Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller, whose program is being reviewed by university officials following complaints from players, denied she has mistreated players and said she will not resign.
Weller, who has been Maryland's coach for 22 years, said last night that while she is "tough," she has "never set out to harm a student-athlete."
"I am out to help them realize their greatness," she said. "I think I've had excellent student-athletes and they have done extraordinary things. I want them to expect that in themselves. I believe in them and I believe that they're good."
Last month, six Maryland players presented athletic department officials with a memo listing their complaints about Weller and her coaching staff. The charges included mental abuse. Officials in the athletic department began interviewing players and Weller two weeks ago, after the Terps lost to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Sources close to the program said
many of the players told school officials that they did not want Weller to lose her job, but to modify her behavior.
Athletic director Debbie Yow said last night that she did not know when the review of Weller's program would be complete. Weller is scheduled to meet with Yow and university attorney Susan Bailey this afternoon, according to one athletic department source.
In 22 seasons, Weller has a record of 432-208, winning eight ACC tournament championships and reaching 11 NCAA tournaments and three Final Fours. But her tenure has been marked by player transfers and withdrawals, as well as a minor NCAA recruiting violation in 1986.
None of the present or former Maryland players contacted for tTC this story would speak on the record. But in interviews with 10 former players, parents of players, former assistant coaches and athletic department employees, the following charges were made off the record:
That Weller withheld meal money from two players as punishment during a summer school session.
That Weller once ordered two players off the team bus on the way to a pre-game meal.
That Weller once practiced the team so hard that players urinated on themselves because they couldn't take a break.
That Weller curses excessively, has ordered players to change their hairstyles and would not allow players to choose their roommates or what dorm they would live in.
Weller strenuously denied all the charges last night.
"I've always tried to do the thing that was in the best interest of the kids. Sometimes, people don't agree [with the results], but never for not trying," Weller said.
A number of players on this year's team have indicated privately that they might transfer if Weller is retained. All three assistant coaches -- Trudi Lacey, Belinda "Boe" Pearman and Sue Panek -- have left the program.
But the Maryland program has survived previous periods of turmoil -- and even thrived.
Malissa Boles, a top player on Weller's teams in the early '90s that climbed to No. 1 in the nation, said she couldn't imagine anyone else running the Maryland program.
"I was shocked when I read that," Boles said of the players' complaints about Weller. "I'm the type of person who believes in loyalty and in having a team that has a camaraderie that keeps things in house. Coach Weller and I had a good relationship. I went out night in and night out and played hard for her and she appreciated that."
The most serious charge made on the record about Weller came last month, when Greg Richie, the father of sophomore guard Kelley Gibson, said Weller had withheld meal money from Gibson during the winter semester break.
Weller vehemently denied that last night, saying she had elected to give her players their per diem payments in "small doses," rather than in one lump sum.
"If you give it to them in one lump sum, it's very tempting for them to go use the money to buy new clothes or jewelry," Weller said. "None of my kids have ever not been able to get their per diem. If anybody tells you that I haven't given them their per diem, they're not telling the truth."
As to the allegation regarding the summer school meal situation with two other players, Weller said she was not required to offer summer weekend meal money to players. She said she told those taking summer classes who had a grade point average below 2.5 that they would have to take part in study hall to get weekend money. Any students who did not receive the weekend money, Weller said, had not been "taking care of business."
Weller's program has been found guilty of an NCAA violation once. Weller was banned from recruiting off campus after the 1985-86 season, when she allowed guard Deanna Tate to travel with the team while Tate was enrolled at University College, and was still a recruitable athlete.
Weller's tenure also has been marked by the transfers of many high-profile players. Since 1980, at least 22 of Weller's players have either transferred or quit school.
They include Beth Hunt, who transferred after being named the 1986-87 ACC Rookie of the Year. Kris Kirchner, who was named to the 1980 Olympic team, transferred to Rutgers after three years and 1,425 points at Maryland. Carla Holmes, the 1988 ACC top rookie, left midway through her senior year.
Two years ago, guard Demetria Tutt, a junior-college transfer, left the team after playing in just one regular-season game. Kim McCray, a guard on this year's team, left after playing in seven games. Weller said at the time that McCray had lost interest in college basketball. McCray could not be reached for comment.
"She is and always will be one of the greatest coaches in basketball," a former Maryland player said. "The woman knows basketball. But she does some things the wrong way on a personal level. She tries to have too much control over her players."
As to the charge that she didn't allow her players to choose their roommates, Weller said her players have been assigned together the past four or five years for safety reasons, so they could travel together across campus after late games and practices.
Weller also denied ordering two players off the team bus in February 1992, during a road trip to Georgia Tech, as the team was leaving the hotel for a pre-game meal.
"That doesn't ring a bell," Weller said.
During that same season, Maryland lost an opening-round game in the ACC tournament to Georgia Tech after leading by 17 points with seven minutes to go, a loss Weller called the "worst I have ever experienced as a coach."
In a practice after the loss, sources said, the level of the workout was such that some players urinated on themselves because they couldn't take a break.
Weller denied that charge last night.
Weller said many of the current players' statements have been "very, very distorted." She said she knows that changes need to be made and she intends to change.
"I know I'm a tough coach, but I have always cared about the welfare of my kids. Perhaps I haven't been as close to them as I should. I don't want you to think that I haven't been trying," she said. "Some things have to be improved and we're going to work very hard to improve them."
Pub Date: 4/04/97