CMU fires gymnastics coach for urging athlete to lie about concussion

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jerry Reighard is out as Central Michigan's gymnastics coach.

Central Michigan University has fired long-time and highly decorated women's gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard after a lengthy internal investigation into allegations he urged an athlete to provide false information to school medical staff in order to participate in competition.

The athlete was urged to "lie about or cover up" concussion symptoms, the university said in announcing the firing Thursday morning.

The university will self-report the incident to the NCAA, as it could be a violation, the university said.

"Our student-athletes and their families trust us to protect our students," athletic director Michael Alford said in a statement. "We will not tolerate a callous disregard for safety.

"We will not tolerate actions that put students in the way of significant and even life-threatening injuries. Student safety at Central Michigan University is an absolute priority, always."

Reighard, the school's gymnastics coach since 1984, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 20, shortly after the allegations were made. His wife, Nancy, a volunteer coach, also was placed on leave.

A 121-page report was completed earlier this month, and, according to the university, said Reighard "created a hostile atmosphere contradictory to CMU's independent medical model." Reighard, who was interviewed for the investigation in late March, was given two weeks to respond to the findings. The investigation included at least two dozen interviews, the university said, including with current team members and university training and medical staff.

The investigation, conducted by Central Michigan's Faculty Personnel Services, cited "egregious misconduct" by Reighard.

The News received and reviewed more than 1,300 pages of Reighard's personnel file, dating to his hiring in 1984, and there were several accusations of improper dealings with medical situations. Multiple parents and athletes accused him of negligent behavior involving injuries (some athletes, in his personnel file, had written letters of praise, too). Multiple times over the years, his dealings with university medical staff were cited as needing improvement, on annual performance reviews.

Also multiple times, including as recently as 2018, Reighard was accused of going around university medical staff, including sometimes referring athletes to outside doctors, or inviting outside doctors to campus. Last year, a team physician, Dr. Noshir Y. Amaria, wrote a letter to Reighard expressing concern over those practices.

Over the years, Reighard also was cited at least six different times for exceeding weekly practice-time limits as established by the NCAA.

Christine MacDonald has been the interim coach, and led the team to a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference championships and a spot in the NCAA Championships. Central Michigan lost to Illinois in the first round of the NCAAs.

Alford said a national search for Reighard's replacement will begin immediately.

Reighard, who drew a salary of $145,349, led the program to 16 MAC championships, including five straight from 2010-14, and one in 2018. He's a nine-time MAC coach of the year.

A Westland native, Reighard holds two degrees from Central Michigan, a bachelor's in industrial education and technology and a master's in physical education.

Prior to being hired by Central Michigan, he coached in high school, leading the Ionia High School boys team to state championships in the early 1980s.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984