Six weeks after a USA TODAY Sports investigation led to the firing of Texas Tech’s women’s basketball coach amid allegations of player abuse, the school’s softball coach resigned Tuesday night amid similar circumstances.
As part of a recent response to an open-records request from USA TODAY Sports for documents concerning allegations against softball coach Adrian Gregory, Texas Tech had said in a statement that it was conducting an internal review “to assess the overall culture and student-athlete well-being within the program.”
Texas Tech athletics spokesman Robert Giovannetti said Tuesday afternoon that the review had been completed Monday night.
On Tuesday evening, Gregory said in a statement from the school: “At this time, I have found it best to part ways with Texas Tech University and its softball program. I have truly loved Lubbock and the relationships I have built here. I wish the current players and staff all the best as they move forward with future seasons.”
In late June 2019, Gregory signed a new five-year contract with the school, which hired her in June 2014.
“I would like to thank Coach Gregory for her contributions to Texas Tech,” athletics director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement. “I wish her the best in the future.”
Gregory’s departure comes on the heels of the university firing women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings for cause and as an outside law firm is undertaking a review of the entire athletics department.
That review, the school told USA TODAY Sports, was at Hocutt’s request ”and upon the approval of Texas Tech University President Lawrence Schovanec.”
It is being conducted by the firm of Holland Knight and, according to the school, is to cover topics including “student-athlete and athletics staff understanding of, and confidence in, Texas Tech’s policies, procedures, and resolution on complaints regarding student-athlete well-being.”
That is likely to bring increased scrutiny of Hocutt, one of the nation’s most highly paid AD’s. Not taking into account reductions related to financial concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hocutt is set to make about $1.9 million during his current contract year.
The internal review focused in part on allegations that Gregory grabbed three players, according to preliminary findings the athletics department provided to USA TODAY Sports.
The athletics department said two of the players denied the allegations and a third player said there was no harmful physical contact nor was it a reportable offense.
According to the athletic department, Gregory said, “I can unequivocally say that I have never physically grabbed a student-athlete or coach in any way that would cause physical harm or injury to them. I have not, and will not, cross that line. As a coach, the safety and trust of student-athletes are my utmost priorities.’’
But Trenity Edwards and Brooke Blackwell, members of the 2019 team, told USA TODAY Sports they saw Gregory grab pitcher Erin Edmoundson last season between games of a doubleheader against New Mexico State.
Edmoundson, a junior pitcher, did not respond to requests for comment.
Leticia “Letty’’ Olivarez, a former assistant coach who resigned in June, told school officials that Gregory grabbed Olivarez’s arm so hard during the 2019 season that it left bruises, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports. Olivarez also reported that Gregory grabbed two players in 2019 and grabbed a third player this year — facts that match the allegations referenced in the findings the athletic department provided to USA TODAY Sports.
Olivarez, in a March 10 email sent to Schovanec and Hocutt, said that Gregory has inflicted “physical and mental abuse’’ on the softball team.
“To choose to ignore my cry for help not only fails employees working for Texas Tech but more importantly for the student athletes in Adrian’s care who are afraid to speak up,’’ Olivarez wrote.
Olivarez negotiated to resign rather than be fired, signed an agreement that entitled her to about 3½ months of her $65,000-a-year salary but also required that she and her family “agree to not to make any statements that are negative, derogatory, or disparaging regarding the other party,’’ according to documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
The university declined to comment on the circumstances of Olivarez’s departure “because this is a personnel matter.” Olivarez did not respond to multiple requests for comment made by USA TODAY Sports.
Athlete exit surveys conducted at the end of the 2018-19 softball season raised red flags about Adrian Gregory and assistant Sam Marder.
Gregory was given an overall negative score as head coach: Of the 15 players who participated in the RealRecruit surveys, 60% were deemed “detractors.” Marder fared even worse: 73% had a detractive view of her as a coach. Forty percent of the players who were surveyed had a favorable “overall experience” as a Texas Tech athlete, according to RealRecruit.
Aside from the women’s basketball program under Stollings, no other Texas Tech head coach received such poor reviews that season. Multiple players complained that the team was regularly in violation of the NCAA’s rule limiting countable athletically related activities to no more than 20 hour per week, or four hours a day. They also raised repeated complaints about the atmosphere in the program and the dynamic between the coaching staff and players.
The athletic department said it was aware of two previous allegations of racially insensitive incidents within the program, according to preliminary findings of the internal review.
“These incidents were promptly addressed when they occurred in 2018-19 and these incidents are part of an ongoing review of the softball program,’’ the athletic department stated.
Edwards, who is Black and was the team’s top hitter in 2019, said she was involved in both incidents that Gregory addressed through the school.
According to the athletic department, Gregory said, “A student-athlete was asked to put her hair up before a game as is customary for performance in the sport of softball. When the student-athlete explained why she did not want to wear her hair up, I apologized to her and she wore her hair the way she wanted the rest of the season. I followed up with the student-athlete a few days later to check in again and to apologize. At the time, the student accepted the apology.’’
Edwards said she wore her hair Afro-style as a tribute to her younger sister, who has alopecia, and Gregory did not apologize. Edwards said Gregory repeatedly screamed, “I’m not afraid of you’’ before the encounter ended.
According to the athletic department, Gregory addressed the second racial incident by saying, “The second allegedly racially inappropriate incident involved a comment during practice, at which I was not present, by a student-athlete who is no longer with the program. The student-athlete who made the comment apologized to the individual to whom the comment was addressed and she also apologized amongst teammates during a players-only meeting. I am and have been committed to having important conversations about social injustice and to fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for student-athletes, coaches, and staff.’’
As a line formed at practice, Edwards said, a white player told Edwards, “Back of the line, Rosa,’’ referencing the civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Edwards said she thought the punishment — an apology from the white teammate — was inadequate.
“In light of current racial events, we are all the more committed to addressing racial issues as they arise and keeping open lines of communication with our student athletes,’’ the athletic department told USA TODAY Sports. “We will continue to provide resources that our student-athletes need when they are uncomfortable and dealing with certain situations.’’
Gregory received a five-year contract extension in July 2019 after the softball team finished the season with a record of 42-16 and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Her overall record after is 157-147.
Allegations of mental abuse date to shortly after Texas Tech hired Gregory in June 2014, according to Cassie McClure, a pitcher on the team’s roster when Gregory was hired.
She said Gregory isolated McClure from the team after McClure suffered a concussion and told players not to contact her. McClure said she grew so depressed she had suicidal thoughts and transferred to Nebraska.
At Nebraska, McClure was named to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team in 2016 and 2017, named to Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll five times and ranks second all-time with 13 career saves.
Michaela Cochran, who played at Texas Tech from 2017 and 2019 and made the Big 12 All-Freshman team, noted on Twitter she had multiple surgeries while playing softball at the school. And in an Aug. 17 tweet, Cochran wrote, “My depression/anxiety was used against me I was consistently gas lighted.’’
Susan Welborn, at stalwart at Texas Tech from 2014 to 2017, offered support for Gregory. Welborn said she and “many, many players I talk to … had a positive experience with G.’’
“And while I was there, there were no accusations of being grabbed or verbally abused,’’ Welborn said by text message. “G is tough and made us tough as well.
“With that said, we also had meetings over practice times with a sports psychologist to ensure our mental health was a priority. There will inevitably be mixed reviews on every coach in every sport. However, my experiences were positive. Those were my formative years and I was personally helped through many obstacles in my personal life by G.’’
Contributing: Jori Epstein