William Maderer (Photo courtesy of Saiber)
A New Jersey law firm hired by Rutgers University to probe bullying allegations in its football program has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
A report released Tuesday by Saiber in Florham Park found defensive coordinator Dave Cohen had a heated exchange with a player but didn’t violate anti-bullying strictures, and he was dealt with swiftly by school officials.
The firm also found that the player, Jevon Tyree, didn’t suffer retaliation in the form of decreased team participation, as he had claimed.
The incident, at a team study hall session in March, began as “friendly banter regarding a haircut and then escalated,” according to the report, issued after Saiber partners William Maderer and DanaLynn Colao interviewed about three dozen people and obtained documents.
Tyree, a freshman cornerback, later claimed that Cohen got in his face, called him a “bitch” and a “pussy,” and threatened to head-butt him. He also alleged that Cohen called him “a Division 3 player with a Division 1 scholarship.”
Cohen acknowledged getting angry and calling Tyree a bitch but denied making the other remarks, getting in the student’s face or threatening violence.
Other players present in the study hall described the incident as unremarkable and mostly corroborated Cohen, who “was generally described as a passionate person who genuinely loved his job and cared about the well-being of the players, both as athletes and as people,” Maderer said.
Cohen, within hours, apologized to those present in the study hall, reported the incident to head football coach Kyle Flood and tried to reach Tyree that night to apologize but was successful.
Flood reprimanded Cohen the next day and addressed the incident during a staff meeting, though it would be months before Tyree complained of the incident.
Players and coaches “universally corroborated” that Tyree wasn’t held out of practice, games or team meetings, Maderer wrote. “The resounding message we repeatedly heard was that Jevon played sparingly because ‘the best players play.’”
Tyree in August mentioned the incident and complained about his lack of playing time to his parents, Mark and Clarice. They met with Cohen, who later apologized to Tyree and offered to help him improve as a player.
On Sept. 14, Tyree was kept out of a game as punishment for tardiness to a pregame meal, after which his father arranged a meeting with Flood. Flood later met with Tyree and his parents for two hours, and Tyree said he wished to stay on the team.
Mark Tyree also obtained the number for Athletic Director Julie Hermann, who was hired by Rutgers months after the incident.
Twice Hermann spoke with someone she believed to be Mark Tyree, though the calls actually came from someone else, and telephone records didn’t clear up the mystery, according to the report.
But “[r]egardless of how AD Hermann learned about Tyree’s concerns, upon hearing of them, she immediately contacted Coach Flood…to find out what happened…and to ascertain whether there were any ongoing issues with Coach Cohen’s behavior toward Jevon or any other players,” Maderer said.
By late October, Tyree had ascended the team’s depth chart­—which he described as a “surprise” in a media interview—but was held out of a Nov. 2 game because he’d missed practice the prior week because of illness.
Days later, Tyree quit the team.
The bullying claims were made public in a Nov. 15 media report, followed closely by numerous others.
On Nov. 20, Tyree and his parents met with Hermann, who upheld Tyree’s scholarship through spring 2014 and promised to release him to another school’s football program if he wished.
Saiber was retained on Nov. 22 to carry on the internal probe, at a rate of $215 an hour. The report, dated Jan. 26, was made public Tuesday.
It deemed Cohen’s conduct “inappropriate and unprofessional” but not a violation of any school policies barring harassment or bullying.
University spokesman Peter McDonough Jr. says: “We are pleased that they underscored [that]…systems are in place to respond in an appropriate and timely way.”
Attempts to contact Tyree and his parents were unsuccessful. No lawyer representing them has been identified.
The Saiber report comes six months after one issued by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in connection with the school’s response to chronic player abuse by former basketball coach Mike Rice.
Then, the results weren’t so flattering: Skadden found that university procedures were ignored, assigning most of the blame to former senior vice president and interim general counsel John Wolf.