Mark Hollis steps down as Michigan State athletic director
East Lansing – For the second time in three days, a high-ranking Michigan State official has stepped down in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal.
Athletic director Mark Hollis announced on Friday morning that he was retiring, just two days after university president Lou Anna K. Simon said she would be resigning. Hollis will remain on the job until Wednesday; MSU will not name an interim AD before then.
“I’ve always been a Spartan and I always will be. It’s been an absolute honor to guide the athletic department for the last decade,” Hollis said Friday with his wife, Nancy, standing nearby. “That being said, today I’m announcing my retirement.
“This was not an easy decision for my family and you should know, you should not jump, should not jump to any conclusions based upon our decision. Listen to the facts. I’m not running away from anything. I’m running toward something. Comfort, compassion and understanding for the survivors and our community. Togetherness, time and love for my family.”
Hollis’ departure is the latest as the fallout from Nassar’s sentencing this week continues. The former MSU doctor was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 100 young women, some of those Michigan State student athletes.
"Our campus and beyond has been attacked by evil," Hollis said Friday, regarding Nassar.
The Nassar case has resulted in several investigations, including one from the Michigan Attorney General and from the NCAA, which sent a letter of inquiry early this week to Hollis stating it will begin an investigation into the athletic department and its handling of the Nassar case.
“Much attention has recently been given to the outside investigations into the university and the athletic department, including those both by the Michigan attorney general and the NCAA,” Hollis said. “Let me be clear that in retirement I will fully cooperate with these and any other investigations. As a university, we must focus on the healing of survivors and our entire community.”
Hollis had come under increasing scrutiny in recent days, as the victim-impact statements in the Nassar case unfolded.
“The Penn State crisis — and this has a good deal of similarities — was the biggest sports story in 2012,” Gerald Gurney, an assistant professor of Adult and Higher Education at the University of Oklahoma, told The Detroit News on Thursday. “This is a behemoth. This is the mother of all sexual assault scandals. There is nothing like this. It astounds me that anyone in a position of athletic administration at Michigan State that would have anything whatsoever to do with working with the athletes, it would astound me if they felt secure.”
Hollis, who has been Michigan State’s athletic director since succeeding Ron Mason on Jan. 1, 2008, said he did not become aware of any issues or complaints about Nassar until the original media report from the Indianapolis Star in September 2016.
He also said he was never made aware of a 2014 Title IX investigation into complaints about Nassar by an MSU student.
“In the statement that I made to the FBI and to the MSU police, I did not know about this prior to the September 2016 article,” Hollis said. “I was not informed of the 2014 investigation.
“At the same time there is so much pain, and there is so much healing that needs to be done. In a small way, Nancy and I believe that this may help that process. I want to be clear that I was not asked to retire. I don’t believe I was pressured in any way to retire. This is a choice that Nancy and I made, and we’re going to move forward with our lives and see what’s around the corner. Our choice was for the right reasons.”
A Detroit News investigation showed that 14 people associated with Michigan State had knowledge of complaint made about Nassar before the 2016 report from the Star. Hollis was not one of them.
Hollis said he doesn’t believe he ever met Nassar, who was employed by the College of Osteopathic Medicine and not a member of the athletic department.
He also isn’t sure how he’d act differently considering he wasn’t aware of everything those at a higher level were.
“Again, based on the information I had at the time I had it, there’s nothing that I had as far as making a decision,” he said. “When you have an opportunity to go back and reassess anything, there’s going to be opportunities for improvement, which is one of our core values – to improve. This story is horrible, but the university has to assess it. Every decision I made was a good one at the time I made it. Like everyone, you get frustrated that there’s not enough dialogue about it. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have this opportunity to respond at least to what I know. And I am not privy to a lot of information that is being discussed at the university level.
“I’ve been interviewed by the FBI, I’ve been interviewed by MSU Police, I’ve responded to every question and many other people have as well. As an AD you learn quickly don’t investigate, don’t prosecute and don’t judge. Allow those that you have to let that process take place and then you have to make decisions on the outcome of that process. So it’s taken some time. I think the growth and the magnitude of the abuse has evolved and become bigger than I ever wanted to imagine. And that’s created by a lot of that challenge.”
Hollis is a 1985 graduate of Michigan State and returned to his alma mater in 1995 as the associate athletics director for external relations. He was promoted to athletic director in 2008.
During his tenure, the athletic department has had plenty of success and Hollis has been well-respected around college athletics. He spent five years on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and served as the committee chair in 2016-17. He also was a former chair of the NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet and a former member of the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Issues Committee.
Hollis’ contract says he’s paid a base salary of $667,000 including bonuses of up to $222,000. He said his last day on the job will be Wednesday and he does not intend to remain with the university in any capacity from that point.
“I'll obviously be here to cooperate with any investigation that's taking place by any law enforcement agency, NCAA,” Hollis said. “I'll always be a Spartan, but beyond that, no, I don't have any role at Michigan State.”
MICHIGAN STATE ATHLETIC DIRECTORS
Chester Brewer, 1919-22
Albert Barron, 1922
Ralph Young, 1923-54
Clarence Munn, 1954-71
Burt Smith, 1971-75
Joseph Kearney, 1976-79
Doug Weaver, 1979-89
George Perles, 1990-92
Merrily Dean Baker, 1992-95
Merritt Norvell, 1995-99
Clarence Underwood, 1999-2002
Ron Mason, 2002-07
Mark Hollis, 2008-18