERMANN DEALT WITH MANY CONTROVERSIES IN SHORT TIME
Hermann was let go after two and a half years as Rutgers’ athletic director, having been hired in May 2013 and started work the next month, during a time when Rutgers’ athletic department was in turmoil.
Footage had been discovered of former Rutgers’ men’s basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing players during practices.
At first the school stood by him, but the controversy eventually resulted in his firing.
Rice was not the only casualty, as then-AD Tim Pernetti was let go in the fallout. Rutgers hired Hermann as his replacement.
But Hermann also dealt with her fair share of controversy during her tenure. In fact, critics had been calling for her ouster since before she officially started the job in June 2013.
Soon after her hiring, a report surfaced accusing Hermann verbally abusing players when she was coach of the women’s volleyball team at Tennessee in the 90’s.
The report alleged that she called her players “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.”
She was also caught up in another scandal after she denied key details from a lawsuit that claimed she discriminated against a coach who claimed Hermann had fired her for getting pregnant.
In April 2014, reports surfaced that Hermann told a media class at Rutgers that it would be “great” if the Star-Ledger went out of business.
Rutgers fans generally approved of Hermann’s ouster, if social media is any indication.
Comments on Twitter included “#Rutgers did what needed to be done,” “good day for #Rutgers,” “OMG THEY DID IT,” and “The firing of Julie Hermann is a prime example of karma. That woman should never had been at Rutgers. Period.”
Hermann was the first and only woman to serve in the Athletic Director position, since its creation in 1932. She now joins the list of athletic directors forced out after controversies and challenges in their department.
Prior to Pernetti’s tenure, Rutgers President Richard McCormick fired Robert Mulcahy after journalists discovered secret deals he had negotiated with vendors.
Mulcahy also championed the expensive expansion of Rutgers Stadium, and made the unpopular decision to permanently end the school’s participation in six varsity sports, and shifted the money to the football program.