East Lansing — In a 98-page report that took more than two months to complete, independent investigators determined a disgruntled parent and player had a vendetta against the Michigan State softball coaches and were out to get them fired.
This was one of several key conclusions made by the staff of Miller Canfield, which was hired by Michigan State officials to determine whether softball coach Jacquie Joseph and pitching coach Jessica Bograkos had hatched a plan to intentionally throw pitches at Alyssa McBride over disparaging comments she made about the program.
The report, released Wednesday, found no wrongdoing on the part of the coaches. Dozens of witnesses, including 14 of 18 members of the team, were interviewed.
“The investigators were unable to uncover any credible evidence supporting Alyssa McBride’s allegations,” the report stated. “And in several instances, found McBride’s allegations to be demonstrably false or otherwise less than fully candid.
“The investigators did not uncover any evidence suggesting that either Coach Bograkos or Coach Joseph collaborated or otherwise conspired to strike (McBride) with a pitch in retaliation for comments she made.”
The investigation, headed by Gerald J. Gleeson II, whose firm was paid $23,555.50 for 70.6 hours of work plus mileage, was launched after McBride allegedly was hit during batting practice before a game at Central Michigan on April 29 and again before the home finale against Maryland on May 3.
McBride, an outfielder who led the team in hitting, alleged to Michigan State Police and MSU Police the pitches from Bograkos were intentional after then-student manager Benjamin Hayden told her he overheard Bograkos and Joseph talking on the bus to Mount Pleasant about “hitting a player.”
McBride and her stepfather, Mike Gillette, didn’t cooperate with the investigation, on advice from counsel should they decide to file suit against Michigan State. Gillette said he wouldn’t comment until he had read the report.
Gleeson’s report also states attorneys made several attempts to get in touch with Hayden, but got no response. Hayden repeatedly has told The News he never was contacted.
“All I’m gonna say is I had everything to lose, my future, career opportunities at Michigan State, etc.,” Hayden said in a text message to The News. “I wouldn’t have done anything like that if it was made up.”
Prosecutors in Isabella (Mount Pleasant) and Ingham (East Lansing) counties declined to pursue charges against the coaches, but Michigan State officials said they would wait until the independent investigation was completed before making any decisions.
Joseph, who completed her 22nd season, and Bograkos, a former Spartans All-American pitcher who’s been an assistant for seven years, will remain on the job.
The report states Michigan State officials placed “no boundaries or guidelines” on investigators, nor did they seek a specific outcome. Two attorneys typically were present at each interview, most of which occurred at Miller Canfield offices in Lansing and Troy.
Investigators keyed in on a few areas:
■They determined it’s not unusual to get hit with pitches during batting practice, especially when a coach is practicing “rise balls,” as coaches say was the case at Central Michigan.
■They determined Gillette and McBride had a “clear and persistent” motive toward the coaches.
■They spent at least four pages discussing a “close” relationship between McBride and Hayden.
Gillette, who coaches traveling youth softball in southwest Michigan, was accused by the coaching staff of being an overbearing parent, one who even sent detailed scouting reports and analysis on every Spartans player to Joseph.
Joseph’s response to Gillette, in a text: “mike you know i love you, but this is WAY over the line.”
Gillette has told The News he has sent suggested lineups to Joseph.
Joseph told investigators she stopped interacting with Gillette in 2014, and began to feel threatened by him in 2015, though she told investigators she couldn’t pinpoint the reason she felt threatened. She asked for a police escort for the last two games and banquet, received one and there was no issue.
As for Hayden and McBride, while witnesses told investigators they were “close,” only one said they ever had a romantic relationship — an intern for football operations.
After a loss to Notre Dame on April 28, McBride was asked to talk to a reporter for MSUSpartans.com, the athletic department’s website. The reporter, whose identity remains unknown, asked McBride questions about her time with the program, and after she was told the comments would be off the record, she called it “the worst mistake of my life,” a reference to the consistent losing.
The reporter told investigators he told McBride he wouldn’t use the quotes in the story, but denied saying they’d be “off the record.”
After the interview, the reporter told Jamie Baldwin, a sports information director for softball, about McBride’s comments, and within the hour, Joseph was aware of them.
The next day, before the trip to Mount Pleasant, Joseph called a meeting with McBride, who confessed making the comments.
It was on the bus ride that day coaches discussed whether to “hit” McBride, as in whether to play her in the game. Hayden heard it differently.
Gleeson and his staff determined a handful of witnesses to lack credibility during the course of the investigation, which received many character witnesses on behalf of Joseph and Bograkos in the form of letters and emails. Investigators noted only one former player, Erica Strutz McLennan, wrote anything negative, saying she was “not surprised in the least” by the allegations.
McLennan didn’t respond to interview requests from investigators, who wrote in the report, “It is notable that it is the sole outlier in an otherwise unyielding stream of support from colleagues and former players of the MSU coaching staff.”