Rutgers football player claims defensive coordinator Dave Cohen bullied and verbally abused him
Dave Cohen (right) is being accused by Jevon Tyree of verbal abuse and bullying. Cohen, during a spring study hall session, got in Tyree’s face, called him a “pussy” and a “bitch” and threatened to head-butt him, the Tyree family said. (Photos: Tim Farrell and William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)
By Dan Duggan/NJ.com
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on November 15, 2013 at 5:53 PM, updated November 15, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Seven months after men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for bullying his players — leading to a national scandal, a housecleaning in the athletic department and public proclamations from school officials to halt any abuse of its student-athletes — Rutgers is protecting another bullying coach, according to a former football player and his parents.
Defensive back Jevon Tyree and his parents, Mark and Clarice, have sought disciplinary action against defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, who during a spring study hall session, got in Tyree’s face, called him a “pussy” and a “bitch” and threatened to head-butt him, the Tyrees told NJ.com.
The incident — which Jevon Tyree said occurred in April with the Rice fallout still fresh — happened in front of approximately 10 teammates and a tutor, Jevon Tyree said, and it led to the 19-year-old’s escalating ostracization, eventually driving him to quit.
Clarice Tyree called it “an outright bullying episode,” and Mark Tyree said the behavior soon “transferred to the other coaches.” Jevon Tyree, a redshirt freshman on scholarship, said that after the frightening incident, his standing on the team plummeted, along with practice repetitions and any shot at playing time. He said there were team meetings from which he was excluded.
Eventually, after coaches used a wide receiver instead of him in the injury-decimated secondary during a game this month, Tyree quit. But his parents have pursued the matter.
“I really think disciplinary action should happen, almost to the point where (Cohen) should get fired. I really do,” Mark Tyree said. “That’s how bad it is, especially for the damage he’s done to Jevon.”
In a statement released Friday night, Rutgers said Cohen apologized “the following day for his participation in the escalation of the banter” and head coach Kyle Flood reprimanded him. The statement said “at no time was there any threat of physical violence, which was verified by an academic counselor, who was present in the room.”
When asked to make the counselor available for questions, Rutgers refused.
The statement said Flood met with Tyree and his parents, and added that AD Julie Hermann spoke to Tyree’s father and “confirmed that the matter was resolved to his satisfaction.”
Mark and Clarice Tyree said they had meetings with Cohen and Flood, but remain unsatisfied by what they consider an insufficient response by the athletic department. They said that they have “never” spoken with Hermann.
“Basically, my dad went in there and told Coach Cohen there’s going to be no more bullying towards me,” Jevon Tyree said. “Basically that’s what it was — I was just bullied by him for no reason.”
Mark Tyree said Hermann has stiff-armed him by refusing to grant him a meeting. Hermann, who was hired after former athletic director Tim Pernetti was forced to resign for protecting Rice, was accused by her former players of being a bully while coaching women’s volleyball at the University of Tennessee. A statement signed by 15 players on her 1996 team accused Hermann of “mental cruelty.”
Despite numerous phone calls and an unannounced visit to her office on Thursday, Mark Tyree said he has been unable to get a meeting with Hermann. He said he is considering going to the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate sports, to investigate the matter.
‘IS THIS GUY OUT OF HIS MIND?’
Tyree is convinced the problems began early in spring practice when he pulled a hamstring running a 40-yard dash. The cornerback believes the injury made a bad first impression with Cohen, who was promoted to defensive coordinator in February after spending his first season at Rutgers as linebackers coach.
“I injured my hamstring pretty bad — popped it — so I was out for almost a week,” Tyree said. “I don’t know if (Cohen) was thinking I was trying to avoid taking reps or I was faking or what, but later on that kind of led to Coach Cohen having derogatory words toward me as a player. I was a little confused because it was our first time actually interacting with each other.”
Tyree said Cohen was demeaning from the outset, comparing his skills to those of a Div. 3 player. The situation exploded during the study hall session, when Tyree said harmless banter about haircuts quickly escalated when Cohen “went off.”
“He was just trying to really make me feel as if I was soft,” Tyree said. “He got all up in my face. Coach Cohen has a lisp, so he was in my face telling me he’ll head-butt me, and he was kind of spitting in my face as he was saying it. I was just pulling my head back, looking at him like, ‘Is this guy out of his mind? Is he crazy?’ ”
Mark Tyree said the academic advisor present for the incident called it the worst behavior the advisor had seen in a long career. Clarice Tyree said that within a week of hearing about the episode, she called Jenna Beverly, assistant director for academic support, and Beverly said the academic advisor had reported the incident to her.
Attempts to reach the academic advisor and Beverly on Friday were unsuccessful.
Tyree said his teammates were stunned as they witnessed the scene.
“He definitely said some things that people were shocked by,” Tyree said. “They were wondering why I didn’t hit him in his face. Players put themselves in my shoes and they were like, ‘Tyree, if that was me, I would have went off.’ I’m not that type of person. I’m not going to do something crazy.”
Tyree said he spoke with Cohen a few times after the incident to try to “level things out.” While there were no more altercations, Tyree said he felt ostracized. He said he wasn’t invited to meetings secondary coach Darrell Wilson held with the rest of the cornerbacks during spring camp.
“Obviously, if every single corner(back) is going to a meeting and not me,” Tyree said, “there’s something up.”
Tyree, who was a consensus three-star recruit out of South Brunswick High, had three tackles and two pass break-ups in the spring game. Encouraged by his performance, he did not tell his parents about the incident with Cohen. But during preseason training camp, Tyree believed the situation with Cohen was preventing him from getting on the field, so he told them what had happened.
“Once I saw that hatred that he gave off was actually messing with my future of actually being a Rutgers player, that’s when I had to say something to my father, which led him to come in and talk to Cohen,” Tyree said.
In late August, Tyree’s parents met with Cohen, who was the head coach at Hofstra from 2006-09 and served on the same staff with Flood at Delaware from 2002-05.
“I went in and spoke to Cohen and he agreed that he did do all of that stuff,” said Mark Tyree, who was a third-team All-America lacrosse player at Rutgers in 1979. “He tried to apologize, and I was like, ‘Well, the apology really isn’t accepted. We want Jevon to get an opportunity. He’s been battling this abuse and it’s been trickling down to your other coaches on defense.’ ”
Despite Cohen’s contrition, the Tyrees weren’t satisfied. With Tyree contemplating quitting the team, he said he joined his parents for a meeting with Flood on Sept. 16.
“We did ask Coach Flood for a formal investigation and there was no response. He just did not respond,” Clarice Tyree said. “We did tell him that we wanted Julie Hermann aware of what has taken place, and he responded to that request a little bit as a matter of fact, ‘Oh, yeah, she is aware.’ ”
Added Mark Tyree, “Flood’s comment was, ‘Mr. Tyree, I’m not going to tell you how I discipline my coaches.’ I understand that, because that’s in-house stuff, but what happens if nothing happens? How do you know? Where is the letter filed to (Hermann)?”
In the weeks following the meeting with Flood, the Rutgers secondary was besieged by injuries and defections. Tyree believed he would finally get his opportunity: He was listed on the two-deep depth chart before the Temple game on Nov. 2. He was sick with the flu early in the week, but was removed from the injury report that was released two days before the game.
Tyree didn’t play a snap in Rutgers’ 23-20 win over Temple, watching as converted wide receiver Ruhann Peele played cornerback. Tyree admitted that Peele played well, but he felt slighted after being passed over at his position for a receiver.
“I just took that as I wasn’t even visible on the depth chart. It was like I wasn’t even there,” Tyree said. “When they moved Peele over, I was like, ‘They either just don’t trust me,’ or who knows what it is, because they didn’t communicate. They didn’t tell me anything.”
Tyree woke up last Wednesday during the team’s bye and “was just feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be a Rutgers football player.” He said he tried to shake the feeling, but after practice he went to Flood’s office to ask for his release from his scholarship.
“I mentioned to him that I don’t feel welcome here, I feel like Coach Cohen and Coach Wilson weren’t making me feel part of the team,” Tyree said. “He honestly had no more than two words to say. He basically said, ‘OK,’ and he got my papers ready and that was it. It was as if he was waiting for me to come in there and say I was ready to leave. He really had an ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude.”
Tyree still is attending classes at Rutgers while he figures out where he’ll transfer to play football. As he prepares to move on, his parents continue to seek answers for what led to this point. Rutgers will play at home against Cincinnati on Saturday at noon.
“I really have no words for a coach that would try to bully a person like that,” Mark Tyree said. “It’s unfortunate, especially for a young man like Jevon to have gone through that kind of experience and not really know why it happened.”