Texas Tech has 'disturbing pattern' after losing third women's coach in under two years
Women's tennis coach Todd Petty left in June, less than two years after an investigation by USA TODAY Sports, in conjunction with The Intercollegiate, revealed a toxic culture in women's basketball.
For the third time in less than two years, the head coach of a women’s sport at Texas Tech has left the school under the cloud of an investigation and allegations of mistreatment of athletes.
The school, which was involved in conducting each of the investigations, announced in June the resignation of Todd Petty, the winningest coach in the history of the women’s tennis program. His departure follows that of women's basketball coach Marlene Stollings, associate head coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins, strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella and softball coach Adrian Gregory.
An investigation by USA TODAY Sports, in conjunction with The Intercollegiate and published in August 2020, revealed women's basketball players describing a toxic culture. The fallout from that investigation has been quick and widespread as other athletes came forward.
A player on last year's women's tennis team and another person familiar with the investigation said Petty faced allegations from former players of verbal abuse and improper behavior.
The school issued a news release June 30 that said Petty, who was completing the first year of a five-year contract worth $970,000 in scheduled compensation, “has indicated his desire to spend more time with family as he transitions away from collegiate coaching.’’ Petty served 14 seasons in the position.
"The Equal Opportunity Employment (sic) office" of the Texas Tech University System was made aware of a possible violation and an investigation was opened, according to a letter obtained by USA TODAY Sports that the school wrote to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The school also wrote that the investigation was not completed, so "no merit'' to the allegations was found.
Melissa Kopinski, who was the assistant coach for the women's tennis team, left Texas Tech earlier in June to become the associate head coach of the women’s tennis program at the University of Utah. She did not return messages left by email and phone seeking comment about Petty's resignation.
Petty denied all of the allegations, according to his attorney, Samantha Ekstrand.
"My priority has always been the well-being of my players,'' Petty, 42, said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. "To suggest otherwise is simply not truthful. The landscape of women's college athletics is changing. The scrutiny of coaches is at an all-time high."
Jonathan Katz, a sports psychologist who has worked with professional and college athletes and has served as a sports psychology consultant for the University of Texas men’s and women’s tennis teams, said what has transpired with the women's basketball, softball and tennis programs at Texas Tech is a "disturbing pattern.''
"That’s clear,'' he added. "I don’t think somebody could ignore that.’’
Michelle Bartlett, an associate professor at West Texas A&M who has written about anger, aggression and trauma in sport, said the responsibility at Texas Tech lies with the people who are hiring the coaches.
“If we’re kind of seeing these continual patterns, it becomes really hard to say, ‘Oh, that’s a bad apple,’ ” she said.
After her dismissal, Stollings filed a lawsuit alleging Texas Tech and the school's athletics director, Kirby Hocutt, discriminated against the women's sports programs. The women's basketball program received considerably less money, resources and attention from Hocutt during Stollings' tenure from April 2018 to August 2020, according to the complaint.
Todd Petty received letter of reprimand in 2020
USA TODAY Sports filed an open-records request with the university June 30 for copies of records and documents related to all investigations of Petty between Jan. 1, 2020, and June 22, 2022.
In response, the school requested an attorney general's open records decision under the Texas Public Information Act on its claims that records from the investigation should be "excepted from public disclosure.'' A copy of the letter, sent July 14, was provided to USA TODAY Sports.
Eric Bentley, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel for the Texas Tech University System, said he could not address why the investigation of Petty was not completed because it is a personnel matter, according to Robert Giovannetti, Senior Associate Athletics Director/External Operations & Strategic Communications.
Petty, who also was director of tennis at Texas Tech, said he did not speak to anyone who was conducting the investigation before he resigned, according to Giovannetti.
Texas Tech officials had been made aware of allegations concerning Petty's treatment of athletes before. Petty received a letter of reprimand from Hocutt on Jan. 4, 2021, according to a copy of the letter USA TODAY Sports obtained from Texas Tech.
The letter, which Hocutt noted followed "an extensive review in adherence to NCAA rules," also addressed issues of student welfare.
In part, Hocutt wrote that Petty "should be mindful that overtly critical comments about a student-athlete's performance on the courts can be taken personally. In that regard, student-athletes should be reminded that you are focused on trying to improve their play, and not being critical of them as individuals.''
Hocutt also clarified how Petty should handle situations when athletes feel sick and concerns over an athlete's mental health.
The extensive review was conducted in December 2020 after the school received allegations from a player who had transferred to another school in 2019, according to the letter of reprimand.
Petty violated NCAA rules when he triggered "countable athletically related activities during summer,'' when activities were supposed to be voluntary, according to an NCAA case summary that USA TODAY Sports obtained from Texas Tech through a public records request.
In one instance, Petty "followed up" with a player about why she did not participate in a voluntary team-led hitting drill, records show. He also "inadvertently observed'' strength and conditioning on a couple of occasions during the summer, according to records.
In addition to the rules violations, Petty did not adhere to Texas Tech's time management policy, according to the letter of reprimand.
Texas Tech self-imposed a reduction of seven hours of "countable hours of athletically related activities'', double the 3.5 countable hours that Petty triggered, according to a copy of an NCAA case summary obtained by USA TODAY Sports through a public records request.
The case study shows the NCAA accepted the proposed action and classified the case Level III, which the NCAA defines as secondary violations "isolated or limited in nature.''
At the same time of the review into the rules violations by Petty, the law firm of Holland & Knight was conducting an external review of the athletics program commissioned by Texas Tech after the USA TODAY Sports investigation into the women's basketball program.
A 46-page report released by Holland & Knight in November 2021 after the law firm completed its review of the athletics program contained no mention of the student-welfare concerns found during the extensive review of women's tennis in December 2020.
Allegations of verbal and mental abuse, sexual harassment
In Petty's 14 seasons, the Red Raiders compiled a 229-106 record, won three Big 12 regular-season titles and made four appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16. His success coincided with alleged mistreatment dating to 2014, according to one recent player and eight other former players who spoke to USA TODAY Sports.
Five of the players spoke on the condition they not be named because they said they fear repercussions. USA TODAY Sports found no record of the allegations being reported to athletics officials before 2020.
Players who spoke on the record about Petty's behavior are Alex Angyalosy, who played at Texas Tech in the fall of 2017 before transferring to Clemson; Sydney Jones, who played at Texas Tech from 2018 to 2019 before transferring to Rutgers; Katelyn Jackson, who played at Texas Tech from 2014 to 2018; and Kailey Evans, who played at Texas Tech from 2020 to 2022 and said she is transferring to the University of San Diego and plans to play tennis.
The former tennis players began reaching out to USA TODAY Sports in October 2020, a month after Gregory, the softball coach, was fired. They said they wanted Petty forced out but didn't think Texas Tech officials would act on their allegations.
But the recent investigation coincided with Petty's departure.
Evans, who was a blue-chip recruit in Texas before signing with Texas Tech, said she thinks she triggered the investigation in May when she told school officials that Petty did the following:
► Remarked after Evans started dating a Mexican tennis player at Texas Tech, “I thought your type was basic white guys and now you’re dating Pablo Escobar.”
► Told Evans she should wear spandex more after Evans said her father would prefer she wear something more conservative.
► Screamed so forcefully at another player after practice that the player later said it was the first time she felt like she was “going to be hit by a guy.’’
► Asked Evans and another player to eavesdrop when a third player was meeting with officials from the athletics department’s compliance office, tasked with ensuring rules are followed.
A person familiar with allegations from Evans and other members of last year's team agreed to speak on the condition she not be identified because she fears repercussions.
Jones, a five-star recruit who left Texas Tech in 2019 after freshman year, spoke with USA TODAY Sports and made the following allegations:
► Petty contributed to an eating disorder Jones developed while at the school.
► Petty had players regularly exceed the 20-hour weekly maximum for countable athletically related activities, which included practices supervised by Petty.
► Petty was overly involved in the players’ personal lives.
Jones' mother, April, said her daughter first called home with complaints about Petty's behavior in the fall of 2018 and that things got progressively worse until Jones left Texas Tech after the spring semester.
"We had already heard that Todd Petty was a tough coach,'' before Sydney Jones enrolled at Texas Tech, April Jones told USA TODAY Sports. "But we just thought, (he's) just going to be a good, tough college coach. Never thought it would cross the line of being mentally abusive.''
Texas Tech did not provide USA TODAY Sports with any documents that showed Evans or Jones reported their allegations to the school.
“Todd told me and a few other girls that we weren’t allowed to go out and date tennis guys,’’ Jones said. “He also knew very specific details if we decided to go out on weekends and knew when some of us started seeing the tennis guys. He always made comments about our personal lives.’’
In October 2020, Jones emailed Jennifer Brashear, director of compliance for Texas Tech, and wrote that she wanted to file a formal complaint against Petty, according to emails Jones provided to USA TODAY Sports. The emails also showed Brashear scheduled a Zoom meeting with Jones for later that week.
In November 2020, Jones said, Texas Tech compliance officials contacted her to ask what led her to transfer to Rutgers.
“I basically gave an overview of my experience with Todd and highlighted times he broke NCAA rules and also spoke about my injuries and (eating disorder),” said Jones, adding that she decided to file the complaint after discussing the issue with former teammates.
About 18 months later, amid an investigation into Petty, the coach abruptly stepped down.
Issues continued after exits of other women's coaches
After resigning, Petty was provided a lump sum payment of $95,000, an amount equal to approximately six months' salary, by Texas Tech, according to a copy of a letter Hocutt wrote to Petty on July 1. Bentley, general counsel for the Texas Tech University System, said the lump sum payment is standard negotiating for contracted employees who are not fired for cause, according to Giovannetti, the Senior Associate Athletics Director who also serves as a spokesman for the athletics department.
Gregory, the former softball coach, received $333,000 after she resigned, according to records obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
"Yesterday, you indicated to me that you are tendering your resignation as Texas Tech University's Head Women's Tennis Coach effective July 5, 2022, in order to attend to personal matters,'' Hocutt wrote in a letter to Petty. "I agree that this is in your best interest; therefore, I accept your resignation.''
After stepping down, Petty coached for a week at his annual summer tennis camps at Texas Tech, according to Giovannetti. Giovannetti said Petty did not coach at the final week-long camp, but was unsure why.
Hocutt, in his 12th year as Texas Tech's athletics director, declined to comment. Lawrence Schovanec, the school's president, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But Texas Tech issued a statement to USA TODAY Sports.
"Each day our focus is on our student-athletes’ experience,'' the statement read. "Whenever issues come forward, from any channel, we determine the appropriate course of action. In such cases, we conduct our due diligence and make the best decisions for our student-athletes and Texas Tech Athletics. It is important to note that all details and information cannot be disclosed by the University to the public due to legal protections such as individual privacy rights that are made confidential under Texas and federal law. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that we will follow University processes and guidelines as well as applicable law.''
In the statement, the school also referred to the external review of the athletics program.
Referring to the 46-page report, Texas Tech noted, "The external review by Holland & Knight found, 'Texas Tech generally, and the Athletics department specifically, have put in place the staffing, policies, procedures, and reporting protocols designed to support the physical and mental health and well-being of its students, including its student-athletes.'
"Texas Tech Athletics continues to invest ensuring that its student-athletes have a great experience and the department remains a national leader in student-athlete well-being programming."
Evans, the lone player from last year's team who agreed to talk with USA TODAY Sports, said other Texas Tech players are scared to speak publicly. She said that stemmed in part from a Zoom meeting July 1 called by Kacey Hanslik, a strength and conditioning coach, and Brooklyn Dendle, director of operations for tennis.
According to Evans, the six returning players were “interrogated’’ after news of Petty’s resignation spread outside Texas Tech before athletics department officials learned about it.
"We would never interrogate them or make them feel like they were in some sort of trouble or anything,'' Hanslik told USA TODAY Sports. "We truly wanted to make sure that they were all right.''
Gionvannetti said no players reported to the school they felt interrogated at the meeting.
Hanslik and Dendle both said they had not been questioned by school officials conducting the investigation of Petty - despite their involvement with the women's tennis program. And at the time of the Zoom meeting, one day after Petty tendered his resignation, Hanslik and Dendle said, the two women were unaware of the investigation.
Giovannetti said Hocutt and other senior staff members did not know about the Zoom meeting until USA TODAY Sports questioned Giovannetti about it. Hanslik and Dendle said they did not inform athletics officials before calling the meeting.
The Holland & Knight report – after more than a year’s worth of work – also found ongoing problems, including specific issues with the football team, men’s golf team and, despite the firing of Stollings, women’s basketball team. However, the report did not outline issues in women's tennis.
Petty’s exit followed more allegations.
'Screaming, getting into our faces, punishing us'
Nine former players who competed on the team between 2014 and 2022 told USA TODAY Sports that Petty subjected them to verbal abuse, threw tennis rackets and violated an NCAA rule limiting athletes to 20 hours a week for required "countable athletically related activities,'' such as supervised practices and strength-and-conditioning sessions.
The former players who spoke to USA TODAY Sports said they did not report to school officials the allegations about Petty's abusive behavior and exceeding the 20-hour maximum for countable athletically related activities because they feared repercussions or, in some cases, did not think the school would act on their complaints.
Jackson, who helped lead Texas Tech to four straight Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament from 2015 to 2018, said Petty violated the players’ personal space during outbursts.
“He would come running up in my face and say, ‘What the (expletive) are you doing? Are you (expletive) kidding me?’ ” Jackson said. “I remember one time he was so close to my face that I snapped back and I was like, ‘I’m trying.’ And he was like, ‘You’re not (expletive) trying.’ ”
Angyalosy, who played doubles with Jackson in 2017, said the verbal abuse was common.
"Screaming, getting into our faces, punishing us,'' she said. "I was the brunt of it many times, and it wasn't OK the way I was treated. I would end up calling my parents, crying after practice.''
Angyalosy's father, Adrian, said he and his wife grew increasingly concerned about their daughter that fall.
"She was extremely miserable,'' Adrian Angyalosy told USA TODAY Sports. "We were afraid that she was going to be suicidal or something.''
One former player who spoke on condition she not be identified because she fears repercussions said Petty told her she deserved to eat dog food after she lost a match. Jackson said the player told her about the alleged incident and another former player who spoke on the condition that she not be identified because she fears repercussions said she witnessed the incident.
A second player who spoke on the condition she not be identified because she fears repercussions said she witnessed the incident and that after the match, Petty "went ballistic.''
Other former players who spoke on the condition they not be identified because they fear repercussions, along with Jones, said Petty berated them with words like “disgusting,’’ “disgrace,’’ and profanity.
In 2021, Evans said, on the same day Petty referred to her boyfriend, a Texas Tech tennis player from Mexico, as “Pablo Escobar,’’ he made the comment about her wearing spandex.
“It was the first time I wore them to practice,’’ Evans said, “and he made the comment, said like, ‘I’ve never seen you wear spandex.’ I said because if my dad saw me he’d probably go tell me to change. Then (Petty) said, ‘You should wear them more often.’ It just kind of made me feel uncomfortable.’’
Evans said she initially shared her allegations with Tyler Bradstreet, Director of Clinical & Sport Psychology at Texas Tech. Bradstreet then joined her during a meeting with Brian Shannon, a law professor and the Faculty Athletics Representative, according to Evans.
Due to privacy laws, Shannon and Bradstreet are unable to discuss the matter with USA TODAY Sports, Giovannetti said.
Evans said Shannon "was very open about hearing what I had to say. He was shocked by the racial and the sexual (comments).”
Neither Shannon nor Bradstreet responded to requests for comment left by email and phone.
Texas Tech announced on July 25 it had hired Adam Herendeen of Furman as Petty's successor. On Monday, the school announced it had hired Dani Nasser of Gonzaga as assistant coach.
Contributing: Steve Berkowitz, Jori Epstein
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