The Blade/Lori King
Former University of Toledo track and field and cross country director Kevin Hadsell was adored on campus because of his quirky ways.
He showed up to the office in work boots and jeans, often wearing a scruffy beard. On the weekends Mr. Hadsell hosted a talk show on the student radio station. He called people “dude” and “man.” A single father, he cared for his sister’s three children as she was dealing with alcoholism.
There, however, was another side to this likable man who built the program into one of the best in the nation from a perennial bottom feeder in the Mid-American Conference. Mr. Hadsell, who resigned last month after admitting to violating a university policy, had a romantic relationship with at least one athlete and sent lewd text messages to another.
Copies of text messages obtained by The Blade through the Ohio open-records act show Mr. Hadsell made advances toward an athlete in his program and interacted unprofessionally with her from September through January. That athlete, All-America runner Emma Kertesz, turned over messages and other alleged evidence against Mr. Hadsell to the university’s human resources department, prompting the Jan. 24 resignation of the five-time Mid-American Conference women’s cross country coach of the year.
“I just felt I had to say something to prevent this from happening to somebody, specifically the women on the team that I care about deeply,” Ms. Kertesz, a Central Catholic graduate, told The Blade.
UT athletic director Mike O’Brien said the university was prepared to fire Mr. Hadsell after determining he had been involved in an inappropriate relationship “two or three years ago” with an athlete. Mr. Hadsell resigned at a meeting with human resources before Mr. O’Brien could take action.
Mr. Hadsell, who led the program for 15 seasons, told The Blade he dated a UT athlete 10 years ago who was on his team, but that the more recent allegation was untrue.
“The one that I [had a relationship with] was 10 years ago,” Mr. Hadsell, 42, said. “The one that I was accused of, I did not. ...”
Mr. Hadsell is not accused of having a romantic relationship with Ms. Kertesz.
Mr. Hadsell showed an interest in Ms. Kertesz in an Oct. 7 text that read, “I’m into you.” Moments earlier, Ms. Kertesz had written that she was not interested in a relationship with him. Both of them were in Boston for a race at the time.
“There was more to the conversation than what was printed off,” said Mr. Hadsell, who has never been married. “A lot of this is out of the actual context, but it still doesn’t take away what I said, and I shouldn’t have said it.”
He added: “She initiated those conversations with me. I wasn’t just having those conversations out of the blue.”
Ms. Kertesz said she did not delete texts before turning over her cell phone to human resources. Parts of the text-message exchange between Mr. Hadsell and Ms. Kertesz that were blacked out by UT officials made some of their conversation indecipherable.
“Needless to say, I was really disappointed,” Mr. O’Brien, the athletic director, said of the texts.
Two weeks earlier, on Sept. 21, an anonymous person phoned Kelly Andrews, UT senior associate athletic director, and said Mr. Hadsell was dating a former athlete — a relationship the caller alleges began when the athlete was a member of the program. Ms. Kertesz said she was not the anonymous caller and that she does not know who was.
“At that time, Kevin indicated there was no relationship,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Mr. O’Brien, in general terms, cautioned Mr. Hadsell about the inappropriateness of being romantically involved with an athlete but did not punish him.
Mr. Hadsell, in a text to Ms. Kertesz, wrote, “Obrien [sic] said that if I’m dating a former runner he doesn’t care and that it is impossible to both prove I was in a relationship and impossible for me to prove I wasn’t.” When asked by The Blade to clarify his remarks, Mr. Hadsell said he was being dishonest.
“I said that just in case it was [Ms. Kertesz] that was complaining, to get her off my case,” Mr. Hadsell said. “[O’Brien] never said that. That was not true.”
Larry Burns, UT Vice President for External Affairs, said he and university President Lloyd Jacobs are satisfied with how the investigation was handled. Mr. Burns said Mr. O’Brien’s power to explore the initial complaint in September was weakened by the caller wanting to remain anonymous.
Ms. Kertesz, who quit last month to turn professional and train in Rochester, Mich., is a 2012 NCAA All-American in the 10,000 meters. She would have been a fifth-year senior in the upcoming outdoor track season.
Texts show the Hadsell-Kertesz relationship shared inside jokes and discussed many things besides running. On Oct. 11, four days after Mr. Hadsell’s text advances, he sent Ms. Kertesz a message saying, "Dude I love hearing from you every day for years now man." She responded, “We’ve become pretty close dude.” Later in the conversation Mr. Hadsell asked Ms. Kertesz, “You want to have some drinks and make some mistakes?”
Weeks later, around Halloween, Ms. Kertesz presented her coach with a bobble-head doll in his likeness as a token of appreciation for his help in molding her into an elite runner.
“He played a major role in why I was so good,” said Ms. Kertesz, who was not highly regarded as a running prospect coming out of high school. “He’s a good coach, very knowledgeable. I did owe him in that aspect.”
Their personal bond, Ms. Kertesz said, was not authentic.
“I felt like I had to walk a fine line between not saying yes and not saying no so he would pay attention to me in my training,” she said. “If I were to not respond to his texts, whether it be because I was busy or I was ignoring him, he would get upset at me and he would ignore me,” she said. “That would come in the form of not paying attention to my training. I felt I needed to be friends with him to get the training I needed to be good.”
Their interactions eroded in early December after Mr. Hadsell threatened to dismiss Ms. Kertesz from the program after she violated training orders he instituted for her. Ms. Kertesz, who had just returned from a race in Japan, said she ran on a scheduled off day.
“Need to get it together, man,” he wrote in a Dec. 5 text. In the following days he wrote, “You plan on following my [plan] to the ‘T’ man?” and “My patience is at very end.”
Ms. Kertesz quit the program about that time but rejoined because “I got the vibe he would have a hand in ruining my reputation.”
On Dec. 26 Ms. Kertesz, armed with the alleged text evidence needed to get Mr. Hadsell fired, approached human resources. Days later Mr. Hadsell, who had been informed of a complaint, texted Ms. Kertesz to see if she had heard anything.
“I guess someone complained that I cuss and allegedly drink with athletes and something about texts,” he wrote.
Ms. Kertesz, who told The Blade she was advised by human resources to “play dumb” if approached by Mr. Hadsell, said, “Lol drop one too many F bombs?”
On Jan. 8 the office of institutional diversity launched an inquiry into inappropriate text messages, profane language, and inappropriate romantic advancements. The inquiry focused on whether Mr. Hadsell violated the university’s sexual-harassment policy. He resigned two weeks later in a meeting with human resources.
Text interactions between Mr. Hadsell and Ms. Kertesz ended that night when the coach sent a message that read: “Dude if you hear anything let me know. I don’t know who the heck would do this to me. My life could be ruined. Literally. And I have zero idea what it is even about. Ugh.”
Mr. Hadsell, who lives in Toledo, has spent recent weeks traveling the country. Among his stops were Pebble Beach, Calif., Sacramento, Chicago, and New York. It is unknown if he will coach again.
Meanwhile, Toledo’s program is flourishing under interim coach Jiana Jin. Sophomore Mackenzie Chojnacky broke the 5,000-meter meet record at the Grand Valley State Big Meet last weekend, finishing second among 113 runners. Ms. Chojnacky's time of 16:25.38 is the fourth-best in UT history and ranks above Emma Kertesz.
The program this week announced the signings of six athletes, including local high school seniors Emily Wywrick of Perrysburg, and Elizabeth Sares of Southview.
Mr. O’Brien said he will wait until the spring or early summer to hire a full-time director to replace a man whose legend at UT is no longer limited to the race track or the trophy case.
“I should have never put her in a position where she felt this was the only option,” Mr. Hadsell said. “This was the root of everything, allowing people to get close to me.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.