The university’s sports department announced Friday that Mel Pearson, the Michigan hockey coach for the past five seasons, will not extend his contract and has been relieved of his position.
This comes just days after allegations against Pearson and the “cultural issues” identified in the program “requiring attention” were revealed in a 70-page report from Washington, DC-based law firm Wilmerhill. The report, obtained by the Detroit News on Tuesday, was delivered to Michigan Athletic Director Ward Manuel on May 5.
Pearson’s original five-year contract expired at the end of April, just over three weeks after he transferred his team to the NCAA Frozen Four. Pearson, 63, has been the head coach for Michigan’s hockey program since 2017, taking the program to two appearances at the Frozen Four, and has continued to serve as Michigan’s “employee at will” for the past three months in the position despite not being in the position. Get a new contract.
“It has been decided that Mel Pearson will not return as our snowboard coach,” Manuel said in a statement released by the athletic department on Friday afternoon. “This decision has been weighed heavily and for some time. We welcomed an independent third party review of the climate and culture of our program before bolstering our assessment at a steady pace with campus leadership.
“Our student-athletes having a positive and meaningful experience is of paramount importance, and the clear expectation within our department is that all staff and staff will be valued and supported. I deeply appreciate and appreciate the many individuals who have come forward during this review. Today’s announcement reflects the seriousness of what we have heard and the values we hold in Michigan”.
Pearson told the Detroit News after the news broke Friday that he “cannot comment now.”
The last time Manuel spoke publicly about Pearson’s situation was after the university’s June 16 referees meeting when he presented the sports department’s budget. He spoke with two reporters and was asked if he expects Pearson to be the hockey coach this coming season.
“He’s our hockey coach, and I expect him to be our hockey coach,” Manuel said at the time.
Manuel said at the time that he had no problem with a coach running without a contract.
Manuel said in June, “We’re working through everything. He’s working and continues to be our hockey coach. It makes no difference in my mind what we’re doing. We’re just working through a process and looking at things that we need to address and we’ll move forward.”
Pearson confirmed the investigation, which was first reported by MLive in January, to the Michigan Student Daily in February, telling the newspaper he was “confident that the allegations will be proven wrong.”
According to the report, Pearson lied to investigators, including denying the conversation had taken place before providing a recording of the conversation. Among the allegations, Pearson discriminated against female staff, retaliated against one of his student-athletes for raising concerns about the program’s culture, and Pearson advised players to lie on COVID-19 tracking forms ahead of the 2021 NCAA Championships. Due to COVID issues within the team, the men’s ice hockey committee removed the men’s ice hockey board from the division 1st from the NCAA, Michigan of the 2020-2021 Championship.
Rick Bancroft, the former director of hockey operations, who retired from the position in June, has also been accused of discriminating against women on the hockey staff. According to the report, Bancroft was allegedly made aware of sexual misconduct by Dr. Robert Anderson, a physical therapist with the Michigan Department of Sports.
The report concluded that “multiple cases” were identified where “team leadership acted unprofessional – particularly in dealing with female staff and in treating student-athletes” but that Pearson did not directly violate Michigan’s policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct. However, the report identified a number of issues.
“We have concerns about the culture and operation of the men’s hockey program,” the report said.
The complainant in the report is Steve Shields, a former Wolverine goalkeeper who served as a volunteer player development manager for the program. Shields issued a complaint to the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Title IX (ECRT), which then referred the investigation to WilmerHale, according to the report.
Wilmerhill also investigated allegations of sexual misconduct against Dr. Anderson earlier this year.
The report states that evidence indicates that “[Shields]confronted[Pearson]about abuse of women in the hockey program on at least one occasion, and that the staff of the hockey program understood[Pearson]to be aware of complaints that Mr. Bancroft had intimidated his female colleagues.” “
One of the core members of the report is former guard Strauss-Mann, who took charge of Michigan in 2020-21 and was nominated for a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. According to the report, Mann, who declined to be interviewed for the investigation, raised concerns about Pearson’s handling of various issues within the program, including Pearson’s encouragement of the team to lie on contact tracing forms.
Pearson allegedly forced Mann to leave the program in order to serve him as a “gang leader” for players who raised concerns that could lead to his expulsion.
“These accounts reveal a widespread assumption within the hockey program that (Pearson) linked (Shields) to issues relating to the treatment of student athletes and in particular (Pearson’s) conflict with Mr. Mann,” the report said. “And, as noted above, (Pearson) appears to view the concerns raised by Mr. Mann as a serious threat to his position as head coach.
“At least, the evidence is clear that Mr. Mann believed that his hockey position was in grave danger due to contact with (Pearson).”
Pearson was Manuel’s first coach after taking over as sporting director.
“I try to get the best people on board to lead our programs as much as possible,” Manuel said during the press conference in 2017 to introduce Pearson as head coach. “I want great coaches who are great people, and they will be great citizens of this university, this department, and the community.”
Pearson served as Michigan’s assistant coach for 23 seasons–from 1988-1999 and assistant coach from 1999-2011–under Reed Berenson before taking over as Michigan Tech’s coach for six seasons. He led Michigan Tech to two NCAA Championship appearances.