Athletics department complaints pile up

Mike Ellis (left) and Norwood Teague.

Chelsea Gortmaker and Elizabeth Brumley, Daily File Photo

Mike Ellis (left) and Norwood Teague.

Marion Renault and Jackie Renzetti

Two top University of Minnesota athletics directors have stepped down from their roles within a month, following various complaints against them that include alleged sexual harassment.

Former athletics director Norwood Teague’s resignation and executive associate athletics director Mike Ellis’ leave of absence are the latest signs — along with ongoing federal investigations — of a tumultuous culture within the department.

The two female University employees who reported Teague’s unwanted advances said in an August press release that sexual harassment is a “problem that continues to plague our institutions and our working lives despite programs and training designed to suppress it.”

Last September, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was investigating whether the University took effective steps to end alleged sexual harassment by a former volunteer assistant coach for the women’s gymnastics team.

And the same federal office began reviewing a complaint in January alleging that the athletics department failed to provide women with the same opportunities as men. A 2013 Minnesota Daily project found that Gophers athletics had spent significantly more on men’s sports, including on scholarships and recruitment.

Reports surface

At a University-sponsored senior retreat in mid-July, intoxicated former athletics director Norwood Teague made unwelcome sexual advances toward two female members of President Eric Kaler’s senior leadership team.

Teague admitted to the incidents and submitted a 24-word-long letter of resignation on Aug. 7.

Since his abrupt resignation, fewer than five additional complaints have been made against Teague, according to Evan Lapiska, the University’s public relations director.

The University also received five new reports through the University’s confidential EthicsPoint system concerning Teague’s top assistant, executive associate athletics director Mike Ellis.

The University confirmed Thursday that Ellis, Teague’s right-hand man, is now on voluntary leave.

The University will continue to employ Ellis while those reports are externally investigated.

Last month, the University hired an independent, external legal counsel to review all allegations of sexual harassment and any new reports against Teague or other senior Gophers athletics leaders, which would include the five Ellis reports and the additional Teague complaints.

“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 an August press release. “Sexual harassment at the University of Minnesota will not be tolerated.”

Teague investigation

As of Sunday, the University has yet to announce any information on its search to permanently replace Teague.

However, it has publicly released a host of documents detailing the events leading to his departure — including firsthand accounts of the night when Teague sexually harassed the two women at the senior leadership retreat.

Both women described their contact with Teague before the University-sponsored event as minimal.

One of the women wrote that, after giving her number to Teague to set him up with a friend, the two began a “slightly flirtatious but … harmless” conversation. But she said Teague’s behavior quickly became inappropriate.

She described feeling frozen as Teague pinched her buttocks and waist while urging her to check a train of text messages that kept coming in on her phone.

After leaving the event, she discovered his “lewd and disgusting” messages proposing they skinny dip and engage in oral sex.

During the same dinner, the second woman wrote, Teague moved his chair so close to hers that she felt cornered. He repeatedly asked her why she hadn’t married her boyfriend. He rubbed her back and poked her side.

“Feeling physically trapped and inappropriately touched, I turned to my right in an attempt to join in another conversation,” she wrote.

Both women made it a point to exit the dinner with others for safety, and reported the incidents the next day.

Within weeks, Teague resigned.

When news of the leadership change broke, a local sports reporter also came forward with her own accounts of Teague’s inappropriate touching and text messages.

Teague will receive three months of health insurance paid for by the University, as well as compensation for unused paid leave and earned bonuses, according to a letter Kaler sent him.

A Board-of-Regents- approved full audit of Intercollegiate Athletics has begun, and a committee will oversee the external review.

On Aug. 7, Kaler confirmed that deputy athletics director Beth Goetz would take over as an interim athletics director until Dec. 31 or until officials hire a permanent replacement.

“Gopher Athletics has 725 student-athletes preparing for the upcoming academic year,” Goetz said in an August statement. “During this transition and beyond, our  focus is on fully supporting them, as well as our coaches and our staff.”

Recent complaints not isolated

By the time Mike Ellis arrived at the University of Minnesota in 2012, he had developed a reputation for being a well-networked college athletics administrator — often with Teague by his side.

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 at the time. “I lean on him hard, and he has a tremendous impact on what we do.”

Prior to the most recent complaints, both were entangled in sexual harassment allegations.

While Ellis served as a student manager for the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team in the1980s, 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.

Teague became athletics director at the University of Minnesota in June 2012, the same year he left VCU. In July of that year, VCU paid $125,000 to women’s basketball coach Beth Cunningham to settle a Title IX gender discrimination complaint she filed regarding Teague.

The University of Minnesota said in August that its nearly $113,000 contracted search to find and hire Teague did not turn up the VCU complaint.

Teague signed a document at the end of that search process guaranteeing that he had no issues of concern in his history.

The University of Minnesota said it learned of Cunningham’s settlement in December 2012 in conjunction with a federal complaint against the University filed by Regina Sullivan questioning Teague’s commitment to Title IX.

Sullivan served as senior associate athletics director for more than a decade until Teague fired her in October 2012. She received a $175,000 settlement in November 2013 and now works as the executive senior associate athletics director at Northeastern University.

Ellis followed Teague to Minnesota in 2012, where together they hired Richard Pitino and Marlene Stollings as head men’s and women’s basketball coaches, respectively.

A prior complaint against Ellis was investigated and closed in January 2013. No disciplinary measures were taken, according to Lapiska.

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 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 also says a senior member of the athletics department who expressed that he was offended was “immediately shunned” and “shockingly fired” a few days later, the Star Tribune reported.

The most recent reports about Teague and Ellis fall under the review of the external counsel, Lapiska said, so no further information about their nature or content will be available until that process is complete.