UM rescinds controversial hire of coach tied to Nassar scandal

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Rhonda Faehn

A day after news of her new role became public, University of Michigan officials have rescinded the controversial hiring of a former USA Gymnastics official who left the organization during the fallout from the Larry Nassar scandal.

The university announced the hire of Rhonda Faehn as a consultant on Saturday afternoon, hours after the news was first reported by the Michigan Daily, the school's student newspaper.

On Sunday night — after the hiring was condemned by alumni and members of the university's Board of Regents — Faehn was fired.

U of M Athletic Director Warde Manuel posted the news on the university's athletic department website,

"I have come to the conclusion that it is not in the best interest of the University of Michigan and our athletic program to continue the consulting contract with Rhonda Faehn," Manuel said. "It was the wrong decision, and I apologize. Our student-athletes are our highest priority and I want to do everything in my power to support them fully and put the focus back on their athletic performance."

The hiring had been heavily criticized by alumni and at least two regents.

"Much to my chagrin, I learned of this employment decision this past Saturday morning," Regent Denise Ilitch said in a written statement. "I appreciate the wise observations made by many and share their disappointment. There will be further review of this matter."

Regent Jordan Acker tweeted: "I just want to make a quick comment about this hiring ... this weekend. I appreciate the input I have received and believe this contract should be terminated immediately."

Acker declined further comment when contacted by The News on Sunday.

Attorney John Manly, who represented some Nassar victims, tweeted Sunday night in response to Faehn's firing: "Good. But why did u hire her in the first place Mr Manuel? All this information about Ms Faehn was easily available."

Lisa Lorincz, mother of a Nassar survivor, tweeted: ⁦‪"A University Board who listens and acts swiftly to protect their athletes and stand with Survivors. So impressed that this Board did what MSU has failed at time and time again."

Faehn started working as a consultant in a coaching capacity during the team’s trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Thursday and was to have continued with the team through 2019, the athletic department said in a news release issued Saturday afternoon.

Faehn joined UM's coaching staff three months after assistant gymnastics coach Scott Vetere resigned amid allegations of indecent public conduct.

"Following a comprehensive search process working closely with our administration, I am pleased to add Rhonda Faehn to our staff," head coach Bev Plocki said in the Saturday news release. "I have known and respected Rhonda Faehn for over two decades. Her accomplishments in our sport speak for themselves. Her technical knowledge and experience will greatly benefit our student-athletes."

Faehn, a former U.S. national team member in the 1980s who later won three titles as head coach at the University of Florida, joined USA Gymnastics in 2015 and oversaw the women’s elite program.

Shortly after taking over she was alerted to potential abuse concerns about Larry Nassar, a longtime team physician. Faehn passed along the concerns to then-USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny. Faehn was removed from USA Gymnastics in May. 

The organization then conducted an internal investigation before removing Nassar and going to federal authorities. USA Gymnastics did not alert Michigan State, where Nassar was a faculty member, or a club in Michigan affiliated with Nassar.

Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to molesting women and girls under the guise of treatment and was caught with child pornography. He is serving three prison sentences that will likely keep him locked up for life.

Manuel had said in a statement Saturday he supported Faehn's appointment only after a thorough review of her career and involvement with USA Gymnastics. 

"The well-being and safety of our student-athletes is always our highest priority,” he said in the statement. “Our current student-athletes had a prominent voice throughout this search process to provide their perspective. This included a meeting between me and the captains before a final decision was made.

"After our exhaustive due diligence, we felt comfortable that coach Faehn reported all information available to her regarding Larry Nassar and that she cooperated fully, including voluntarily participating in all investigations and offering testimony before Congress. Neither an internal investigation by USA Gymnastics or a criminal investigation by the FBI have assigned culpability or resulted in any charges against her."

Faehn led the University of Florida gymnastics program to three straight NCAA championships from 2013-15, 10 top-five NCAA finishes and four SEC conference titles. She was the 2007 NACGC National Coach of the Year. Most recently, Faehn worked as senior vice president of the USA Gymnastics women's program from 2015-18.

Faehn could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

In a statement Saturday, she said she was "heartened at the outpouring of support that I received this weekend."

"I am thrilled to join the University of Michigan and am appreciative of the careful consideration demonstrated by the administration," she said. "I am excited to work with these young women and am thankful for their enthusiastic support."

Before becoming the head coach at Florida in 2002, Faehn worked as an associate head coach and assistant coach at Nebraska for four seasons. She also has coached at Maryland as an assistant from 1997-98, and at UCLA as a student assistant coach from 1992-94.

She graduated from UCLA in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in history. She was an alternate on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, a two-time U.S. vault champion and member of the U.S. national team from 1985-88.

News of Faehn's hiring sparked criticism on Twitter, with some saying the university's move was not in support of victims. 

"Could be incredibly problematic if U-M hired Rhonda Faehn on the low-low.. we'll need some answers," wrote alumni Drew VanDres. "With all the awful news coming out of Michigan State & USA Gymnastics, we should be staying as far away as possible while doing what we can to support victims."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_