Volatile, vitriolic, and sometimes cruel, a few of the most celebrated coaches in women’s college basketball have treated players in a manner that would offend the faint of heart. But the women’s team at Boston University expected better from coach Kelly Greenberg.
In a leadership crisis with lingering ramifications, the vast majority of Greenberg’s players took the unusual step after the 2006-07 season of complaining about her coaching style to athletic director Mike Lynch, with some hoping to see the coach fired. The parents of numerous players also protested to Lynch.
Citing the alleged “psychological games that Coach Greenberg commits against my daughter and most of her teammates,” the parents of a current BU player urged Lynch in writing to order Greenberg to cease her “malicious treatment of our daughters,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Globe.
Two players - Jacy Schulz, then a freshman guard, and Brianne Ozimok, a sophomore forward at the time - said they walked away from their $46,000 annual basketball scholarships because of Greenberg’s treatment.
“I don’t mind tough coaches, but she was worse than anything I ever could have imagined,” said Ozimok of Midhurst, Ontario, who transferred to Acadia University in Nova Scotia. “It was a horrible experience playing for her.”
After an internal review, Lynch stated in writing the complaints have “helped Coach Greenberg appreciate that her style has been difficult, and that she has also made substantive mistakes that she deeply regrets.”
The university also directed Greenberg and her players to participate in joint counseling sessions.
Schulz’s parents, who said they are considering suing BU, recently renewed a request for the school to pay for their daughter’s education this year at Niagara University, where she transferred.
BU has denied the request and has otherwise stood by Greenberg. In a letter to the Schulzes, Lynch wrote that BU believes “Greenberg will continue to grow as a coach, teacher, and person, in her position as our head women’s BB coach.”
So it was that Greenberg returned for the 2007-08 season and guided the Terriers to a 20-12 record, their best in her four years at BU. In losing the America East championship game, BU fell one victory shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 - and only the second time in school history.
Greenberg did not respond to numerous requests to comment. Colin Riley, the university’s director of media relations, replied to a brief summary of this article and a list of questions for Greenberg, Lynch, and school officials with a written statement.
“This is an attempt, using old, exaggerated, and fabricated allegations, to impugn Coach Greenberg,” the statement said. “The Schulz family has also made a number of unwarranted demands of BU, including money. We respectfully decline to participate in a public debate under these circumstances.”
Riley declined to specify which allegations BU considered exaggerated or fabricated.
A current player’s father said Greenberg treated her players marginally better after they complained to Lynch, but the players were reluctant to publicly discuss the coach for fear of reprisals.
By all accounts, Greenberg, 40, who served five years as the head coach at Penn before she arrived at BU in 2004, has had a positive impact on many players. Before Penn, she spent seven years helping Bob Gibbons coach the Holy Cross women’s team and one year each as an assistant at Rhode Island, George Washington, and Northeastern.
“Kelly Greenberg is the benchmark I judge all my assistant coaches by,” Gibbons said. “I have nothing but the highest praise for her in all areas of what she did and what she continues to do.”
At Penn, Greenberg went 84-54 and twice reached the NCAA Tournament. Mike Mahoney, the school’s director of athletic communications, said, “Kelly was well-liked here at Penn by her colleagues and her players, and her teams were successful. Her record speaks for itself.”
But her coaching style came under fire during the 2006-07 season, when her record regressed from 18-12 to 15-15, despite the return of 12 letter winners. Most of Greenberg’s players and their parents complained to Lynch that she engaged in unwarranted personal attacks that served more to defeat the players as individuals than improve their value to the team or community.
“She brought us down so much that the only thing we could do was try to bring each other back up,” Schulz said. “You had to make sure the negativity didn’t ruin your life.”
Schulz, in a letter asking the NCAA to waive a requirement that she sit out a season at Niagara after she transferred, indicated her problems with Greenberg began when she was falsely suspected of plagiarism in a medical anthropology class the summer before her freshman season. Schulz said three weeks passed before a teammate admitted stealing Schulz’s final paper from Schulz’s computer and submitting it.
While Schulz remained under suspicion and denied committing plagiarism, she said, Greenberg told her, “I can’t believe you would accuse your teammate of doing this.” She said Greenberg later chided her for “not being there” for her teammate and for “turning her in.”
“Her behavior went from friendly and supportive to cruel,” Schulz wrote to the NCAA, which granted her waiver request.
Schulz’s situation further deteriorated when she suffered a head injury in practice. Three days later, her roommate rushed her to Boston Medical Center, where she was examined for the first time since the injury by a physician and diagnosed with a second-degree concussion.
Schulz and BU officials differ on the next phase of her case. She alleges the medical staff cleared her to play without following the required protocol by administering a test to evaluate whether a player has fully recovered from a concussion - an important step in preventing the potentially serious consequences of “second impact syndrome.”
BU stated in a letter to the Schulzes that the staff conducted the test before clearing her, although there is no indication of it in medical records that Schulz provided the Globe.
As it turned out, Schulz soon suffered a second concussion. She said a team doctor expected her to play again in a week, but when she suffered persistent headaches, blurred vision, and attention deficit, her parents recommended she see a neurologist near her home in Ohio.
At that, Schulz said, Greenberg told her to act like an adult and criticized her for allowing her parents to interfere.
The neurologist, Dr. Warren Selman, advised Schulz to sit out the rest of the season, a recommendation later endorsed by Neal McGrath, a clinical neuropsychologist to whom Schulz was referred by BU.
“Given that she appears to have sustained a second concussion before her first concussion was fully recovered, [Schulz’s] persisting symptoms are not unusual,” McGrath wrote in his evaluation.
McGrath also recommended Schulz receive special academic accommodations, including extra time for tests, “given her persisting cognitive difficulties.”
Greenberg was less accommodating, according to Schulz and a number of players and parents who complained to Lynch. They said the coach repeatedly railed at Schulz for not being more helpful in practice and singled her out after the Terriers lost their conference opener, blaming her in front of her teammates for the defeat even though she did not play.
The coach also derided Schulz in closed-door meetings, Schulz said, prompting her father, Richard, to advise her to secretly record one of the sessions.
“I wanted to hear for myself how was she getting beaten up in those meetings,” Richard Schulz said.
On March 20, 2007, 11 days after the season, Greenberg called Schulz to her office. Greenberg was livid that Schulz had asked to attend the women’s Final Four in Cleveland, according to the taped conversation, which Schulz made available to the Globe.
The coach is heard saying she was “really embarrassed” that Schulz received special academic accommodations because of her injury. She also criticized Schulz’s performance on and off the court, even though Schulz missed only one practice despite her concussions and made the dean’s list.
“It has to do with you being a student-athlete at BU, which you’ve done a really bad job of,” Greenberg said. “Really bad.”
Greenberg said she had directed someone to secretly film Schulz during games and had determined that Schulz - while coping with post-concussive symptoms - was not sufficiently supportive.
“We really don’t want you in the basketball program because you’re just sitting there and I can tell you don’t care,” Greenberg said.
“Are you kicking me off the team?” Schulz asked.
“I am, I am,” Greenberg said, “until you can prove otherwise that you deserve it.”
Later in the conversation, Greenberg said, “Jacy, [kicking] you off the team is taking your scholarship away from you and I’m not doing that.”
Schulz said she left the meeting believing Greenberg dismissed her from the team but allowed her to keep her scholarship.
The next day, all but one of Greenberg’s players complained to Lynch about the coach’s behavior. Lynch conducted a review that resulted in the counseling sessions and Greenberg acknowledging that “her style has been difficult, and that she has also made substantive mistakes that she deeply regrets.”
As for Schulz, Lynch informed her the secret taping of Greenberg “reflects a level of distrust that is virtually impossible to repair.” He said the taping may have violated state law. (Schulz’s father said he was not aware that Massachusetts requires the consent of both parties for a conversation to be taped. Ohio requires only one party’s consent.)
Greenberg also informed Schulz by e-mail that she could keep her scholarship but could no longer play basketball at BU.
At Niagara, Schulz arrived too late to receive a scholarship this season but will receive full rides the next two years. She said her experience at BU has inspired her to become a neurologist and help athletes with head injuries.
Schulz, who remains close to several BU players, also said she wishes the best for her former teammates.
“What got me through the whole experience was knowing there could be light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “You had to believe that or you might go crazy.”Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.