LUBBOCK, Texas — With former Lady Raider head coach Marlene Stollings now in his rear view mirror, Texas Tech University athletic director Kirby Hocutt promised at a Zoom press conference Friday to improve his athletic department’s culture.
“We have failed them [the players] and we need to do better,” Hocutt said. “I apologize. We’re going to get this right.”
Wednesday morning, USA Today published a story alleging widespread abuse within the Lady Raider program, including sexual harrassment by strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella.
Stollings was fired a day later, and assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins was removed from her position a day after that. Assistant coach Malikah Willis was asked to remain on staff.
Now, Hocutt has to clean up the mess that Stollings left as he looks to restore the program to the heights it reached under Marsha Sharp.
Texas Tech’s athletic department is tasked with regaining the trust of returning Lady Raiders who were wronged by the previous coaching staff.
Hocutt said he apologized to the student athletes on Thursday, and is committed to changing to the culture.
“Have we let these girls down? We have,” Hocutt said. “And we’re going to improve from it.”
The athletic department was aware that players had issues with Stollings and her staff after the 2018-19 season — her first year as head coach.
After the 2018-19 season, players complained to school officials, including Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director Judi Henry, who oversaw the women’s basketball program and Title IX issues.
More grievances came after the 2019-20 season, including the disturbing allegations of sexual harassment against Petrella, but it was only after the USA Today story published that Stollings was dismissed.
The accusations led Hocutt to spend more time around the team for Stollings’ second year, and Hocutt concluded that an in-depth review of the program would be necessary.
“There were indications that things were not where had hoped for them to be,” Hocutt said.
The final aspect of the review, a meeting with Stollings and the players, happened August 5, the same day that the USA Today article published. That meeting eventually led to Hocutt recommending to Texas Tech President Lawrence Shovanec that Stollings be fired.
“I’m not sure, if our meeting would not have taken place on the same day that the article had came out, if we would have had the same type of dialogue between the team and I that we did,” Hocutt said.
Hocutt’s primary task in driving the program back towards respectability is hiring Stollings’ replacement.
“The first step is finding the right leader,” he said. “You find the right leader with the right values that will genuinely invest into young people.”
Lowry Dawkins, who followed Stollings as an assistant from VCU, to Minnesota, to Texas Tech, was fired from New Mexico State in 2003 after a school investigation “into allegations of mental and physical abuse, and other conduct that has jeopardized the health, safety, welfare and education of student-athletes under your charge,” according to USA Today’s reporting.
With the heinous allegations pointed at Stollings and her staff fresh in Hocutt’s mind, he vowed Friday not make the same mistake.
“We’re going to look for somebody who can come in here with high character and integrity and build a solid foundation of genuine relationships and trust with these young women,” Hocutt said. “And can help us heal the scars that they had to endure.”
While a new, morally-strong Lady Raider head coach is necessary, the change must stretch beyond that person, beyond the women’s basketball program and up into the athletic department.
Hocutt wants to create an environment where Texas Tech student athletes feel like they can be heard. After members of the Lady Raiders complained and were still subjected to abusive treatment, that will require change.
“We’ve got to find a way with all of our programs to make sure we’re connected,” Hocutt said. “To put the process in place so that young people feel safe in being able to go to somebody.”
Fostering a culture of trust cannot happen overnight, and it will take work from all over the department for athletes to feel secure.
Hocutt said he has been in contact with the 2020 class of Lady Raiders regarding the situation, and is hopeful that they will stick their decision to attend Texas Tech. He also believes that the scandal will not impact future recruiting.
Furthermore, Hocutt said the department will review sport liaisons, and assign a new one to women’s basketball, replacing Henry.
“I do think when you go through something like this it’s important that you learn and you reset in every way that you can,” Hocutt said.
Hocutt pledged on Friday that he would improve, but he still must turn those words into actions for them to matter.