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Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle was called into a meeting in April and handed a letter accusing him of verbal abuse and mistreating his players.
"It was hard to read," Wardle said in an exclusive interview by phone Friday afternoon. "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."
Wardle's patience paid off. An exhaustive independent investigation by local attorney Joseph Nicks determined that Wardle was guilty of using inappropriate language, but not of forcing former walk-on Ryan Bross to continue a running drill and ignoring him when he complained he was ill and later defecated on himself.
Wardle will remain UW-Green Bay's coach, the school announced Friday. The story made national headlines, coming just weeks after Rutgers fired men's basketball coach Mike Rice and his assistant, Jimmy Martelli, after evidence obtained by ESPN showed Rice committing physical and verbal abuse.
Nicks put together a 39-page report that was released Friday. Chancellor Tom Harden did what Rutgers did not, immediately going outside the university to conduct an investigation. Wardle praised Harden and UWGB athletic director Ken Bothof for their support.
"I totally understand the chancellor's decision supported the university during the investigation," said Wardle. "I thought it was a very smart decision."
The report concluded Wardle should have sent Bross back to the locker room earlier during the drill, but that he did not humiliate him in front of teammates. The report does indicate that certain inappropriate words were used; as a result, Wardle will have an adviser with him next season to monitor how he motivates his players.He also will have a disciplinary letter put in his file for the use of vulgar and obscene language and for his "suggestion that a player have sex." At this point, his contract won't be extended beyond its current end date of 2017. But Harden said future extensions still could be done.
"I've learned that the coaching climate has changed," Wardle said. "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, 33, leaned heavily on his wife, Lecia, a former soccer player at Marquette, whom he met when he was a member of Tom Crean's staff at Marquette.
"My main concern was my family, my 6-year-old, my 3-year-old, my 1-year-old, my parents in the Chicagoland area, the program, the administration, all of them," Wardle said. "I had to keep positive. We signed a player during this time, we got a commitment. I knew we could work through this. It was hard not to defend myself. I've been in Green Bay the last eight years as an assistant and head coach. I knew that people knew my character. I knew they thought I was trustworthy. [The allegations] were inconsistent with who I am and how I act."
Wardle said Crean, now the coach at Indiana, 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."
Crean said his biggest concern was ensuring Wardle had the right attorney to help him navigate the investigation.
"I'm sick over him and his family having to go through this," Crean said. "In the same vein, he will be better for it and will learn a ton about people and their agendas and that will serve him well. I appreciate people supported him and the truth came out."
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," he said. "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."
Wardle said his practices are open and he will remain accessible.
But, as he said, he will have to tweak his approach a bit. He said he knew that his case would be viewed in a different light because of the Rutgers situation, but he was confident in the truth.
"I learned that in coaching moments, when things are heated and emotional and competitive in practice, the things you say can make a difference to a young man," Wardle said. "I'm conscious of that now and I will correct them."I knew that once these allegations were made about me, I knew that I hadn't acted like that. Obviously physical abuse you can't do and verbal abuse cannot be done to these young men. Social media makes everything instantaneous. It can become a national story. I believe I'm not a perfect coach. I've grown, though, and over time my character will stand the test of time."