Harris resigns amid pending suit

Athletics director Joel Maturi must find a new golf director for the second time in two years.

John Harris, right, and caddie Ernie Rose line up a putt on the 18th green of The National Golf Club during the first round of the Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am in Parkville, Mo., Friday, June 11, 2004. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

John Harris, right, and caddie Ernie Rose line up a putt on the 18th green of The National Golf Club during the first round of the Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am in Parkville, Mo., Friday, June 11, 2004. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

by Andrew Baker

University of Minnesota Director of Golf John Harris resigned Friday after less than a year on the job amid a pending lawsuit alleging discrimination and hiring under false pretenses.

The University issued a press release late Friday afternoon announcing HarrisâÄô decision to step down.

The release made no mention of the lawsuit, and quoted Harris as saying, âÄúMy wife and I are looking forward to spending more time on travels and pursuits that are not so focused on golf. I feel that it is best for the University and the golf program for another coach to move forward to build on the current positive performance momentum in the program.âÄù

In a subsequent email to the Pioneer Press, Harris claimed he is being âÄúdefamedâÄù by Brenny and her lawyers for financial gain and that his decision to resign was unrelated to the scandal.

The complaint, filed against him and the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents in January by former Gophers associate womenâÄôs golf coach Katie Brenny, alleges that after hiring Brenny last August, Harris forbade her from fully carrying out her duties as an associate head coach and instead deferred those duties to the teamâÄôs director of instruction âÄî and HarrisâÄô son-in-law âÄî Ernie Rose.

Harris hired Brenny to serve as a figurehead while he groomed Rose as his heir apparent, said Brenny, her lawyer Donald Mark, Jr. and multiple sources closely connected with the program to the Minnesota Daily last year when it broke the news of HarrisâÄô alleged misconduct.

Brenny, who is openly gay, also alleges that upon learning in September that she is a lesbian, Harris kept her from traveling to any of the womenâÄôs teamâÄôs four fall tournaments and from instructing the female golfers on anything golf-related.

The lawsuit paints a negative portrait of Harris and the Gophers athletics department.

For example: âÄúUpon learning that Plaintiff [Brenny] had scheduled a team meeting and photograph, Harris informed [Brenny] that he did not want her meeting with the team, telling her, âÄòYou have nothing to talk to these girls about.âÄô Harris instructed her to cancel the team meeting and photograph (which [Brenny] did).âÄù

The complaint also alleges that Harris told Brenny to âÄúkeep a distanceâÄù from the seniors on the team and stick to instructing the freshmen, though only on âÄúboys, life and school,âÄù and nothing related to golf.

Brenny complained on several occasions to athletics department staff, including associate athletics directors Elizabeth Eull and David Crum and Athletics Director Joel Maturi, who allegedly âÄútold [Brenny] that her choices were to either quit or comply with HarrisâÄô demands.âÄù

Brenny resigned Nov. 1, after about two months on the job.

The University could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit.

Around the time he hired Brenny, Harris also was busy recruiting the Gophers 2011-12 golf class, which includes Orono standout Patrick Johnston.

Harris watched Johnston play in a couple tournaments and shared his vision for the future of the Gophers golf program.

âÄúHe said some of the kids [had] lost sight of what golfâÄôs all about,âÄù Johnston said of his early conversations with Harris. âÄúHis goal was to make sure everybody was having fun.âÄù

Johnston said he learned of HarrisâÄô resignation Friday in an email from associate head coach John Carlson, who led the menâÄôs team under Harris and was hired around the same time as Brenny.

According to Johnston, Carlson pledged in the email that he would remain with the team and that a new director of golf would likely be named within a couple weeks.

As for the Brenny scandal contributing to HarrisâÄô departure, Johnston said, âÄúI feel that that obviously played a role into it.âÄù

But, Johnston said, âÄúAll of us [recruits] really like John Harris. We think heâÄôs a great guy [who] really knows what heâÄôs doing. WeâÄôre all pretty bummed to not be able to work with him.âÄù

Said JohnstonâÄôs fellow recruit, St. Cloud TechâÄôs Charlie Braniff: âÄúI was just shocked when I heard the news [of HarrisâÄô departure]. I didnâÄôt really know what to think at the time and I still donâÄôt know what to think.âÄù

Like Johnston, Braniff was immediately drawn to Harris when he met him as a recruit.

âÄúThe first time I met him, I told everybody, âÄòHeâÄôs the nicest guy IâÄôve ever met,âÄôâÄù**** Braniff said. âÄúI knew right then and there that I wanted to play for him.âÄù

As Johnston and Braniff adjust to the idea of not playing for the man who recruited them, and with the start of the fall season less than three months away, Maturi now must find a new director of golf for the second time in as many years.

Last yearâÄôs process of hiring Harris to replace outgoing golf director Brad James drew the ire of some program boosters who were wary of HarrisâÄô intentions and felt Maturi did not give a fair shot to Gophers assistant Andrew Tank, who now coaches the menâÄôs team at Iowa State.

The Daily reported in December that former Minnesota Golf Booster Club president Phil Ebner emailed Maturi on July 12, warning that Harris âÄî who was nearing 60, had never coached college golf and was playing professionally on the PGA Champions Tour âÄî only wanted to coach the Gophers so he could hire his son-in-law and groom him to take over the program.

Rose, who doesnâÄôt have a bachelorâÄôs degree and therefore cannot hold a coaching position, was hired as âÄúdirector of instruction.âÄù

Maturi did not name an interim director of golf for the current search period, which began immediately following HarrisâÄô resignation.

Athletics department spokesman Garry Bowman did not name any front-running candidates, though he did say Carlson is âÄúencouraged to apply.âÄù

Bowman confirmed that Carlson and Rose are still with the program. âÄúThere is a little bit in flux there while the search goes on,âÄù Bowman said, âÄúbut those two will continue to do their jobs.âÄù

Bowman said he had no prior knowledge that Harris planned to resign, and that the athletics department did not pressure Harris to do so.