Cal Fires Legendary Swim Coach After Investigation Into Bullying

Paul Steinbach Headshot
Cal Bears Football

The University of California fired longtime women's swimming and diving coach Teri McKeever on Tuesday, following an eight-month investigation into allegations that she had bullied and harassed team members.

In a letter to the team and Cal athletic department staff, athletic director Jim Knowlton wrote that "after carefully reviewing an extensive investigative report that was recently completed by an independent law firm, I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole."

According to Cal's athletics website, Knowlton also wrote that "the report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination. The report also details verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values."

Knowlton said Dave Durden will continue as Cal's Acting Director of Swimming & Diving, and that the department will move as quickly as possible to decide permanent leadership for the program.

As reported by Swim Swam, McKeever led the Cal women’s swimming team to four NCAA team titles during 29 years as head coach. In that span, she also won six Pac-12 Championships and served on three U.S. Olympic staffs, including being named the first female head coach of a U.S. Olympic swimming team when she led the American women at the 2012 Games in London.

In the context of that glossy resume, allegations about McKeever's misconduct surfaced last May, as numerous current and former members of the Cal women’s team claimed that she had verbally and emotionally abused them. Initially, 19 women's team members, six parents and one member of the Cal men's team spoke out against McKeever.

Related: Cal Swimmers Say Coach Verbally Abused Them for Years

The school then placed McKeever on administrative leave and hired an independent law firm to launch an investigation that was originally expected to last no longer than six months.

Related: Cal Women Swimmers Walk Out, Coach Placed on Leave

McKeever, 60, issued the following statement, as reported by Swim Swam:

“Today I was informed by AD Knowlton of his decision to terminate my employment as CAL’s Head Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach. A position I held proudly since August of 1992. There was not one day in the last 30 years where I questioned what my job was. I was charged with recruiting exceptionally talented young women and coaching them toward the goal of winning an NCAA National Championship. I loved my job, especially the challenge of taking an individual sport like swimming and making it about the team’s accomplishments. I invested my whole self into this mission of excellence in the pool, classroom and beyond. I am proud of being the only female in swimming history to lead women to not one, but four national championships and the only woman ever selected to serve on, not one, but four USA Olympic Swimming Coaching staffs.

“During a 30-year career there are always those who take issue with my coaching style and me personally. I am a woman holding what is traditionally a man’s job and double standards come with the territory. I also know for those that struggled with my coaching, there were far more who had their lives positively changed by their experience. I greatly value the bonds I made with hundreds of young women and look forward to continuing to witness their successes.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation. There were and should be consequences for violating team rules, not showing up for scheduled appointments, misusing resources, not giving an honest effort and behavior that was not congruent with their individual or our team goals. But those consequences were not applied because of who someone was, only for what they did or didn’t do that hurt the team and the culture we were working hard to sustain.

“I am terribly disappointed and saddened at the way in which the investigation process was conducted. I have been an open book in my coaching methods and administration knows and have fully approved of how I coach. Given that knowledge, the lack of support by CAL’s administration has been heart breaking. I am the only coach, again female coach, to be subjected to a month’s long investigation examining every mistake made over 30 years.

“I leave Berkeley knowing I made a difference in hundreds of women’s lives. My life’s work has always been to empower women to see their strengths, understand their talents and learn skills that will fuel their success beyond their time in the pool. I wanted them to believe that as a female, they can do anything they set their mind to, but they’ll need to learn how to lift one another up and, in many fields, they’ll still need to be at least twice as good as their male counterpart. I now take that work beyond my time in Berkeley.”

McKeever’s lawyer, Thomas Newkirk, has won six-figure discrimination settlements for at least two other female Division I coaches facing similar accusations who Newkirk claimed were victims of gender bias, Swim Swam reported.

He called the process leading to McKeever's termination “one of the most disturbing displays of double standards and enabling of gender bias directed at a female coach,” citing Cal’s disparate handling of complaints against its women’s soccer coach.

Newkirk began making his gender bias argument against Cal in June, and a lawsuit is now pending, he said.

Related: Attorney: Cal Swim Coach McKeever Victim of Gender Bias

“The coaching profession is at a crossroads,” Newkirk said. “The complaints made about Teri were largely the result of gendered differences in how she was judged as a female but also based on gendered evaluations of female athletes. The complaints were also the result of a lack of resources provided to help coaches manage the mental health challenges of athletes. Coaches are all at risk as they seek to walk the line of great coaching compared to what any disappointed athlete or parent can now claim is abuse.

“Teri will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes. Female athletes, including those who complained, have been treated in a patronizing manner by this administration. Male athletes who need actual help with mental health are being ignored. Male coaches, who are not abusing anyone must now be fired. Teri is committed to finding the answer to this national problem that is destroying not only female coaches but coaching as a profession.”

Page 1 of 65
Next Page
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
AB Show 2024 in New Orleans
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov. 19-22, 2024
Learn More
AB Show 2024