Univ. of Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson fired

- The University of Minnesota terminated head wrestling coach J Robinson Wednesday amid an internal investigation over the dealing of prescription drugs within the program. Robinson was placed on administrative leave earlier this year. 

Acting head coach Brandon Eggum will assume the position of interim head coach for the upcoming season, according to the U of M. Eggum took over as acting head coach on Aug. 1

Fox 9 investigation revealed allegations of four wrestlers dealing the prescription drug Xanax, with ten other athletes using the anti-anxiety drug. The wrestlers were allegedly selling Xanax, which they called “Zanny,” for $5 to other wrestlers and $8 to other students.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, athletics director Mark Coyle said Robinson was fired for not sharing all the information he knew about the wrestlers selling and abusing the prescription drugs.

“I am terminating Coach Robinson’s contract because he was not forthcoming with his superiors when reporting his suspicions about selling and abusing prescription medication,” Coyle said. “While he did report drug suspicions, he chose not to share many other important details about what he knew.”

Coyle said Robinson did not fully cooperate with the university’s internal investigation and did not answer “some of our most critical questions.”

Coyle did not specify what information Robinson withheld from university officials regarding the allegations.

According to public documents released by the university, Robinson also reportedly destroyed evidence of drug activities of members of the wrestling team.

The documents say Robinson had intended to offer amnesty to any student athletes who came forward, despite being told by then-interim athletics director Beth Goetz that any student who tested positive for drugs would be subject to sanction under the university’s drug testing policy.

In a memo to Coyle regarding the wrestling investigation report, senior associate general counsel Brent Benrud said the student athletes he interviewed told him they understood there would be no consequences for those who came in and self-reported.

However, Benrud said Robinson “did indicate in his written response to questions that he advised the student athletes who self-reported to him that they would have to take various steps as a result of their actions.”

The documents also allege Robinson may have coerced some of the athletes into self-reporting their conduct by telling them he already knew everything about their involvement in drug activities, including who had used, purchased or sold the drugs.

Robinson's response to the university's investigation report was also made public Wednesday.

“I do not intend to address each inaccuracy and/or omission in the Report because there are far too many,” Robinson wrote. “For now, suffice it to say that the report sacrifices accuracy to create a narrative to support a pre-determined outcome to find fault with me and exculpate the university and senior employees in the athletic department.”

Robinson said he provided his supervisors with the entire list of student athletes he had suspicions about and updated them, as he said was consistent with the university’s policy.

“I have a great deal of respect for Coach Robinson and for everything he has accomplished in his 30 years with the University of Minnesota,” Coyle said at the press conference. “That respect cannot excuse his conduct in this instance.”

Coyle said he has yet to personally meet with Robinson since his termination or speak to him by phone, despite several attempts to reach him.

Coyle's letter to J Robinson

Dear Coach Robinson,

On Friday, August 26, 2016, I provided you with a copy of the report from the University investigator regarding the Wrestling situation. I notified you that you had the right to meet with me to provide your response to the report. That meeting occurred on Tuesday, August 30, 2016. I have now considered the report, the evidence underlying the report, and all of the information you provided in response to the report.

The investigation into this matter revealed that you engaged in multiple acts of serious misconduct. The investigation found that you violated University policy and acted in a manner inconsistent with the expectations of a Head Coach. I am also disappointed with your repeated failures to answer important questions asked of you during the course of the investigation. You have not provided me with any information that persuades me to question the investigation’s findings, which included:

You failed to disclose information regarding drug related activity of your team, including drug sales by current team members.

You instructed student athletes to turn in drugs to you, drugs were turned over to you, you took possession of the drugs, and you disposed of them. This directly impacted the ability of the University and law enforcement officials to investigate and address the matter.

You made promises of amnesty and confidentiality to student athletes that you were not authorized to make.

You disobeyed reasonable directives from me and the University to share information regarding the drug related activities of Wrestling team members. Although you have the information, you refused to say which student athletes were involved in selling drugs. You have also declined to answer other questions asked of you regarding your actions in this matter.

You have not refuted the investigation’s findings, or offered any acceptable explanation for your conduct. You have not accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for your conduct. As a result, I cannot trust you to refrain from such conduct in the future. I am deeply concerned about the well-being of student-athletes and committed to helping them flourish and succeed. But, consistent with that concern, when student athletes engage in serious misconduct, the Department has a responsibility to see that they are held accountable for their actions, the same as with any other University students. Coaches cannot decide to conceal knowledge of misconduct and attempt to handle matters on their own, outside of established University policies and procedures. Nor can coaches interfere with the investigation of a matter. This is especially true of Head Coaches, who are entrusted with the leadership of entire programs and who set an example for the rest of the Department.

Given your conduct, your refusal to obey my directives, and your failure to accept responsibility for your actions, you can no longer continue in your position as Head Coach. I have an obligation to act in the interests of the entire Department, all of our student athletes, as well as the broader University community.

Accordingly, please be advised that your position as Head Coach of Wrestling is hereby terminated, for just cause, effective immediately, pursuant to Section 3.1f of your employment agreement with the University. Marc Ryan will contact you to make arrangements to collect all University property in your possession, and to return any personal items from your office.

Very truly yours,

Mark Coyle, Athletic Director

J Robinson's response to the investigation

Coach Robinson sent the following letter to Mark Coyle on Aug. 30:

I have reviewed the EthicsPoint Complaint Investigation Report ("Report") and offer this abbreviated response. I do not intend to address each inaccuracy and/or omission in the Report because there are far too many. For now, suffice it to say that the Report sacrifices accuracy to create a narrative to support a pre-determined outcome to find fault with me and exculpate the University and senior employees in the Athletic Department. Examples off this include:

Finding No. 5 strains to provide the University with cover for not acting promptly in response to my request to drug test twenty-one (21) student athletes on the Wrestling Team. Despite the fact that my concerns involved nearly half my team, the University chose to view the matter "as a routine drug testing situation," ostensibly to justify its delay in acting and shift the focus on me by stating without fact that I what I wanted was "gotcha" testing.

Findings 6 and 7 wrongly accuse me of not being "forthcoming" in "filling out and submission of the reasonable suspicion drug testing forms, or m [my] initial discussions with Marc Ryan regarding the situation." Once again, this is another example of the University mischaracterizing my attempts to promptly address the concerns I had regarding members of the Wrestling Team to provide cover for the University's failure to act.

My attempts and efforts to promptly address my suspicions of drug use by student athletes through drug testing have been intentionally mischaracterized. Finding No. 4 provides in relevant part:

Coach Robinson did not initially intend to conduct drug testing through the Athletic Department's Drug Testing Review Board, as called for in the student athlete drug testing policy. "He simply intended for o arrange for and carry out the testing.

This Finding is another example of the many statements contained in the Report that are not based on fact. The Finding incorrectly implies, as does much of the Report, that I disregarded and/or violated University policy, which simply is not true. Conveniently absent from the Report is information I have provided regarding my efforts to follow the Drug Testing Policy and the lack of support I encountered in trying to do so. Again, by way of example, my actions in early to mid-March 2016 in providing to my direct supervisor and the Interim Athletic Director the entire list of student athletes I had suspicions about, updating them and providing the medical department training staff with a specific list of student athletes who self-reported to me were all consistent with policy. The same is true with respect to information I communicated to the student athletes when I met with the team in March. As I have previously told the University, but which does not appear in the Report, the student athletes who self-reported to me were advised:

1. Student-Afhletes agree to future sanctions/pumshment as decided by Coach Robinson;

2. Student-Athletes told to schedule an appointment immediately with Athletic Trainer for chemical evaluation;

3. Student-Afhletes must notify their parents of their actions (within 3 days of meeting with Coach);

4. Parents had to call Coach Robinson (within 3 days) with information wrestlers had provided them to make sure it coincided with what was told to Coach Robinson;

5. Each involved student-athlete to write a detailed essay to Coach Robinson of how their actions affected themselves, family, teammates, university and what actions m place they would be held accountable to, to prevent from happening again;

6. Student-Athletes acknowledge that this constitutes a "first strike" in the Athletic Department policy and would accept any additional sanctions as mandated by the policy or the Review Board;

7. Student-Athletes must share drug evaluation from counselor with Coach Robinson to figure out appropriate next steps; and,

8. Specific student-athletes to be supervised directly by Coach Robinson during the summer to ensure behavior/actions closely monitored.

The University has focused instead on faulting me for using the word "amnesty" during my team meeting with the student athletes, without considering the context and/or my explanation as to how (he word was used. As I have previously told the University, I did not tell the student athletes that I would keep their identities confidential. I understood the student athletes would need to be identified for purposes of fhe Safe Harbor program and any actions taken by the Review Board. I did not make any representations regarding whether other persons within the Athletic Department would keep their information confidential.

The Report contains several other examples where the University has chosen to ignore the information I have provided. Again, by way of illustration, I referred the student athletes to the training staff consistent with the direction I received from the Interim Athletic Director on March 25, 2016. Considering that all the student-athletes who voluntarily self-reported were referred to the Trainer pursuant to the Drug Testing policy, the University had an obligation pursuant to the policy to enter the student-athletes into the Safe Harbor program pending approval by the Review Board. I reasonably expected the Drug Testing Review Board would address the situation involving each student athlete and I anticipated that I would be contacted as part of this process. That never happened. I was never asked, directed nor did I ever appear before the Review Board on each individual student-athlete’s application for Safe Harbor to discuss the confidential issues applicable to that individual student-athlete, per policy.

In closing, I want to clearly communicate my disagreement with the findings in the Report. The Report is filled with excuses for the University's failure to act and masks the lack of adequate policy guidance and support to assist coaches in addressing situations involving and helping student athletes with drug issues.

J Robinson

About Coach Brandon Eggum

Eggum has been a member of the Gophers wrestling staff since 2001, immediately after finishing his college wrestling career at Minnesota. As a Gophers wrestler, Eggum finished his final three seasons as an All-American and won two individual Big Ten titles. He ranks among the program’s 20 best all-time in wins and winning percentage. On the international level, Eggum won silver medals at the 2001 World and 2002 Pan American Freestyle Championships.

Timeline of Gophers wrestling investigation

Jan. 18 – Start of spring semester

Jan. 25 – Informant starts to hear about drug activity on the Gophers wrestling team.

Feb. 1- Informant sees video on an Android phone that belongs to a Gophers wrestler, showing a large amount of Xanax pills on a table top. He is told that he can get some Xanax if he is interested.

March 14 – Wrestling nationals are held in New York.

March 19 – Wrestling season ends.

March 21 – All Gophers wrestlers are called in for a mandatory drug test. Xanax was not one of the drugs tested for. Tests results reveal two wrestlers tested positive for amphetamines and one for marijuana.

March 23 – At a mandatory team meeting, Robinson says he’s aware of drug use on the team, including Xanax, Adderall and marijuana. Robinson says those involved have until March 25 through March 27 to tell him privately what their involvement is and to surrender any drugs in their possession. He says wrestlers who do this will be granted immunity.

March 29 – At a mandatory team meeting, Robinson tells wrestlers who were involved in drug activity to “write an essay that details their emotions of getting caught.”

The police report details a text message sent by Robinson to his wrestlers that says: “Remember that paper is due on my desk by tomorrow evening. #1 What emotions you’re feeling by getting caught, by letting your teammates, your parents down, how did it feel and do you want to feel that way again? #2 what did you learn from this? 3 what are you going to do different. Your plan so does not happen again?”

April 8 - University of Minnesota Police receive a submission from the informant  through the University of Minnesota Ethics Point Reporting System . The submission states that J Robinson tried to take matters into his own hands after discovering four wrestlers had sold drugs and 10 others had used it.

April 12 – J Robinson meets with investigators, and says he knew about drug use on the team but said it was “a confidential matter and he was taking care of it internally.” Robinson said if his wrestlers were granted immunity from criminal prosecution, he would tell investigators “everything that he knows.” He said that he knows the players involved, what their involvement is and where the drugs were coming from. Later that day, Robinson is informed that his wrestlers will not be granted immunity. In a follow-up conversation with the informant, police learn Robinson pulled several wrestlers aside and told them a criminal investigation was being conducted.

April 15 – A search warrant is executed at the Bierman Athletic Building, seeking documents, computers, storage devices and a cell phone. During an interview with police, Robinson once again confirms some of his wrestlers were involved in drug activity and says he wants to find a resolution so the issue doesn’t result in “carnage” for his team.

April 27 – Gophers wrestlers are contacted by police to schedule interviews. Investigators learn some wrestlers were “freaking out” about their drug tests. They also learn the Xanax pills were allegedly mailed in shoeboxes, with “hundreds of pills” stuffed inside of shoes, but that testimony came from a wrestler with no firsthand knowledge.

May 2 – Investigators asked former interim athletics director Beth Goetz for a second drug test of the wrestlers, for Xanax, which is not a substance banned by the NCAA. A university lawyers suggested police get a search warrant for a second urine test.

May 6 – Investigators receive a DVD copy of the apology letters some wrestlers provided to J Robinson.

May 24 – Fox 9 reporter Tom Lyden breaks the news of an investigation into drug use and sales on the Gophers wrestling team.

June 1 - J Robinson placed on administrative leave

June 17 – J Robinson Intensive Camps moved off U of M campus, to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

June 22 - Hennepin County Attorney's Office declines charges, citing a lack of evidence.

June 28 - Minneapolis City Attorney's Office declines charges.

August 1 - Brandon Eggum takes over as acting head coach

September 7 - U of M fires J Robinson. Brandon Eggum assumes position of interim head coach. 

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