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Mel Pearon, University of Michigan head hockey coach

Photo: Marc-Grégor Campredon/MGoBlog

Michigan men’s hockey coach Mel Pearson fired after investigation

Mel Pearon, University of Michigan head hockey coach
Photo: Marc-Grégor Campredon/MGoBlog

Michigan’s Mel Pearson fired after investigation

The University of Michigan men’s hockey team has been in quite a pickle this week, after accusations of misconduct by head coach Mel Pearson came to light. Pearson was fired on Friday, as first reported by John Bacon, and a formal announcement is expected from the school later in the day.

In response to an anonymous survey of the players and staff, Pearson was accused of encouraging players to lie on COVID-19 tracing forms; misleading recruits on the amount of scholarship money they’d receive; and allegedly calling one player a “Jew,” according to information gathered by The Athletic. In a separate report by WilmerHale law firm, it was also made public that Pearson refused to hold the team’s director of hockey operations accountable for “mistreatment of female staff.” This report is nearly 70 pages long and took me three hours to read it but here’s what I’ve gathered. 

Pearson has been in the hot seat since the fall of 2021 after a complaint was filed against him upon allegations of “(1) the continued employment of staff members who had knowledge of sexual misconduct committed by Dr. Robert Anderson; (2) mistreatment and discrimination of women associated with the hockey program by himself and director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft; (3) failure to adhere to COVID-19 protocols; and (4) retaliation against student athletes,” as stated in the report. The WilmerHale report states, in fancier law terms, it is more likely than not that Pearson fired Steve Shields because of the complaints he filed.  

Issues began with gender-based mistreatment … but it didn’t stop there

The report details incidents with sports information director Kristy McNeil, Director of Performance Nutrition Caroline Mandel, and administrative assistant Lora Durkee. Several other women reported issues with Bancroft and a few with Pearson. 

The first incident involved Pearson screaming at McNeil for scheduling Zoom interviews for two players. It is also alleged that he and Bancroft “plotted to remove her from her position,” as also reported in The Michigan Daily.

In a meeting between Shields and Pearson in August of 2020, the former asked Pearson about Bancroft. Pearson stated, “we know Rick doesn’t behave himself around women.” Remind me to never go work anywhere with Bancroft or Pearson. 

Pearson and staff endorsed deception during COVID-19 contact tracing

Before the 2021 NCAA Regional Tournament in Fargo, N.D., one of the players tested positive for COVID-19. When the team arrived in North Dakota, they were instructed to answer “no” when asked if they had been in close contact. Soon after, another player tested positive, and another reported symptoms. The pair were put in a van and sent back to Ann Arbor. These two boys called Shields to explain what was going on. When Shields recalled the incident to WilmerHale, he expressed that they were very upset. He said they felt like they were “being snuck out of North Dakota.”

Pearson retaliated against Strauss Mann

Strauss Mann was the first goaltender to be named captain in Michigan’s 99 seasons of hockey. That apparently didn’t mean shit to Mel Pearson. 

After forfeiting the Fargo Regional, Mann had a meeting with Pearson and video coordinator Evan Hall. The point of this meeting was for Mann to express some concerns he had with the way the team was being run. These concerns arose from the COVID-19 tracing issue as well as a “lack of respect towards student athletes.” Pearson responded by telling Mann he’d have to re-earn his spot on the team.

Mann told McNeil that he felt like he was being forced out of the program and that he wasn’t wanted. Not too long after, a tweet went out stating that Mann was leaving the University, but the details of his future were not addressed. However, Mann signed a professional contract with Skelleftea AIK in Sweden in July of 2021. 

Players on the team also reported that Pearson had made comments to an NHL scout that resulted in a professional opportunity being taken away from Mann. Pearson told this scout that Mann had tried to get him fired. When confronted about it during the investigated, Pearson stated, “he might have said something.”

According to WilmerHale, none of this violates any of the policies brought to them. The law firm states that its findings do not show any direct violations of gender-based misconduct policies. They did, however, express some concerns regarding the culture and leadership of the University of Michigan men’s ice hockey program. The report goes into detail as to which issues need to be addressed — all of them. Pearson’s contract expired on May 1, 2022.

***

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