Top 10 Stories of 2011: No. 4 — Separate scandals trap Cal Poly coaches

The Cal Poly Athletics Department was rocked this year by a pair of scandals and the resignation of two popular and successful coaches.The first involved the men’s tennis coach manipulating players’ scholarship deals. The second centered on sexual harassment charges against the women’s volleyball coach.

Aside from the allegations of two men in power taking advantage of players under their leadership, the dual scandals revealed what many players and an assistant coach saw as a lack of oversight by the former head of the university’s sports department, a state of affairs that the university says has been rectified with a new athletics director.

Tennis coach resigns

The coach who led the Cal Poly men’s tennis team to its highest ranking and only Division I postseason berth resigned in July amid an NCAA investigation into rule-breaking and allegations of unethical conduct.

Justin McGrath, who came to the school before the 2007 season, disputed that the NCAA investigation or any of the charges against him contributed to his stepping down.

“I can tell you that that’s garbage, and that’s not the reasons I’m resigning,” McGrath said at the time, adding that he quit to pursue other coaching opportunities. McGrath took a job as the tennis director of the Paso Robles Sports Club.

The investigation was triggered by both Cal Poly and outside complaints to the NCAA.

In June, an NCAA investigator interviewed team members about allegations that McGrath tampered with official scholarship documents and that the university did not provide athletes a chance to appeal after having their scholarships reduced by the coach.

NCAA rules require scholarship agreements to be signed by July 1 and call for universities to notify athletes of their right to appeal scholarship reductions.

Players said they periodically signed scholarship agreements in September with McGrath urging them to use false dates that made the documents appear as if they were signed before the deadline. Four current and former players said they failed to receive appeal notices when their scholarships were cut.

A former assistant coach and players also alleged that their signatures were forged on documents that showed they received per diem expense money.

In September, the NCAA fined Cal Poly and claimed McGrath ran his team over budget for five years. A letter of reprimand written by Cal Poly, which mentioned the NCAA fine, did not reference specific allegations.

Volleyball coach resigns

Former Cal Poly volleyball head coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his coaching duties by the university Sept. 1 after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment became public, marring the tenure of one the most successful coaches in program history.

Stevenson first released details of his departure with the team on Twitter, saying on his account, “Watching the team that I built, trained, and prepared lose to inferior teams i.e. santa clara and university of utah (actually Utah Valley) but I have no access.”

After The Tribune made a Public Records Act request, university administrators released an investigative report dated April 6, 2010, which detailed accusations that the coach once attempted to pull one player’s shorts down. It was also alleged he made comments about players’ bodies and would “say things like, ‘(Player B) is a crazy sex addict — all she wants to do is party.’ ”

The report concluded that Stevenson repeatedly hugged and kissed certain players on the head and face, once attempted to “pants” one of his players and displayed a small Latina doll to several players and said, “This is to remind me never to interact with Latino women because they are such crazy bitches.”

Stevenson declined to comment to The Tribune about the allegations.

Upon receiving the findings of the investigation, then-Cal Poly Athletic Director Alison Cone and Provost Robert Koob agreed to keep Stevenson as coach, subject to meeting a list of limitations.

But after a review, newly hired Athletic Director Don Oberhelman concluded that Stevenson should no longer coach.

“This issue has very little to do with this report and has everything to do with my confidence in his leadership,” Oberhelman told The Tribune in September. “If you’re asking for an ‘a-ha moment,’ there’s no specific moment, no specific thing that did it. I would just say there’s me being on the job for five months, and I had just gotten to the point where I had seen enough.”

Cal Poly agreed to pay Stevenson $133,980 and honor 440 hours of vacation to part ways with the university, as outlined in the separation agreement obtained by The Tribune. He is prohibited from initiating contact with any current players, their parents, any other Cal Poly coaches or Athletic Department personnel.

Third-year assistant coach Caroline Walters replaced Stevenson on an interim basis.

The school has said it will conduct a nationwide search to find the next head volleyball coach.

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