UT received accusatory letter before basketball coach Gene Cross quit


Former University of Toledo men's basketball coach Gene Cross resigned three days after learning his boss was in receipt of an accusatory, lurid letter detailing Cross' alleged relationships with women.

Cross, 38, who submitted his resignation Thursday, said in an exclusive interview with The Blade last night that “the letter had nothing to do” with his departure from the Rockets. By resigning, he walked away from more than $700,000 left on his five-year contract.

“This was my decision and nothing else,” Cross said. “It's about my wanting to go out and continue to coach the game of basketball. It's not about the money for me. I chose to resign based on those factors.”

When asked directly if the letter impacted his decision to leave behind a lofty salary and his first job as a head coach, Cross said: “None whatsoever.”

Cross was notified by UT athletic director Mike O'Brien on Monday of a letter he received from a woman who claimed to have dated Cross for eight months. The letter, obtained by The Blade yesterday from UT through a public records request, is attributed to a woman named Dawn K. Gears, who provided her name, telephone number, and e-mail address but did not sign the letter with her handwriting.

Ms. Gears did not return a phone message seeking comment and was not available at her home in Ottawa Hills last night.

In the letter, the author provides vivid descriptions of her personal relationship with Cross and alleges that multiple women confided in her the details of their relationships with the coach.

Cross would not confirm nor deny his relationship with Ms. Gears and would only say of the letter: “The allegations made about me are categorically untrue.”

O'Brien, who spoke with The Blade yesterday via telephone from Cleveland, where he viewed the UT women's victory in a Mid-American Conference basketball tournament semifinal, said he was hand-delivered the letter by a UT staff member on March 5.

Upon reading the letter, O'Brien said he was “obviously incredibly disappointed.” He declined to disclose the nature of his discussion with Cross about the letter or any other topic in the days leading up to Cross' resignation.

On Thursday, O'Brien told The Blade that “it's fair to say” Cross would still be UT's coach had he not decided to resign.

The letter, which was dated Nov. 5, 2009, accused Cross of not “promoting the physical and mental well-being and safety of others.”

University officials said they could not explain why the letter was dated in November but not delivered until last week.

“If you feel the need to look further into this matter,” the letter states, “perhaps you should question Gene about his ‘shenanigans' with the women of Ottawa Hills as well as in the community at large.”

The letter alleges, among other things, that Ms. Gears discovered Cross, who is not married, was dating another woman while he was dating her.

“The day I found out I went to his home and when I rang the doorbell, I heard a woman screaming inside but couldn't decipher if she was in trouble or not,” the letter states.

The letter continues with claims about Cross' alleged relations with the other women, confrontations between Cross and the mother of his youngest son, Gavin, and other personal items relating to the coach.

“Upon obtaining the above information, I felt the need to write a letter to the University,” the letter states.

Larry Burns, vice president of external affairs at UT, said the university took the allegations made in the letter “very seriously,” as it would any accusatory letter about any UT employee.

Mr. Burns said university protocol would typically call for an investigation to be made into the letter, but: “None of this is being investigated on the university side since Gene made the decision to resign.”

Mr. Burns also said that O'Brien did not ask or force Cross to resign — a story Cross corroborated.

UT athletic department officials said early yesterday that a news conference with Cross at the university could be scheduled as early as tomorrow, but Mr. Burns said yesterday that the news conference was canceled.

Current players and UT interim coach Bob Sundvold are expected to be available to the media either tomorrow or Monday. No players were present at O'Brien's news conference Thursday to announce Cross' resignation because the university is on spring break this week.

When contacted yesterday, two UT players said they had been told not to talk to the media.

The Rockets finished a program-worst 4-28 this season and were 11-53 in Cross' two seasons as coach.

Cross said he felt the time was right to step aside so he and his staff could find employment elsewhere and UT would have enough time to find his replacement.

Cross added that he and O'Brien held discussions throughout the season about “the program,” but said he couldn't pinpoint a time when he first thought to resign.

“It's something that was just building over time,” he said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.comor 419-724-6559.