Top assistant athletics administrator takes leave of absence

Mike Ellis, associate athletic director for the University, has gone on voluntary leave while investigators look into five reports against him.

Marion Renault

Less than a month after two instances of sexual harassment led to former University of Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague’s resignation, his right-hand man stepped away from the department following new anonymous complaints.

Since Aug. 7 — one day after Teague wrote his 24-word-long letter of resignation — the University has received five reports concerning Teague’s top assistant, Mike Ellis.

The reports were anonymously submitted through the school’s EthicsPoint reporting system.

Ellis, who is an associate athletic director, is now on voluntary leave.  He will continue to be employed by the University while those reports are investigated by an independent external counsel or other “appropriate authority,” according to a statement from Evan Lapiska, the University’s director of public relations.

Ellis is fully cooperating, according to Lapiska’s statement.

In Jan. 2013, a prior complaint against Ellis was investigated and closed by the school’s central human resources department. No disciplinary measures were taken, the statement said.

The Star Tribune obtained a copy of a complaint related to an anonymous letter sent Aug. 10 by senior athletic staff to University President Eric Kaler.

The complaint alleges that Ellis shared pornographic images of college-aged women on his phone with Teague and others at the 2012 Gophers bowl game in Houston, Texas.

The complaint says a senior member of the athletics department who made it known he was offended was “immediately shunned” and “was shockingly fired” a few days later, the Star Tribune reported.

At a leadership retreat in mid-July, an intoxicated Teague harassed two female members of Kaler’s senior leadership      team with unwelcome sexual advances and verbal and physical conduct.

Teague submitted his letter of resignation Aug. 6.

In an Aug. 13 press release, the women who filed the complaints called sexual harassment a “problem that continues to plague our institutions and our working lives.”

That day, the University announced it retained independent, external legal counsel to investigate all allegations of sexual harassment and new EthicsPoints complaints against Teague or other senior Gophers athletics leaders.

“These external and independent experts will help ensure we fully address any allegations of sexual harassment involving our previous leadership in Gopher Athletics,” Kaler said in the press release. “Sexual harassment at the University of Minnesota will not be tolerated, and we must keep in mind and provide full support to those harmed by the deplorable actions of a former employee.”

That investigation now includes the five reports filed against Ellis, and the less than five additional complaints made against Teague since his departure.


‘The networker’

Prior to his arrival at the University in 2012, Ellis developed a reputation for being a well-networked college athletics administrator — often with Norwood Teague by his side.

While Ellis served as a student manager for the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team in the late eighties, Teague worked just down the hall as a student athletics employee.

Ellis went on to work for USA Basketball’s 1988 Olympic team and took a job at Virginia Commonwealth University as an assistant coach later that year.

Teague joined him there in 2006.

In July of 2012 — the year Teague left his job as VCU’s athletics director — the school paid its basketball coach Beth Cunningham $125,000  to settle a Title IX sexual discrimination complaint she filed.

The University has said it was unaware of the VCU complaint when it hired Teague.

Ellis followed Teague to Minnesota, where together they hired Richard Pitino and Marlene Stollings as Minnesota’s head basketball coaches.  Ellis’ yearly salary is $153,000.

In a 2014 Minnesota Daily profile of Ellis, Teague called him a confidant.

“There’s probably no one more networked in college basketball than Mike that’s not a coach,” Teague said. “I lean on him hard, and he has a tremendous impact on what we do.”

Last year, Teague and Ellis — along with Teague’s current replacement, interim athletics director Beth Goetz — served as a panel at Villa 7, a college athletics networking event Ellis founded a decade earlier.


Complaints in the wake of Teague resignation

The school has yet to announce any information on its search to permanently replace Teague, spokesman Lapiska said.

In the meantime, Teague will be provided with three months of health insurance and compensated for unused paid leave and earned but unpaid bonuses.

The University’s Associate Vice President of Internal Audits Gail Klatt will immediately start work on a Board of Regents- approved full audit of Intercollegiate Athletics.