Report — Texas Tech women’s basketball coach created ‘toxic environment’

Texas Tech women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings created a “toxic environment” of intimidation and fear in her first two seasons at the school, according to a USA Today Sports investigative report.

In addition to allegations of mental abuse by Stollings, the report cited multiple allegations of sexual harassment against a strength and conditioning coach who resigned in March. The USA Today report cited interviews with 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents, as well as exit interviews obtained through a public records request.

Texas Tech hired Stollings in 2018 after her four successful seasons at Minnesota, where she went 82-47 and reached the NCAA tournament twice. She had previously served as head coach at VCU and Winthrop for a total of three seasons. Texas Tech went 14-17 in Stollings’ first season, a seven-game improvement on the prior season, and improved to 18-11 this past season.

But amid the improvement on the court, Texas Tech also saw a dozen players transfer over the past two seasons — eight after Stollings’ first season and four more after this past season. The departures since the end of the 2018-19 season included multiple players who originally committed or transferred to Texas Tech after Stollings was hired.

The USA Today report found that players felt routinely belittled by Stollings and her staff and had serious concerns about their physical well-being because of a system to monitor their heart rates during practices and games. Eight players alleged that playing time was determined by whether they maintained a heart rate at least 90% of capacity. In addition to a loss of playing time, those who failed to do so were allegedly singled out for scorn.

Stollings declined an interview request from ESPN through an athletic department spokesperson, but the school issued a statement in her name.

“We know change is difficult and that has been no different at Texas Tech,” Stollings’ statement read. “Some wonderful young women have decided to leave our program and pursue their dreams elsewhere. I hope they have found everything they are looking for at their new destination.

“Our administration and my staff believe in the way we are building and turning this program around here. Our student athletes are developing a disciplined approach both on and off the court.”

The USA Today report also cited multiple allegations of sexual harassment against former strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella, who previously held the same role under Stollings at both VCU and Minnesota. Among the allegations, former Texas Tech player Emma Merriweather, who began her career at Long Beach State and is now at Kansas, detailed in the report an incident in which Petrella’s alleged demeaning behavior in front of men’s basketball players led her to suffer a panic attack.

An unnamed player said Petrella touched her inappropriately while applying a physical therapy technique known as reflexive performance reset. After reporting the incident to the school’s Title IX administrator, the player said she learned from Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt that Petrella had resigned.

“Earlier this year, we were made aware of allegations of inappropriate behavior by a support staff member of our women’s basketball program,” Hocutt said in a statement. “When the individual was confronted with the allegations, the individual resigned from their position before any university review could take place.

“Additionally, based on information received we conducted an in-depth program review of our women’s basketball program. … I have thoroughly discussed this review with Coach Stollings and am confident that we are taking appropriate steps to improve the relationship and communication between coaches and student-athletes so that we can continue to grow the success of our program both on and off the court.”

The NCAA did not respond to multiple requests for comment as to whether it would investigate any of the allegations.

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