Sports Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson lied to investigators after...

Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson lied to investigators after misconduct report details

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Mel Pearson is out Michigan Wolverines hockey coach Friday, after the school declined to renew his contract.

Pearson has been under investigation since the start of the 2021-22 season, when a formal complaint was filed against him and then-director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft.

The allegations against Pearson range from “pressing students to lie on their Covid-19 tracing forms” before the 2021 NCAA tournament to creating a “toxic work environment” for female support staff and claiming he retaliated for grooming a former student athlete. Problems with team culture.

The investigation also alleges that Bancroft knew about sexual misconduct by the deceased Michigan football team doctor, Dr. Robert Anderson.

“It has been confirmed that Mel Pearson will not return as our ice hockey coach,” athletic director Warde Manuel said in a news release Friday. “This decision has been weighed for a long time. We welcome an independent third-party review of our program’s climate and culture before furthering our assessment in lockstep with campus leadership.

“It is vital that our student-athletes have a positive and meaningful experience, and a clear expectation within our department is that all employees and staff feel valued and supported. I greatly appreciate and value the many people who came forward in this review.

“Today’s announcement reflects the intensity of what we heard and the values ​​we hold dear here in Michigan.”

A scathing report by Washington DC-based law firm WilmerHale, obtained by the Free Press on Tuesday, found that Pearson did not provide reliable answers to investigators and lied in their investigation into the program.

Former UM goalie and volunteer assistant Steve Shields filed a complaint in October, claiming Pearson fired him in retaliation for reporting the allegations.

The report concluded that “(Pearson) did not constitute retaliation as defined by (Shields) policy,” but added, “However, the university must review whether the defendant’s conduct violated other university policies, including standards of conduct. Practice Guide 601.90, Protection from Retaliation.”

“Our research identified cultural issues of concern in the hockey program.”

Michigan head coach Mel Pearson sits on the bench during action against Michigan State on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Initial concerns over the team’s culture were brought to the attention of former goalie and team captain Straussmann Pearson after the 2021 season.

According to the report, Shields said Pearson “answered” Mann as a “ring leader” to a group of athletes who wanted to raise concerns about how Pearson was running the program, so Pearson “isolated” Mann and “basically got rid of” him.”

At trial, Pearson said he never discussed matters of culture with Mann, but witness interviews and recordings indicated Pearson had discussions with Mann.

“At the very least, the evidence is clear that Mr. Mann believed his standing with the hockey program was in serious jeopardy because of the confrontation with (Pearson),” the report said.

Among the cultural issues investigated was a hostile work environment for female staff.

Page 54 of the report states, “Several witnesses stated that Mr. Bancroft harassed co-workers, possibly based on their gender, and that (Pearson) was aware of this behavior and took no action to stop it.”

Michigan head coach Mel Pearson, center, watches practice as the Wolverines prepare for their Frozen Four matchup against Denver, Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston.

Pearson’s contract expires after the 2021-22 season, although he remains on staff and receives a salary. In mid-June, athletic director Warde Manuel said he expected Pearson to move on as coach of the Wolverines.

Pearson led the Wolverines to a 31-10-1 record in 2021-22 – their most wins in a season since 2007-08 – as they reached the Frozen Four for the second time since his tenure began in 2017. Pearson was previously an assistant. He was the head coach at Michigan Tech for six seasons, under longtime Michigan coach Red Berenson from 1988-2011.

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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