Former Ohio State women’s rowing head coach Andy Teitelbaum was fired in March for dismissing mental health concerns among the team’s student-athletes, a university investigation found.
According to a March 3 investigation report, Teitelbaum “engaged in conduct unbecoming of a coach and violated the university’s commitment to students’ well-being and Athletic’s value of keeping the well-being of student-athletes at the core of every decision.” The university interviewed 35 witnesses who reported Teitelbaum — who was fired March 10 — made negative comments regarding mental health in both small and large team meetings.
The report also concluded that two coaches on the staff failed to report Teitelbaum’s behavior to the Department of Athletics’ administration.
Teitelbaum said in an emailed statement that he strongly disagrees with the way the report characterized his actions and is proud of the program he led for more than 20 years.
“The report lacks the depth, clarity, context, and comprehensiveness that any culture investigation with integrity requires,” Teitelbaum said.
Teitelbaum was slated to earn $261,424 for the 2019-20 season, according to a university personnel file.
University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email that Teitelbaum violated Ohio State’s institutional governance standards and therefore was terminated.
Witnesses interviewed in the investigation included 23 current and former rowers, seven members of the team’s support staff and five members of the current rowing coaching staff.
The university received an anonymous complaint Sept. 23, 2019, that alleged Teitelbaum said he “enjoyed playing head games with athletes” and that the athletes — who practiced for four hours a day seven days per week — were “called out” for not attending optional practices, according to the investigation report.
The NCAA practice limit for all sports is eight hours per week during the period in which the offseason and academic year overlap, according to the NCAA’s 20-hour rule. Hour restrictions increase to 20 per week once teams are in season, however, teams are not allowed to practice for more than four hours in a given day.
“When we felt like we were practicing more than the NCAA limit, we would report it, and he would just tell us no one can do anything about it because of the way he set things up,” Rachel Serafy, alumna of Ohio State and former rowing captain, said. “No matter what time of the year it was, we exceeded the 20-hour limit.”
An analysis of rowing team practice time performed by Athletics Compliance did not find any NCAA rules violations. It is unclear when the analysis was conducted.
Current student-athletes reported that Teitelbaum made comments to athletes that included “depression is selfish,” that the cure for depression is “giving and being grateful,” that “depression is a choice,” that “depression isn’t real,” and that sport psychology “isn’t a real field of medicine,” the report reads.
“As athletes, we’re all very vulnerable to the leadership that we’re under,” Serafy said. “The coach determines your value, he sets the lineup, he tells you if you’re racing, if you’re not racing.”
Members of the current coaching staff reported that Teitelbaum made athletes aware of their sport psychology resources and three of five current staff interviewed did not believe he was dismissive about mental health concerns, but one additional witness said that he may have “a lack of understanding of mental health” and could use additional education, the report reads.
Teitelbaum said in a statement that coaches should develop athletes with high levels of “emotional fitness” to handle life’s adversities.
A redacted athlete witness said that Teitelbaum “played doctor,” asking students about their emotions and feelings, though the coaching staff denied hearing Teitelbaum be referred to in this way. The report reads that Teitelbaum himself conducted a redacted form of psychological treatment on the student-athletes, continuing after he was told that even the Department of Athletics’ sports psychologists were not trained to safely administer this particular treatment.
Serafy said Teitelbaum was “manipulative” and felt he could do or say whatever he wanted without being held accountable.
Teitlebaum was interviewed twice over the course of the investigation, during which he denied he said that depression and anxiety aren’t real, that depression is selfish and that he enjoyed playing head games, the investigation report reads. He also denied speaking negatively about sport psychology and telling athletes not to burden one another with personal issues — creating an atmosphere in which athletes felt they could not discuss issues with one another.
Teitelbaum acknowledged in the investigation that he said the cure for depression was giving and being grateful.
Teitelbaum was head coach of the women’s rowing team since its inception in 1995. He led the team to three consecutive NCAA titles from 2013 through 2015 and a total of nine Big Ten championships.
Several rowers who trained under Teitelbaum went on to be Olympic athletes, and Serafy said that precedent can lead to pressure on student-athletes.
“When you’re on a team with successful rowers — like girls who’ve gone to the Olympics, girls who’ve represented their country on the world stage — it’s really hard to see your value as anything but a rower,” Serafy said.
Former assistant coach Kate Sweeney currently serves as interim head coach for the team whose season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sweeney competed for the Buckeyes under Teitelbaum as a student-athlete from 2009-12 before joining the staff as an assistant coach in 2016.
Serafy said she was relieved the investigation ended in Teitelbaum’s termination and hopes the team recognizes it as an opportunity for growth.
“I think back to girls who had quit because of the coach in past years, and I think that if [Teitelbaum] hadn’t been there, like would they still be rowing today?” Serafy said.
This story was updated at 7:51 p.m., Friday, May 29, 2020 with a statement from Andy Teitelbaum.