The investigation into improprieties in the University of Minnesota athletic department has widened to include a second top official.
The U confirmed that associate athletic director Mike Ellis has “voluntarily” agreed to the institution’s request that he take a paid leave from his job as investigators reviewing sexual harassment and discrimination issues look into five anonymous complaints that have been filed against him.
The U says that Ellis is cooperating in the investigation, and he began his leave on Aug. 21.
His boss, former athletic director Norwood Teague, resigned Aug. 6 amid reports that he sexually harassed two female university officials at a leadership retreat. Several additional complaints have been filed since then.
Teague hired Ellis a few months after he became the U’s athletic director in 2012. Both came from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Ellis did not respond to requests for comment. His wife, Terri Ellis, said Wednesday that reporters “don’t need to know” about his status with the U.
The U said that it received a complaint about Ellis in January 2013. The university’s human resources department investigated and closed the file without any disciplinary action. State law restricts the release of further information about closed and pending complaints, a spokesman said.
A pornography complaint
The Star Tribune has a copy of an anonymous complaint sent to U President Eric Kaler about Ellis and Teague on Aug. 10. The complaint, purportedly from members of the U’s “senior athletic staff,” alleges that Ellis had pornographic images of college-aged women on his cellphone and shared them with Teague and others in December 2012 at the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, Texas, which the Gophers lost.
U spokesman Evan Lapiska said Thursday that this complaint relates to the same information in the January 2013 complaint against Ellis.
The August complaint says that when a senior member of the U athletic department and a member of the Gophers broadcasting team “made it known they were offended by the graphic images, that person was immediately shunned by the new senior administrators,” including Teague and Ellis. “A few days after returning from the bowl trip, this athletic administrator was shockingly fired for ‘reorganization purposes’ a move that very much troubled the rest of the athletic staff.”
Although the complaints do not name the person who was let go, the circumstances fit interim associate athletic director for external relations Chris Bahl, who was notified Jan. 10, 2013, that his contract would not be renewed in June as a result of a reorganization.
Bahl did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
Teague and Ellis worked closely together in the VCU athletics department. VCU basketball coach Beth Cunningham filed a Title IX sex discrimination complaint against the school around the time Teague left his job as athletic director there to come to the U. The exact timing of her complaint has not yet been confirmed. VCU paid Cunningham $125,000 in July 2012 to settle the complaint — a month after Teague’s first day on the job at the U.
Kaler has said that the U was unaware of the VCU complaint when it hired Teague.
Lapiska said Thursday there were no complaints against Teague before this summer’s sexual harassment allegations, meaning the U did not treat the complaint against Ellis as one against Teague.
Teague hired Ellis in August 2012 as a senior associate athletic director and administrator of the men’s basketball and wrestling programs. Records obtained by the Star Tribune show that Ellis also was in charge of equipment management, soccer, women’s golf and the “M” Club, a group of varsity athletes who’ve lettered in their sports. He also administered the U’s Nike sponsorship agreement and the Villa 7 consortium, a networking and career development program that brings assistant college basketball coaches together with athletic directors on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore.
Ellis makes $153,000 a year, and participates in a car-leasing program available to senior administrators and coaches, the U said in response to the Star Tribune’s public records request.
Ellis played a significant role in the recent men’s and women’s basketball coaching changes. After Tubby Smith and Pam Borton were fired in March 2013 and March 2014, respectively, he assisted with the hiring of men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino and women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings. Before joining Teague at Minnesota, Ellis hired Stollings at VCU in June 2012 and then in April 2014 helped bring her to the Twin Cities.
Ellis has said he helped develop Villa 7, a yearly networking event for basketball coaches and administrators, while at VCU. Stollings is a Villa 7 alum.
With Teague, Ellis recruited Beth Goetz from Butler University. She was named interim athletic director after Teague’s resignation.
Chris Werle, senior associate athletic director of strategic communications, referred any specific questions pertaining to Ellis to university relations.
A native of Butner, N.C., Ellis graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He and Teague met at UNC, where Ellis was a men’s basketball student manager and Teague worked in the sports information office.
Ellis then moved to an administrative assistant position with USA Basketball, working with both the men’s and women’s 1988 Olympic teams that competed in Seoul, South Korea.
Ellis started working at VCU in 1988 as an assistant men’s basketball coach and moved into the VCU Center for Sports leadership in 2002. From there, he moved to assistant athletic director and worked on a number of major gift projects. He spent three seasons as VCU’s associate athletic director for administration, and also oversaw women’s basketball and women’s soccer, shared oversight of the men’s basketball program, and supervised both the sports medicine and equipment units. Ellis eventually oversaw corporate sales, marketing, ticketing and athletic communications.
Ellis and his wife live in Maple Grove with their two children.