Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It hasn't gotten nearly the same level of
attention as the Mike Rice case at Rutgers, but nonetheless there's a similar
issue slowly brewing with another college basketball program.
Off the beaten path over in the Horizon League, the Green Bay Phoenix are
beginning to unravel an alleged case of abuse themselves involving head coach
Brian Wardle and former walk-on Ryan Bross.
Bross, a 7-1 center from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, spent his freshman year
with the Phoenix in 2012-13, but did not see any game action and has already
announced that he is transferring to Concordia University at the Division III
level in hopes of playing next season. The move for Bross comes on the heels
of his allegations of abuse by coach Wardle.
Relating his experience with Wardle to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Bross
describes his former coach as someone who used homophobic slurs against him
and encouraged him to violate his religious beliefs by having premarital sex
with a girl, believing it would improve his play.
According to Bross, he was also subjected to rather humiliating circumstances
during a preseason workout drill known as "boot camp."
During an exercise that involved running up and down hills, Bross began to
feel sick and pleaded with Wardle for a break, but instead the coach mocked
the youngster and told him to go into the woods where he subsequently lost
control of his bowels. Even after suffering through that demeaning episode,
Bross claims the coach ordered him back into the drill and accused him of
letting his team down.
In addition to the accounts furnished by Bross, another former player, Brennan
Cougill has also spoken out about Wardle and his approach to coaching. In a
letter written by his mother, Cougill claims Wardle bullied and abused him
verbally and ignored his issues with depression.
Cougill, who first attended Iowa as a freshman out of high school and then
moved to Kirkwood Community College where he was a Third-Team Division II
National Junior College Athletic Association All-American in 2010-11, was
third on the team in scoring this past season with 9.0 ppg as he started 10 of
the 30 games in which he appeared.
Wardle has denied the allegations, claiming the welfare of his players is a
top priority and the version of the events related to the Press Gazette are
inaccurate. The school has launched an investigation, which Wardle says he has
cooperated fully but cannot go into further detail about at present.
Fellow big man Alec Brown, a starter in all 34 games who averaged 14.1 ppg and
6.0 rpg, finds the allegations of his former teammates rather surprising and
comes to the defense of Wardle, saying he believes Bross and Cougill are
Also defending Wardle is South Suburban Junior College coach John Pigatti who
says he has attended a number of Green Bay practices and never saw or heard
anything that was negative. The former coach of Sultan Muhammad, who is one of
four players who have left the Green Bay program since the beginning of the
year, Pigatti never heard any issues coming from Muhammad either.
Unlike Rice at Rutgers, there has yet to be any definitive video evidence to
support Bross and Cougill, but the school is not taking any chances, knowing
full well how a botched investigation can rapidly spiral out of control and
spark polarizing stances stemming from the traditional media coverage and
social media platforms that can breathe life into a story.
Indiana's Bob Knight had his share of recorded "indiscretions" against former
players and Ohio State head football coach Woody Hayes also starred in his
own moment of celluloid ignominy when he punched Clemson linebacker Charlie
Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl, but at this point this case is a matter of he
said, he said, at least until the investigation has fully run its course.
Still just 33 years old and with four years remaining on his contract which
pays him in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year, Wardle's reputation and
career are on the line even if the investigation finds that the allegations
are unsubstantiated. Even if vindicated, the coach will have a cloud of
suspicion hovering over him that could stymie his attempts to recruit and
assemble future squads at UWGB, and that's not good for anyone.
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