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Texas Tech fires coach Marlene Stollings amid abuse claims within women's basketball team

Texas Tech fired women's basketball coach Marlene Stollings Thursday night amid allegations of abuse within the program, athletic director Kirby Hocutt announced in a statement.

Hocutt said he will hold a video conference call on Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

In a text message to members of the team, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, Hocutt said: "Good evening, I have really appreciated your trust in our conversation these past two days. I wanted to let y'all know we have decided to terminate Marlene as our head coach. We will be putting out a statement about it tonight. I will set up a Zoom call for us tomorrow to touch base. Kirby"

The move came a day after a USA TODAY Sports investigation detailed players' allegations of abuse by Stollings, strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella and assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins. Petrella, who denies any misconduct, resigned in March after the conclusion of the season. Lowry Dawkins remained on staff at the time of Stollings' termination, a school spokesperson said.

Hocutt met with the players Wednesday afternoon for more than an hour, and subsequently with the team and coaching staff for more than two hours, he said in a statement that evening.

“There is nothing more important to Texas Tech and me personally than the experience of our student-athletes,” Hocutt added. “We will continue our conversation tomorrow to work through concerns about our program as we seek a path forward to make sure we are providing an environment to educate, serve and grow our student-athletes.”

Wednesday's report by USA TODAY Sports, in collaboration with The Intercollegiate, was based on season-ending exit interviews with players from the past two seasons, other documents and interviews with 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents. Six of the players spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

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Among the claims from players:  

■ Coaches directed players to maintain an heart rate of at least 90% of capacity during play or face conditioning assignments or risk losing playing time.

■ The three international players on rosters the past two seasons allegedly faced treatment such as being ridiculed, isolated and threatened by coaches. Brazil native Marcella LaMark said Stollings told LaMark her fitness lagged so far behind teammates' that she was “dangerous” to them. 

■ Emma Merriweather, a 6-5 center, said she was admonished by coaches for displaying symptoms of depression, for which she was eventually diagnosed. She was also allegedly told by assistant coach Lowry Dawkins to snap a rubber band on her wrist when she had a negative thought.

■ Five players alleged Petrella sexually harassed players, making suggestive comments to one player and using a therapy technique that involved applying pressure to some players’ chests and pubic bones and groins.

■ Three players said Stollings retaliated by holding tougher practices after they brought abuse claims to school officials, including Judi Henry, executive senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator. 

Hocutt and Stollings each released statements Tuesday to USA TODAY Sports. Hocutt’s outlined how a committee reviewed the players' allegations against Petrella as well as other issues regarding the program. The committee presented its findings to Hocutt on July 3, a school spokesperson said.

“Based on information received we conducted an in-depth program review of our women’s basketball program,” Hocutt said in his initial statement. “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."

When asked to provide a copy of the committee's review, Texas Tech said a report was given to Hocutt verbally.

Stollings said, in part: "We know change is difficult and that has been no different at Texas Tech. 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. 

"I want our students, fans and alumni to know we are committed to winning championships at Texas Tech and doing it the right way through hard work, accountability and fierce determination."

Stollings, whose contract with Texas Tech ran through March 2024, was due to be paid $740,000 for her 2020-21 contract year, according to copies of the agreement obtained by USA TODAY Sports and the Intercollegiate. If she is being fired for cause, the school's "sole obligation" is to pay her basic annual compensation through the termination date. So, such a termination would cost Stollings roughly $2.8 million. Termination without cause would entitle Stollings to 75% of her remaining basic annual compensation, a total surpassing $2 million.

Contributing: Steve Berkowitz

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