Wildhack makes first public comments about the state of the women’s basketball program

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — It has been a little over a month since Syracuse Women’s Basketball Coach Quentin Hillsman resigned amid an investigation into the way he led his program. 

The investigation came only after an article from Chantel Jennings and Dana O’Neil of The Athletic who spoke with former players who felt threatened and to some who allege inappropriate touching. 

Since then, SU received the report conducted by an outside firm and Athletic Director John Wildhack had yet to speak publicly about situation until today

Wildhack began by thanking the 55-plus individuals who spoke with investigators and outlined steps the university has taken to improve the program’s standing with its players. He also said he was sorry. 

“To the student athletes and staff who had a poor experience in the program, I apologize.” 

john wildhack, su ahtletic director

What Wildhack apologized for was a “breakdown in systems and processes” along with a “breakdown in people who did not come forward and voice concerns to the appropriate people in the athletic department.” 

Whether Wildhack is referring to the student athletes or program leadership in terms of who failed to come forward to the appropriate people is unclear. What is not unclear, is where the program is headed from here, and who is leading it. 

After Hillsman’s resignation, Wildhack named former Hillsman assistant Vonn Read as the acting head coach; a decision criticized by some who wonder how much Read knew, or was part of, the previous culture. 

When citing his reasons for naming Read to his position, Wildhack told the media he spoke with current players and some of their parents, and received satisfactory opinions of Read’s coaching and teambuilding. 

“Coach Read is the architect of system, both offense and defense. Our team members were recruited to play in this system. In evaluating what was best for our student athletes, it became clear that Coach Read could provide the stability and continuity that the program needs,” Wildhack said during a prepared statement. 

There came a point in the press conference where Wildhack, after answering a few questions about hiring Read, kept referring back to his opening statement. 

Wildhack believes the program is being proactive in their approach post-Hillsman. In the wake of the report on the SU WBB program, the department has established the following changes:

  • Making several changes to the coaching and administrative staff.
  • Contracting with Real Response, a real time anonymous reporting platform for student-athletes where they can anonymously report any issues about their experiences. Real Response provides a centralized documentation repository that will help the Athletics Department identify and respond to these issues quickly.
  • Reforming its processes to ensure that it promptly receives, escalates and addresses any complaints from student-athletes, managers or staff.
  • Engaging a culture consultant to provide training to coaches and administrators on strategies for promoting student-athlete well-being while creating winning athletics programs.

Even with those changes, Wildhack says being the leader of a program is “hard” sometimes; chalking up some of the lack of response in the past to the size of the athletic department.  

“We have been 550-600 student athletes. (Then) add in 150-200 staff, right. So, it’s a large organization. It’s a complex situation. Any organization that size, from time to time, there are going to be issues,” Wildhack said.   

And while Wildhack turned down the opportunity to grade his own performance, fans if they haven’t already might start to take a look at a department who has had a string of less-than-stellar events come out during the last six months. 

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