MINNEAPOLIS — Longtime Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson was fired Wednesday, after the university said an investigation into an alleged drug ring within the program revealed he wasn’t forthcoming to school officials and made unauthorized promises of amnesty to his athletes.
Robinson coached the Gophers for 30 years and led the team to three national championships, developing a reputation as a hard-nosed, outspoken and occasionally combative figure on campus. His teams had as much success as any Gophers coach of his era, but he became embroiled in the drug scandal this spring when police investigated allegations that more than a dozen wrestlers sold and used the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
Police previously declined to file charges in the case, citing a lack of evidence.
In a letter sent to Robinson on Wednesday, new athletic director Mark Coyle said Robinson directed his wrestlers to turn the drugs in to him and disposed of the pills. Coyle also said the coach “disobeyed reasonable directives from me and university to share information” regarding the drug activities within the team.
“You have not accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for your conduct,” Coyle wrote to Robinson. “As a result, I cannot trust you to refrain from such conduct in the future.”
Robinson signed a contract extension last summer that ran through 2020, paying him $146,000 annually. Coyle said at a news conference that the coach was fired “for cause,” meaning no settlement agreement was reached with Robinson and his representatives. Coyle declined to speculate about whether Robinson could have kept his job if he had fully cooperated with the investigation.
Robinson’s agent and attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
“I do not intend to address each inaccuracy and/or omission in the report because there are far too many,” Robinson wrote Aug. 30 to the university, which made his letter public along with the 31-page summary of the investigation led by university attorney Brent Benrud. “For now, suffice it to say that the report sacrifices accuracy to create a narrative to support a pre-determined outcome to find fault with me and exculpate the university and senior employees in the athletic department.”
Robinson said he didn’t promise his wrestlers he’d keep their identities confidential. He said he complied with university regulations and informed his superiors, including former interim athletic director Beth Goetz, of the drug issues within his team.
He also devised a form of discipline for the wrestlers involved, demanding that they inform their parents of their actions, write an essay about the effects those actions had on themselves, their families and the university and requiring them to submit to drug testing and a chemical dependency assessment.
Coyle granted that Robinson did inform his superiors of possible drug issues within his team, but the AD said the coach needed to do more.
“He did not fully cooperate with our investigation into the matter,” Coyle said at the news conference. “He did not meet with us for interviews promptly, and when he did, he did not answer some of our most critical questions.”
Coyle, who placed Robinson on administrative leave on his first official day on the job on June 1, about a week after the allegations first surfaced, said he met with Robinson on several occasions to try to get him to offer details on the situation.
“The report is filled with excuses for the university’s failure to act and masks the lack of adequate policy guidance and support to assist coaches in addressing situations involving and helping student athletes with drug issues,” Robinson wrote in his response.
According to Benrud’s summary of the investigation, a wrestler who brought forward an ethics complaint to the university reported hearing some members of the team turned in to Robinson marijuana, Adderall and Oxycodone in addition to the Xanax, of which about 1,500 pills were produced to the coach.
Assistant coach Brandon Eggum has been named interim head coach for the upcoming season.
Wrestling coaches at power-conference schools often toil with their teams in relative anonymity, but not Robinson.
He became a well-known figure for developing the program into one of the best in the nation and also for his outspoken and polarizing views. He has long been a critic of Title IX, the federal law enacted to provide equal opportunities for men and women at public schools.
The school once investigated Robinson for forcing participants in his youth wrestling camp to write an anti-Title IX letter to elected officials. He also was investigated in 2005 after three high school athletes were treated at a hospital for heat exhaustion from a late-night workout at a hockey camp overseen by Robinson.