Michigan announced Friday that it has fired men’s hockey coach Mel Pearson after an investigation found a toxic culture within the program.
“It has been determined that Mel Pearson will not return as our ice hockey coach,” director of athletics Warde Manuel said in a statement. “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.”
The Athletic‘s Katie Strang reported earlier this week that Wolverines hockey players took an anonymous survey last June that outlined Pearson’s actions as coach. Players said he encouraged them to give false information on COVID-19 contact-tracing forms, misled recruits regarding scholarship money and called a player a “Jew.”
Strang reports the survey showed about 32% of the respondents felt they weren’t “respected and treated fairly” by Pearson and more than 31% witnessed offensive conduct or harassment in the program. With 34 people participating, the survey summary says there were more negative responses than positive.
Strang added that a different investigative report, provided by law firm WilmerHale, found that Pearson showed an “inability or unwillingness” to react when director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft displayed acts that included “mistreatment of female staff members.”
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Additionally, both the report and survey stated that players believed Pearson forced 2021 starting goaltender and team captain Strauss Mann to leave the school early in “retaliation for trying to address and improve the team’s culture.” Players and staff were reportedly hesitant to speak up over fear of retribution.
The report also addressed that the anonymous survey was conducted because “no one was willing to speak on the record about issues in the hockey program, including gender discrimination concerns, for fear of retaliation.”
Pearson reportedly denied the allegations involving Mann, Bancroft and the COVID-19 health forms to WilmerHale.
Former Michigan director of player development Steve Shields, who played goalie at Michigan in the early 1990s when Pearson was an assistant coach, filed a complaint last September to Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office alleging that he was fired from a volunteer role for bringing up concerns over Pearson’s leadership.
The Michigan Daily first reported in February that WilmerHale began investigating the team last October, when Pearson publicly downplayed it.
“The truth will come out at the end of the investigation,” he said. “And I am very confident that the allegations will be proven wrong.”