Published 11:02 AM EDT Aug 7, 2020
Texas Tech has fired assistant women’s basketball coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins, a school spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Friday morning.
The termination follows a USA TODAY investigation into what 10 players allege was an abusive culture under head coach Marlene Stollings, Lowry Dawkins and strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella.
Athletic director Kirby Hocutt met with Lowry Dawkins Friday morning before terminating her, effective immediately, the spokesperson said. Hocutt fired Stollings on Thursday night. Petrella, who denies any misconduct, resigned voluntarily in March after the conclusion of the season.
Hocutt is scheduled to hold a video conference call with news media at 4 p.m. ET Friday. He sent a text message to team members Thursday night before announcing Stollings’ termination.
“Good evening, I have really appreciated your trust in our conversation these past two days,” Hocutt texted players. “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”
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.
Among the claims from players:
■ Coaches directed players to maintain a 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 in response to a list of allegations. Hocutt’s outlined how a committee reviewed the players’ allegations against Petrella as well as other issues regarding the program. The committee concluded its review on June 29 and presented 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.
Wednesday, after the USA TODAY investigation was published, Hocutt’s tone changed. He met with players that 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.
Stollings stood by her coaching philosophies Tuesday.
“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,” she said, in part. 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
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein