UW-Green Bay opened an investigation into the conduct of men’s basketball coach Brian Wardle after receiving two separate complaints from the parents of former players.
UWGB Chancellor Thomas Harden received an email April 9 from the parents of freshman center Ryan Bross alleging mistreatment on Wardle’s behalf. The email detailed verbal abuse and harassment.
In a statement released April 10, Harden said the university planned to look into the complaint.
The second complaint was filed by the Gina Cougill, the mother of senior Brennan Cougill, late last week.
The letter, which Cougill made available to the Green Bay Press Gazette, cited several issues she had with Wardle. Those issues included an instance when Wardle referred to her son’s clinical depression as a distraction to the team.
“These young men were entrusted to the UWGB coaching staff to mold and shape them into adulthood,” she wrote. “That statement itself makes me quiver because, from my perspective, the only shaping has been verbal abuse and bullying towards most of the players.”
While Cougill has remained relatively quiet on the issue, he told the Press-Gazette he felt he needed to come forward in part because of the backlash against Bross.
The university has hired local attorney Joseph M. Nicks of Godfrey & Kahn law firm to conduct the investigation. According to Godfrey & Kahn’s website, Nicks practices one business litigation in Wisconsin and federal courts.
UWGB Communications Director Christopher Sampson said the university wanted to hire someone with no direct ties to the school.
In regard to a time frame for the investigation, Nicks said it will depend on the availability of witnesses.
Sampson added the investigation could take up to several weeks.
“We want to do this as fast as possible,” Sampson said. “However, we are also encouraging Mr. Nicks to be as thorough as possible. He’ll have free reign to for interviews and fact finding.”
Public records requests for the email from Bross’s parents to Harden have been declined. According to Sampson, UW System legal counsel said the email is protected correspondence under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which allows students control over the disclosure of information from their records.
As of April 15, Sampson said Wardle will remain in his coaching position.
“Wardle is still coaching the team,” Sampson said. “He has contact with the team, but he was advised not to talk about the situation with his players.”
However, Wardle’s locker room will be without a few familiar faces next year. Since February, four players have left the men’s basketball program. Guard Kam Cerroni, who played 73 games during his three years with the Phoenix, left the team Feb. 14, alluding to differences with Wardle. Bross and freshman Nick Arenz announced their decision to leave shortly after the end of the season. Guard Sultan Mohammed, who started 24 games this year, also informed Wardle of his intentions to leave April 8. He cited family concerns as the reason behind his departure.
The news of this investigation comes on the heels of a similar situation at Rutger’s University earlier this month. Men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired April 9 after a video leaked of him verbally and physically abusing players.
When asked, Sampson did not comment on whether similar incidents had occurred at UWGB in the past, but he did point to the Rutgers University scandal as one reason why this particular complaint has been hyped up in the media. Harden said he hopes the investigation will shed light on whether this was part of a larger problem on the team.
“I don’t want to make an assumption one way or the other,” Harden told the Press-Gazette last week. “We don’t have widespread complaints or allegations. We have this allegation, the complaint that I got Tuesday night, which we do think we need to check out, and we’re going to do it really well.”
Meanwhile, the effect of the investigation on recruitment and ticket sales has yet to be addressed. Sampson said the university will remain focused on the investigation before it comments on any secondary issues.
“If you start talking about those kinds of issues, people think you’re not focused on what’s important,” Sampson said. “Until the investigation is over and any fallout is resolved, the university will not address that.”
Some UWGB students have their own opinions on the matter.
Marc Joyce, junior education major, said he was surprised by the allegations against Wardle.
“I don’t know all the details, but from what I can tell, he’s a pretty good coach,” Joyce said. “I’ve never heard anything bad about him, he always seems composed on the bench and he’s always friendly when I see him around campus.”
Regardless, Wardle, 33, has left an indelible mark on UWGB during his three seasons. He became the youngest Division 1 head coach when UWGB hired him in 2010, signing a five-year contract, which was extended twice during the last two years. Coming off his best season, he has four more years on his current contract.