Detroit Mercy’s embattled women’s basketball coach AnnMarie Gilbert leaves job

The University of Detroit Mercy announced on Tuesday that women’s basketball coach AnnMarie Gilbert has left the university, six months after players accused her of mistreatment, abuse and NCAA violations.

Assistant coach LaTanya Collins will take over on an interim basis.

Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels told the Free Press Tuesday afternoon that Gilbert’s exit was “an HR personnel matter” and that the departure was not student-athlete related or related to the NCAA violations.

Vowels also said the school and Gilbert were still working out the details on the coach’s contractual status.

Former UDM player Maxine Moore, who was told by Vowels last month that she was no longer welcome to play on the team and has twice entered the transfer portal this offseason, did not feel a sense of vindication by Gilbert’s exit.

“I have so many emotions swirling around in my head,” Moore told the Free Press early Tuesday evening. “It’s been such a difficult time for me. I’m just grateful that hopefully no other student-athletes have to endure what my teammates and I did, at least at Detroit Mercy.

“I’m just thankful for my teammates for being courageous and brave enough to standing together and tell our truth. But it’s still kind of upsetting to know that we’re still being called liars.”.

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Moore’s mother, Meredith Perry-Okonkwor, scoffed at the idea that Gilbert’s reason for leaving was a personnel issue, calling it “a weak cover-up.”.

“I continue to be disappointed in the lack of leadership in that athletic department,” Perry-Okonkwor said. “They did not take care of our young women when they came to make the complaints and they never protected them.”.

The Titans were set to turn over their entire roster for the 2021-22 season, as all 14 players from 2020-21 left the program — some transferring to other schools, some quitting basketball to finish their degrees.

That came after all 14 players and their parents sent Vowels a five-page letter Jan. 17, detailing allegations involving players’ mental and physical health, athletes fearing retaliation for reporting injuries and being told to lie about COVID-19 symptoms, a verbally abusive environment for players and coaches and urgings from Gilbert not to focus on academic pursuits.

“An entire team’s cry for help should not be ignored in a situation like this,” junior Jiera Shears told the Free Press on May 11. “It should not go unnoticed. It should not just be swept under the rug.”.

The school opened an investigation in January after canceling the remainder of the season, though Vowels said Gilbert was never suspended or put on administrative leave despite the severity of the allegations. Vowels and Gilbert did not speak about the situation until May 19.

The letter also cited NCAA violations for exceeding the allowed 20 hours weekly or four hours daily of practice time, a rule which Gilbert was found to have violated at Eastern Michigan, receiving a two-year ban from coaching for repeated violations.

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UDM’s investigation found two Level 3 violations. One was for instances of supervised running last June and the other “approximately 3-6 hours” of extra, countable athletically related activity “during some weeks of the season.” Vowels said the school self-reported those findings to the NCAA.

“I came here to be a part of change, positive change, to help change the culture,” Gilbert said in May. “To help chart a path to national prominence, to impact these women positively. I’m here to coach, to teach, to develop them and to grow them into strong, empowered women.

“I’m saddened about the outcome, but I’m looking forward.”.

Vowels said every player, “saving a few” who declined, Gilbert and relevant staff were interviewed in the investigation. Also reviewed were “hundreds of pages of documents, texts, emails and other data” over “a period of several weeks.” The school announced April 15 it planned to keep Gilbert, a little less than three months after the letter detailing the allegations was received.

That frustrated UDM faculty and financial supporters of the program, who expressed their frustrations with the school’s decision to cancel the final 10 games of the 2020-21 regular season Jan. 20. That came after players said they would no longer play for Gilbert but wanted to continue under anyone else.

Gilbert, who was hired April 24, 2020, went just 1-13 overall and 1-9 in Horizon League play. A former Michigan State assistant, she coached five years at Eastern Michigan — taking the Eagles to the NCAA tournament in 2012 — before her tenure ended soon after that NCAA appearance with a resignation and the school being placed on NCAA probation for multiple violations of excess practice time and recruiting issues. Gilbert received a two-year show-cause penalty, which she served before landing at Division II Virginia Union for five seasons, going 135-18, including an appearance in the 2017 Division II national title game.

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Vowels said Tuesday that keeping Collins, who served as the program’s recruiting coordinator last season, as the interim coach was to maintain continuity with the new players. UDM has eight players committed for next season and Vowels said the hope is to get at least three or four more.

Meanwhile, Moore, now a senior on track to graduate soon, still has scars from this ordeal that she’s trying to heal.

“I’m still healing emotionally, mentally and physically from everything has transpired since the hiring of AnnMarie Gilbert,” Moore said. “My teammates, they’ve found a home, I’ve found a home, but it’s been very overwhelming.”.

Free Press sports editor Kirkland Crawford contributed to this report. Contact Chris Solari: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.

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