SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse University Director of Athletics John Wildhack on Wednesday offered a message to any player or staff member associated with the women’s basketball team who had a “poor experience” in the program.
“I apologize. We are taking actions to address those experiences,” Wildhack said.
He spoke inside the Carrier Dome along with Pete Sala, VP and chief facilities officer at Syracuse University, in a media event to answer question about the renovated venue and this weekend’s home-opening football game with Rutgers. But the Hillsman investigation consumed a significant portion of the event.
Wildhack opened his remarks reiterating details from a statement he issued Sept. 3 on the findings from O’Melveny & Myers LLP, the law firm that conducted an investigation of the women’s basketball program.
The probe followed the departure of numerous Syracuse women’s basketball team members through college basketball’s transfer portal following the most recent basketball season, as well as an article by The Athletic, alleging Hillsman, 50, engaged in bullying and inappropriate conduct.
Early confidence in Hillsman
Wildhack was later asked why he felt comfortable in mid-June saying that Hillsman had his total support, to which Wildhack replied, “Because we didn’t know anything at that time.”
He was then asked how he didn’t know anything about the situation and where the communication breakdown may have occurred.
Wildhack replied, “As I said in my opening statement, there’s a breakdown in systems and processes and there was a breakdown in people who did not come forward and voice concerns to the appropriate personnel in the athletic department.”
He was then asked if the newly deployed Real Response platform will help the communication process.
“I am confident and we will do everything that we can to make sure that we have a process and a system. I think the Real Response, an online real-time platform, will absolutely enable us. If there’s an issue, we’ll be aware of it and we can deal with it immediately,” he said.
Syracuse has signed a contract with Real Response, a real-time anonymous reporting platform for student-athletes where they can anonymously report any issues about their experiences. Real Response provides a centralized documentation repository that will help the athletics department identify and respond to these issues quickly.
Hiring Vonn Read as acting coach
Saying he had received several questions about his decision to appoint Vonn Read as acting coach of the women’s basketball program, Wildhack also explained his decision to give Read the job, saying it was based on a few factors.
“Coach Read has a good track record with his program, both from a coaching and team-building perspective. That became very evident in speaking with members of this team along with some parents and family members of current team members,” said Wildhack.
He called Read the “architect” of the team’s system, both on offense and defense, noting that team members were recruited to play in the system.
“In evaluating what was best for our student athletes, it became clear that Coach Read could provide the stability and continuity that the program needs. We are totally focused on providing maximum support for our 11 women’s basketball student-athletes who comprise this year’s team,” said Wildhack.
Syracuse women’s basketball lost several more players after Read was appointed as acting coach, with current players entering the transfer portal and incoming recruits changing their mind about coming to Syracuse.