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Friday, May 24, 2013
Green Bay to retain Brian Wardle

By Myron Medcalf and Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Following the conclusion of an independent investigation into claims that he mistreated multiple players, Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle will retain his current post, according to a release distributed by the school Friday afternoon.

The decision by chancellor Tom Harden to allow Wardle to keep his current job was announced in conjunction with the 39-page report completed by local attorney Joseph Nicks.

In early April, former walk-on Ryan Bross alleged that Wardle had ignored his pleas to stop a rigorous drill because Bross felt ill. Bross, through a letter submitted by his parents, said that he ultimately defecated on himself.

He also accused Wardle of verbal abuse, which included a suggestion that having sex with a woman would help him on the basketball court, and allegations that the coach had used homophobic language in reference to Bross.

The letter sent to Harden also said that Bross had been blocked from taking certain courses that were "too hard."

"It was hard to read," Wardle told ESPN.com Friday. "I swore I would cooperate with the investigation, be quiet and let the process play out. I sat there knowing the truth would come out one day and felt confident in the person and coach that I am. I'm a demanding head coach, not demeaning. I'm demanding, not demeaning."

A second former player, Brennan Cougill, also accused Wardle of verbal abuse last month.

Nicks' report named a third player who alleged he'd been verbally abused by Wardle, too. That particular matter, however, was handled internally, according to the report. The player, who is not named, eventually left the program.

Nicks' report concluded that Wardle may have used poor judgment in encouraging Bross to continue the drill but also said he did not force Bross to participate in a team run up a steep hill multiple times. The report also said Bross was not explicitly discouraged from taking specific classes.

But Nicks gathered conflicting accounts of the allegations regarding Wardle's use of profane language.

"Unfortunately, the facts are unclear about the extent of Wardle's use of inappropriate language," Nicks says in his report.

The report also stated that Cougill was not "treated unfairly," as he and his family had previously alleged.

Wardle released a statement that said the allegations had been proven "false" by the report.

Nicks, however, concluded "the facts about the accusations against Wardle are by no means certain."

Harden acknowledged that certain changes would be made to ensure that some of the conduct revealed in the report -- such as the use of profanity -- would cease. But he also expressed confidence that Wardle was still the right individual to run the school's men's basketball program in a statement:

"Coach Wardle will be permitted to continue as head men's basketball coach, but his contract will not be extended during 2013 (beyond his current contract ending date of 2017). Future extensions will be reviewed on an annual basis.

"A disciplinary letter addressing Coach Wardle's use of vulgar and obscene language and his suggestion that a player have sex will be placed in his personnel file. Coach Wardle will be assigned an adviser for the 2013-14 season, with the goal of improving some of the ways in which he motivates student athletes. Coach Wardle will be required to be more involved in University-wide activities in the future, to better understand the broader university environment."

Harden also said the university will create a "statement of expectations" for all coaches in the coming months.

Wardle said he was pleased with the report and final outcome.

"I want to stress that I am grateful for the opportunity to represent this university and will continue to build a program of which it can be proud," Wardle said in a separate statement released by the school. "As a head coach it is my responsibility to care for our student athletes as if they were my own children. Their personal development is very important to me.

"I have done a tremendous amount of reflection and self-examination over the past several months that will help me improve as a coach. I am confident that our players are in a healthy environment where they can reach their academic and athletic potential. I believe the university's findings support my claim, and my family and I would like to express our gratitude to Chancellor Harden for his leadership in executing a thorough investigation."

In Nicks' report, which found no evidence of physical abuse, Wardle admitted that he'd encouraged players in the past to have sex but only with a humorous tone. He maintained his denial of Bross' allegations of abuse.

In reference to some of the language that he's used around players, Wardle told Nicks that "he believes a certain amount of swearing is common and acceptable in basketball culture, including AAU basketball and Division I, but was unsure whether all of the players are used to it."

After the report came out Friday, Wardle said he had "learned that the coaching climate has changed."

"You have to be willing to make tweaks out of your coaching style to get the most out of every kid. I know it has changed the last 10 years. But you've got to make those tweaks. Now I know," Wardle said.

Harden refuted that comment.

"As to the accusations of verbal abuse, let me first state unequivocally that I do not condone the notion, as some have suggested, that Division I basketball 'culture' should allow coaches to mistreat players or direct obscene or vulgar language toward them," he said. "We do not accept this sort of treatment or language in the classroom, and we should not accept it on the court or in the locker room. This report sheds light on improvements we can, and will, make as an athletics department and as a university."

Wardle said Indiana coach Tom Crean, for whom Wardle worked at Marquette, was a tremendous asset during the month-long investigation.

"I was never worried about what they were going to find, never," Crean told ESPN.com Friday. "I told him to stay true to yourself, to your family. You know how your players view you and how strong your relationship is with them."

Wardle said the episode was hard to deal with but he did his best to be patient.

"There's nothing you can do about it," said Wardle. "What I knew was how I respond from this day forward is what matters. My goal is to make sure everyone is proud of Green Bay basketball and show them this year and years to come what we can do. I'm proud of what we've done here."