Michigan cuts ties with embattled hockey coach Mel Pearson
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan has cut ties with hockey coach Mel Pearson.
Athletic director Warde Manuel said Friday the decision “has been weighed heavily and for some time.” Pearson’s contract expired after last season, and he had been an at-will employee, pending a review of the program.
An investigation, obtained by MLive among others, that was given to the school in May revealed in part that Pearson pressured student-athletes to lie about COVID-19 contact tracing during the 2020-21 season.
“Our student-athletes having a positive and meaningful experience is of paramount importance, and a clear expectation within our department is that all employees and staff are valued and supported. I deeply appreciate and value the many individuals who came forward throughout this review,” Manuel said in a statement released by the school. “Today’s announcement reflects the seriousness with what we’ve heard and the values we hold dear at Michigan.”
The Wolverines did not play in the 2021 NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. With a team led by NHL first-round draft picks, they were 31-10-1 last season and lost to Denver in the Frozen Four.
Pearson was 99-64-16 at Michigan over five seasons. He previously coached at Michigan Tech, where he had a 118-92-29 record over six seasons.
When Michigan was looking for a leader to replace retiring coach Red Berenson in 2017, it hired Pearson. He was a longtime assistant for Berenson during a three-decade career at the school that included two national titles.
The investigation into the Pearson-led program started after former Michigan and NHL goaltender Steve Shields filed a formal complaint in September 2021, when he was a volunteer coach for the Wolverines.
Shields’ complaint included concerns that Pearson allowed then-director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft to be employed despite having knowledge of sexual misconduct committed by the late Dr. Robert Anderson at the school. Bancroft retired earlier this summer.
Shields also told the school and investigators that Pearson and Bancroft mistreated women who worked for the program. His complaint also accused Pearson of mistreating student-athletes.
“Our investigation did identify cultural issues within the hockey program that warrant attention,” the WilmerHale law firm wrote in its report that was intended to be confidential.