By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Saying she has already rolled up her sleeves and is ready to work, Julie Hermann took over as Rutgers’ athletic director with the promise that her No. 1 job is to create an atmosphere for Scarlet Knights students to excel on and off the field.
The embattled Hermann showed up for work before most of her employees on Monday morning and started the task of leading an embarrassed athletic department back to respectability, winning back boosters and alumni and leading the university into the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
Hermann did not answer either emails or telephone calls left by The Associated Press seeking comment. She failed to stop and answer questions around 12:15 p.m. when she left in an SUV driven by Doug Kokoskie, the senior associate athletic director for facilities, events and operations. The two stopped at a couple of nearby athletic fields for quick looks. They had not returned to the spot they left at 5 p.m.
Hermann, however, released an open letter to the student-athletes late Monday afternoon on the university’s athletic website. She promised to create a best-in-class student-athlete care system committed to developing programs to support both your athletic and your academic pursuits. The system will ensure that the student-athletes always can voice any issues or concerns they might have.
“Another of my goals is to make the most of our extraordinary opportunity to join the prestigious Big Ten Conference,” Hermann wrote. “Being a member of the Big Ten will provide exciting new possibilities, not only for Rutgers as an institution, but also for you, as a student-athlete. I look forward to conducting a comprehensive strategic review of all aspects of Rutgers Athletics as we prepare to compete against the best in the nation.”
Hermann plans to meet with as many people as she can to learn about Rutgers’ sports and to listen and understand the challenges and opportunities faced by all involved.
“I’ve already rolled up my sleeves, and I can’t wait to get to work with you, your coaches and the athletic department staff to move Rutgers Athletics forward,” Hermann wrote. “We will take the lessons of the past and learn from them. We will take the successes of the past and build on them. And, together, we will take Rutgers to new heights. Our work toward tomorrow begins today.”
Hermann finished her letter with:
Athletic department spokesman Jason Baum said Hermann would not talk to the media until next week.
The 49-year-old Hermann was hired May 15 and then spent weeks under the microscope after it was alleged by volleyball players that she coached at Tennessee in 1996 that they were verbally and emotionally abused by her. She denied the allegations.
The allegations were particularly troublesome because Rutgers’ recent problems started after a videotape was aired in early April showing men’s basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his players during his three-year tenure. The verbal assault included anti-gay slurs.
Rice was fired within days by university president Robert Barchi, and popular athletic director Tim Pernetti was forced to resign two days after that for his handling of the incident.
Pernetti suspended, fined and ordered Rice to undergo anger management courses in December after consulting with a legal firm hired to investigate allegations made by Eric Murdock, a former player development director for the basketball program who was fired by Rice in July.
The hirings of former Rutgers star and Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Eddie Jordan to replace Rice, and then Hermann as the university’s first female athletic director, were supposed to end the controversy.
They didn’t. In fact, things worsened.
The university was embarrassed when it put out Jordan’s biography with the fact that he graduated when he didn’t.
And Hermann’s past was more troubling.
Some politicians and alumni called for her to be replaced, and many outspoken boosters voiced their support for Pernetti and said they would stop contributing to the athletic program.
Barchi, however, stood by her, and Gov. Chris Christie backed him.
In recent weeks, Hermann, the former top athletic assistant at Louisville, met with the boosters and seemed to win over some. The new athletic director was on campus more than a week ago and made a good impression meeting with players, coaches and administrators.
Long-time women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer said Monday that she was impressed with her new boss.
“We love her,” said Stringer, whose contract is one of the pressing things that Hermann needs to discuss.
Stringer had an appointment with an eye doctor and had to rush off.