11th Apr 2013
By Randy Riggs, American-Statesman Staff
Bev Kearney, who has led the University of Texas women’s track and field team to six national championships since arriving in 1993, told the American-Statesman on Saturday that she has chosen to resign after being placed on paid leave in November.
During an exclusive interview with the American-Statesman at the office of her attorney, Kearney said her decision to resign was tied to an investigation that UT officials began this past fall. At that time, university officials received information that Kearney engaged in what she called a “consensual intimate relationship” with an “adult student-athlete” that began in July of 2002 and ended months later after Kearney suffered critical spinal injuries in a Dec. 26, 2002, automobile accident.
Kearney said the student-athlete, whom she declined to identify, reported the relationship to UT officials in October, triggering the investigation that led to Kearney being placed on the paid leave that was announced Nov. 12. In announcing Kearney’s leave, UT offered no detailed reasons for the move.
Kearney, 55, said her life since has been “indescribable.” During a roughly 45-minute interview in a conference room in the offices of Derek A. Howard, her attorney, Kearney kept her composure but spoke in a quiet voice that occasionally wavered.
“You destroy yourself. You start questioning how could you make such a judgment,” she said. “How could you make such an error after all the years? You can get consumed (by it).
“But I had to go back and say, ‘God, if this is the pattern that you choose for me to find peace of mind, if this is what I need to go through to in order to do that, let me not make it about anybody else, but revert it back to me.’ It’s been a difficult challenge for me simply because I have to forgive myself for making an error. I didn’t commit a crime, but I displayed poor judgment.”
In a statement provided to the American-Statesman, Howard said, “We believe that Ms. Kearney has been subjected to a double standard and has received far harsher punishment than that being given to her male counter-parts who have engaged in similar conduct.”
“It is a shame,” Howard added, “that this remarkably talented female African-American coach, who has devoted her life to helping others, is being bullied and scapegoated by the University of Texas.”
Howard and Kearney declined to discuss any legal action they might pursue.
“I don’t think that’s important to be discussing at this point in time,” Kearney said. “It’s not something I want to delve into right now.”
Her base salary at the time of the leave of absence was about $270,000.
UT said in a statement late Saturday night that assistant coach Rose Brimmer will serve as the interim head coach until a successor to Kearney is found. UT said assistant coach Stephen Sisson also will take on expanded duties.
Howard said at the time of her relationship with the student-athlete, Kearney unknowingly violated a university rule implemented the previous year. The rule states that UT faculty or staff members in supervisory positions must report any consensual relationship with an “employee, student and/or student employee who is directly supervised, taught, evaluated or advised by that employee.”
The provision in UT’s Handbook of Operating Procedures notes, “In the event that a consensual relationship exists or begins to develop, the individual in the supervisory, teaching or advisory position shall immediately notify his or her immediate supervisor of the relationship and cooperate with that supervisor in making the arrangements necessary to resolve the conflict of interest.”
Patti Ohlendorf, the university’s vice president for legal affairs, told the American-Statesman, “In the case of a head coach and a student-athlete on his or her team, the university’s position is that that cannot be condoned in any event. ‘It can’t happen’ is what the university’s position is on that.”
“We believe Bev is a good person. Bev has done a lot for the university over the years,” Ohlendorf added. “We think this is a terrible mistake, and I know it’s something she regrets. But it’s not the type of thing that can happen between a coach and a student-athlete on the team.”
Kearney said she has “racked her brain” about why the relationship re-surfaced after so many years. “(But) I don’t have control of those things,” she said. “Those are things that haunt you, so I have chosen not to focus (on that) because I don’t know. At the end of the day, I’ve had to ask myself, ‘Does it really matter?’ “
Kearney added that she doesn’t “want to make any statements or comments about the former student-athlete.
“I refuse, no matter what is said about me, to say or imply in any way who that individual is, out of respect for their person and their rights.”
Kearney said she had no other such relationships with any of her student-athletes. Added Ohlendorf: “We believe she has not made a mistake like this previously or subsequently.”
The Associated Press, in a Nov. 30 article that cited documents obtained in a public-records request, reported that Kearney’s paid leave came after she had been recommended by Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky for a significant raise. The recommendation called for increasing Kearney’s salary from a base of about $270,000 to $397,000 plus a $25,000 longevity bonus. The changes were to take effect this fall pending the approval of the University of Texas regents.
Kearney said she might be forced to sell her house and liquidate some of her possessions to help support those close to her, including the daughter she adopted after the child’s mother was one of two killed in the 2002 car accident that critically injured Kearney.
“I think the vulnerability of having to ensure my daughter has a roof over her head and food on her table supersedes anything that has happened to me, whether fairly or unfairly,” she said.
Kearney said she has not been able to talk to her team since going on leave.
“I just want to let them know that I so truly appreciate each of them, and I’m so sorry that it has come down to this because of a decision that I made 10 years ago,” she said.
The most successful coach in the UT women’s athletic department, Kearney was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007. She’s also a member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Under Kearney’s guidance, Texas won NCAA outdoor team titles in 1998, 1999 and 2005. The Longhorns captured NCAA indoorchampionships in 1998, 1999 and 2006. She also has been recognized as the conference coach of the year 16 times while at Texas.
Kearney did not rule out coaching again, but she said her immediate plan was to stay in Austin and help run her Pursuit of Dreams Foundation, which she described as her “lifeline.”
“My life is service,” she said. “If I can no longer serve, I no longer exist, because what I exist to do is serve.”
“I love Austin, I love the University of Texas, I love my community. I feel like like I’ve served it with all my heart and my soul,” Kearney added. “More than anything else, I apologize to all those entities if in any way anything that I have done has brought any embarrassment to anyone.
“I have no ill will toward anybody. No matter what happens, no matter how everything has played out or will play out in the future, I refuse to look back on my career here at Texas, which has consumed a major part of my life, with any type of remorse, any type of resentment, any type of anger. I have loved my time and I feel like I’ve given of myself and I have represented this institution with integrity and with the pride that it so desires and deserves.”