UM re­scinds hire of coach tied to sex scan­dal

‘I apol­o­gize,’ AD says; de­ci­sion fol­lows crit­i­cism by re­gents

The Detroit News - - METRO - BY SARAH RA­HAL AND GE­ORGE HUNTER The De­troit News

A day after news of her new role be­came pub­lic, Univer­sity of Michi­gan of­fi­cials have re­scinded the con­tro­ver­sial hir­ing of a for­mer USA Gym­nas­tics of­fi­cial who left the or­ga­ni­za­tion dur­ing the fall­out from the Larry Nas­sar scan­dal.

The univer­sity an­nounced the hire of Rhonda Faehn as a con­sul­tant on Satur­day af­ter­noon, hours after the news was first re­ported by the Michi­gan Daily, the school’s stu­dent news­pa­per.

On Sun­day night — after the hir­ing was con­demned by alumni and mem­bers of the univer­sity’s Board of Re­gents — Faehn was fired.

UM Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Warde Manuel posted the news on the univer­sity’s ath­letic depart­ment web­site, mgob­lue.com.

“I have come to the con­clu­sion that it is not in the best in­ter­est of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and our ath­letic pro­gram to con­tinue the con­sult­ing con­tract with Rhonda Faehn,” Manuel said. “It was the wrong de­ci­sion, and I apol­o­gize. Our stu­dent-ath­letes are our high­est pri­or­ity and I want to do ev­ery­thing in my power to sup­port them fully and put the fo­cus back on their ath­letic per­for­mance.”

The hir­ing had been heav­ily crit­i­cized by alumni and at least two re­gents.

“Much to my cha­grin, I learned of this em­ploy­ment de­ci­sion this past Satur­day morn­ing,” Re­gent Denise Il­itch said in a writ­ten state­ment. “I ap­pre­ci­ate the wise ob­ser­va­tions made by many and share their dis­ap­point­ment. There will be fur­ther re­view of this mat­ter.”

Re­gent Jor­dan Acker tweeted: “I just want to make a quick com­ment about this hir­ing ... this week­end. I ap­pre­ci­ate the in­put I have re­ceived and be­lieve this con­tract should be ter­mi­nated im­me­di­ately.”

Acker de­clined fur­ther com­ment when con­tacted by The News on Sun­day.

At­tor­ney John Manly, who rep­re­sented some Nas­sar vic­tims, tweeted Sun­day night in re­sponse to Faehn’s fir­ing: “Good. But why did u hire her in the first place Mr Manuel? All this in­for­ma­tion about Ms Faehn was eas­ily avail­able.”

Lisa Lor­incz, mother of a Nas­sar sur­vivor, tweeted: “A Univer­sity Board who lis­tens and acts swiftly to pro­tect their ath­letes and stand with Sur­vivors. So im­pressed that this Board did what MSU has failed at time and time again.”

Faehn started work­ing as a con­sul­tant in a coach­ing ca­pac­ity dur­ing the team’s trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Thurs­day and was to have con­tin­ued with the team through 2019, the ath­letic depart­ment said in a news re­lease is­sued Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Faehn joined UM’s coach­ing staff three months after as­sis­tant gym­nas­tics coach Scott Vetere re­signed amid al­le­ga­tions of in­de­cent pub­lic con­duct.

“Fol­low­ing a com­pre­hen­sive search process work­ing closely

with our ad­min­is­tra­tion, I am pleased to add Rhonda Faehn to our staff,” head coach Bev Plocki said in the Satur­day news re­lease. “I have known and re­spected Rhonda Faehn for over two decades. Her ac­com­plish­ments in our sport speak for them­selves. Her tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence will greatly ben­e­fit our stu­dent-ath­letes.”

Faehn, a U.S. na­tional team mem­ber in the 1980s who later won three ti­tles as head coach at the Univer­sity of Flor­ida, joined USA Gym­nas­tics in 2015 and over­saw the women’s elite pro­gram.

Shortly after tak­ing over she was alerted to po­ten­tial abuse con­cerns about Larry Nas­sar, a long­time team physi­cian. Faehn passed along the con­cerns to then-USA Gym­nas­tics pres­i­dent Steve Penny. Faehn was re­moved from USA Gym­nas­tics in May.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion then con­ducted

an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore re­mov­ing Nas­sar and go­ing to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. USA Gym­nas­tics did not alert Michi­gan State, where Nas­sar was a fac­ulty mem­ber, or a club in Michi­gan af­fil­i­ated with Nas­sar.

Nas­sar, 54, pleaded guilty to mo­lest­ing women and girls un­der the guise of treat­ment and was caught with child pornog­ra­phy. He is serv­ing three prison sen­tences that will likely keep him locked up for life.

Manuel had said in a state­ment Satur­day he sup­ported Faehn’s ap­point­ment only after a thor­ough re­view of her ca­reer and in­volve­ment with USA Gym­nas­tics.

“The well-be­ing and safety of our stu­dent-ath­letes is al­ways our high­est pri­or­ity,” he said in the state­ment. “Our cur­rent stu­dent-ath­letes had a prom­i­nent voice through­out this search process to pro­vide their per­spec­tive. This in­cluded a meet­ing be­tween me and the cap­tains be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion was made.

“After our ex­haus­tive due dili­gence, we felt com­fort­able that coach Faehn re­ported all in­for­ma­tion avail­able to her re­gard­ing Larry

Nas­sar and that she co­op­er­ated fully, in­clud­ing vol­un­tar­ily par­tic­i­pat­ing in all in­ves­ti­ga­tions and of­fer­ing tes­ti­mony be­fore Con­gress. Nei­ther an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by USA Gym­nas­tics or a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI have as­signed cul­pa­bil­ity or re­sulted in any charges against her.”

Faehn led the Univer­sity of Flor­ida gym­nas­tics pro­gram to three straight NCAA cham­pi­onships from 2013-15, 10 top-five NCAA fin­ishes and four SEC con­fer­ence ti­tles. She was the 2007 NACGC Na­tional Coach of the Year. Most re­cently, Faehn worked as se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the USA Gym­nas­tics women’s pro­gram from 2015-18.

Faehn could not be reached for com­ment Sun­day night.

In a state­ment Satur­day, she said she was “heart­ened at the out­pour­ing of sup­port that I re­ceived this week­end.”

“I am thrilled to join the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and am ap­pre­cia­tive of the care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion demon­strated by the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” she said. “I am ex­cited to work with these young women and am thank­ful

for their en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port.”

Be­fore be­com­ing the head coach at Flor­ida in 2002, Faehn worked as an as­so­ci­ate head coach and as­sis­tant coach at Ne­braska for four sea­sons. She also has coached at Mary­land as an as­sis­tant from 1997-98, and at UCLA as a stu­dent as­sis­tant coach from 1992-94.

She grad­u­ated from UCLA in 1994 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in his­tory. She was an al­ter­nate on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, a two-time U.S. vault cham­pion and mem­ber of the U.S. na­tional team from 1985-88.

News of Faehn’s hir­ing sparked crit­i­cism on Twit­ter, with some say­ing the univer­sity’s move was not in sup­port of vic­tims.

“Could be in­cred­i­bly prob­lem­atic if U-M hired Rhonda Faehn on the low-low.. we’ll need some an­swers,” wrote alumni Drew VanDres. “With all the aw­ful news com­ing out of Michi­gan State & USA Gym­nas­tics, we should be stay­ing as far away as pos­si­ble while do­ing what we can to sup­port vic­tims.”

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