Georgia Tech fires women's basketball coach MaChelle Joseph over 'emotional abuse'

SOUTH BEND, IN - FEBRUARY 03: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Head Coach MaChelle Joseph watches the on court action during the game between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on February 03, 2019, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend IN. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach MaChelle Joseph alleges she was fired due to speaking out about gender inequality. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

MaChelle Joseph was fired Tuesday after 16 seasons as head coach of the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team and each side is now detailing very different stories from her tenure.

The school, which suspended Joseph a month ago without giving reason, is citing allegations found in its independent investigation of the coach that include mistreatment of players and staff and a “toxic” environment.

The coach, through her attorney, is alleging punishment for her complaints about gender equality issues and alleged Title IX violations.

Joseph, 49, is the winningest coach in school history at 311-198. The Yellow Jackets reached seven NCAA tournaments with her at the helm. They finished the 2018-19 campaign at 17-13, including 7-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Georgia Tech is currently facing major NCAA recruiting violations with its men’s basketball team and mourning the death of a football player.

Investigation determines players mistreated

The independent investigation, obtained by 11Alive News via a FOIL request, included interviews with 13 current team members, four former players, administrative staff, current assistants, and others such as the team bus driver.

The investigators found allegations of the following:

  • A “toxic,” “suffocating,” “draining and miserable” and “unhealthy” environment that made players lose their passion for basketball

  • Joseph becoming “laser focused” on players one-by-one throughout the season, putting them under a microscope during practice and announcing every mistake

  • Manipulation and ostracizing players, including telling them the athletic department and compliance staff was not to be trusted

  • Breach of confidentiality between a licensed team psychologist and Joseph, who would use the information against players in practices or games

Joseph allegedly threw a clipboard down during a loss and it went “only a few inches from a player’s face,” per the report. Players reported they felt it would hit her. It’s the only account of physical abuse detailed in the excerpts by 11Alive News.

The allegations that would be violations of NCAA policies have been reported, per the school.

Allegations center around mental abuse

The report sums up “insulting, demeaning and belittling” behavior by Joseph with a list of comments that include calling players “f—ing stupid,” “p—” and “whores.”

Per the report, excerpted by 11 Alive News:

Multiple staff members also expressed concerns for the mental and emotional well-being of players. Several staff members indicated their opinion that Coach Joseph engaged in conduct that they considered "verbal abuse" and bullying.

They indicated that it was apparent that the players were afraid of Joseph and exhibited signs of high stress and anxiety. Several staff members expressed specific concerns regarding the players' physical manifestations of the stress and anxiety.

Joseph denied to investigators any mental or emotional abuse and several assistant coaches reportedly told investigators they did not know of any type of mistreatment like that.

The allegations are similar to those levied Tuesday against Northern Kentucky women’s coach Camryn Whitaker. A senior published an account of alleged mental abuse by Whitaker; the university said it will investigate.

Joseph says she’s ‘tough’ but not a ‘monster’

A response by the coach was released to the media by her attorney, Lisa Banks, in an email. In it, she wrote that she is a “tough and demanding coach” but not the “monster” detailed in the report, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“While I demand commitment and accountability, I have never, and would never, subject my players to verbal or emotional abuse.”

She alleges the investigator was “extremely inexperienced” and therefore influenced by Georgia Tech. She said the findings are “facts and statements taken entirely out of context,” per the AJC, with an example that she called a player’s decision stupid but not the player stupid.

From the AJC:

In her conclusion to [Georgia Tech athletic director Todd] Stansbury, Joseph wrote that the investigation “was not meant to uncover the truth, but rather to cynically exploit the complaint of a disgruntled player and then cherry-pick facts and witnesses” to justify firing her.

Alleged Title IX violations

Both when she was suspended and when she was fired, Joseph alleged that she was being punished for speaking out about gender inequality at the school, per the two reports by The Associated Press.

According to Banks, the coach’s attorney, that includes sub-standard resources and “the significant disparities in salary allocation for assistant coaches; funding for publicity and marketing; the condition of the locker room; and the methods of travel.”

High Post Hoops reports she first filed complaints in November 2018.The investigation by Georgia Tech regarding abuse was opened Feb. 25.

Said Banks, via The AP:

“She has been accused of ‘attacking’ Georgia Tech through her efforts, and top athletic department officials vowed to ‘get rid’ of her. Georgia Tech finally accomplished that goal by manufacturing allegations against her and manipulating an investigation to make it appear that she engaged in unacceptable coaching practices.”

Stansbury, the Georgia Tech athletic director, responded to the AJC by saying he is confident in the report, the school takes Title IX seriously and Joseph’s allegations are “absolutely not true.”

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