Mel Pearson is out as Michigan Wolverines hockey coach Friday, after the school declined to renew his contract.
Pearson had been under scrutiny since the beginning of the 2021-22 season, when a complaint was formally filed against him and then-director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft.
The allegations against Pearson ranged from “pressuring students to lie on their COVID-19 tracing forms” prior to the 2021 NCAA tournament to creating a “toxic work environment” for female support staff and claims that he retaliated against a former student athlete for bringing up issues with team culture.
The probe also alleges Bancroft knew about sexual misconduct committed by deceased Michigan football team doctor Dr. Robert Anderson.
“It has been determined 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 heavily and for some time. We welcomed an independent third-party review into the climate and culture of our program before furthering our assessment in lockstep with campus leadership.
“Our student-athletes having a positive and meaningful experience is of paramount importance, and a clear expectation within our department is that all employees and staff are valued and supported. I deeply appreciate and value the many individuals who came forward throughout this review.
“Today’s announcement reflects the seriousness with what we’ve heard and the values we hold dear at Michigan.”
A scathing report by Washington D.C. based law firm WilmerHale, obtained by the Free Press on Tuesday, found Pearson did not provide credible answers to investigators and lied during their probe into the program.
Former U-M goalie and volunteer assistant Steve Shields filed the complaint in October, claiming Pearson fired him in retaliation for reporting the allegations.
While the report concluded “(Pearson) has not committed retaliation against (Shields) as defined by the Policy” it went on to say, “The University should review, however, whether Respondent’s conduct violates other University policies, including but not limited to Standard Practice Guide 601.90, Protection from Retaliation.
“Our investigation did identify cultural issues within the hockey program that warrant attention.”
Initial concerns over team culture were brought to Pearson’s attention following the 2021 season by former goalie and team captain Straus Mann.
According to the report, Shields said Pearson was “tipped off” that Mann was the “ringleader” of a group of athletes who wanted to raise concerns over how Pearson was leading the program, so Pearson “isolated” Mann and “basically got rid of him.”
Upon investigation, Pearson said he never discussed culture concerns with Mann, though witness interviews and recordings stated Pearson did have those talks with Mann.
“At the very least, the evidence is clear that Mr. Mann believed that his status with the hockey program was in serious jeopardy because of friction with (Pearson),” the report reads.
Among the cultural issues investigated was a hostile work environment for female staffers.
Page 54 of the report reads, “Several witnesses stated that Mr. Bancroft bullied colleagues, possibly based on their gender, and that (Pearson) was aware of this behavior but took no action to stop.”
Pearson’s contract ended after the 2021-22 season, though he remained on staff and was paid. In mid-June, athletic director Warde Manuel said he expected Pearson to coach the Wolverines moving forward.
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 under longtime Michigan coach Red Berenson from 1988-2011, then was head coach at Michigan Tech for six seasons.
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