Following the recent resignation of women’s track and field head coach Bev Kearney, several questions regarding the timing of the incident remain.
Kearney admitted in late October to having “an intimate consensual relationship” in 2002 with “a student-athlete in [the] program,” according to a statement from Patricia Ohlendorf, the University’s vice president for legal affairs.
Kearney’s relationship with the adult student-athlete began about 10 1/2 years ago and ended about eight years ago.
Kearney resigned Jan. 5 after being notified that the University was prepared to begin the termination process.
“You know, you get caught up in the emotional and the physical components of a relationship, and the last thing you’re doing is thinking rationally,” Kearney said in a Jan. 8 interview on the CNN program, “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.”
Kearney admitted to the previous relationship after it was brought to the attention of the athletic department in October by the still unrevealed former student-athlete involved. The University then placed Kearney on paid administrative leave as it further investigated the matter before she resigned later on.
According to the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, “the University strongly discourages consensual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, teachers and students and advisors and students.” The policy goes on to say that a failure to report the relationship “will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
The University implemented the policy in November 2001, about a year before the start of the relationship. But Kearney’s attorney Derek Howard said that the University’s reasoning for firing Kearney made no mention of the policy.
“[The University] doesn’t mention [Kearney’s] failure to report the relationship as the reason for firing her,” Howard said. “It’s because she had the relationship, period.”
In her statement, Ohlendorf said the relationship was “unprofessional and crosses the line of trust placed in the head coach for all aspects of the athletic program and the best interests of the student-athletes on the team.”
Kearney told CNN that while she was unaware of the policy to begin with, the disclosure part was never the reason for her termination.
“I said then, ‘Has everyone else been terminated as a point of reference of having had a relationship?’ and the answer was ... ‘We don’t view those the same as yours.’”
There are also several questions regarding the timing of the firing. According to a Nov. 30 story by The Associated Press, Kearney was up for a raise. Chris Plonsky, women’s athletics director, emailed President William Powers Jr. on Sept. 24 to request the raise, which would have brought Kearney’s base salary up from $270,000 per year plus bonuses to $397,000 per year plus bonuses in 2012-13. By 2017, her base salary would have been up to $475,000 per year. Plonsky said in the email that the raise would put her among the top three highest compensated track coaches in the nation.
Contracts need to be approved by the UT System Board of Regents, and Kearney’s contract was set to be on the board’s October agenda until being pulled by administrators, according to the story.
Howard said he believes the revelation of the relationship and the timing of Kearney’s proposed raise are not unrelated.
“We don’t think it was a coincidence,” Howard said. “We do believe there was a motivation to do that.”
Howard said he and Kearney are discussing legal options, which could include a discrimination lawsuit that would not only examine relationships between head coaches and student-athletes but relationships between students and other University employees, including faculty members.
Kearney was the women’s track and field head coach since 1993, leading the Longhorns to six national championships — three indoor and three outdoor — during her 20-year tenure. She was named her conference’s coach of the year 16 times and guided Texas to 14 straight top-10 finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships between 1994 and 2007, a previously unprecedented feat.
Kearney had been in a car accident in 2002 and suffered spinal injuries. She had to learn how to walk again, and her story and perseverance have been widely covered by local and national media outlets. Up until her firing, 2012 was a year filled with accomplishments for Kearney including being recognized as one of CNN’s “Breakthrough Women,” sharing the stage with Michelle Obama at the BET Honors gala and watching eight of her former student-athletes compete in the summer Olympics.
Kearney has not been given any opportunity to speak with the team, Howard said. Rose Brimmer, who spent eight seasons as an assistant coach under Kearney, will take over as interim head women’s track and field coach, while Stephen Sisson, who has been an assistant women’s track and field coach at Texas since 2006, will take on “expanded duties.” The athletic department did not respond to a question on whether it had begun its search for a new head coach.