AMES, Iowa (AP) - Bill Fennelly defended himself and his coaching style Friday, two weeks after the long-time Iowa State women’s basketball coach was sued by a former star player for race discrimination and retaliation.
Fennelly met with the media for the first time since Nikki Moody filed a lawsuit in state district court that seeks unspecified damages. Moody, a standout point guard from 2012-15, says she was repeatedly called a “thug” and labeled a selfish player.
Fennelly declined to address her allegations, citing pending litigation. But during his news conference at Iowa State’s basketball facility he said he won’t change the way he coaches because he’s motivated to make players accountable and to do the right thing.
“I’m not going to deny who I am. I’m a passionate, emotional person, because every day I am 100 percent committed, invested, in the people I work with and I work for. I will not apologize for that,” said Fennelly, who had to stop to compose himself multiple times. “But I am not - I am not - the person I’ve been accused of being.”
Fennelly, who is white, has been Iowa State’s coach since 1995. Moody, who is black, said he demeaned, harassed and discriminated against her during her time with the Cyclones. Moody said his conduct led to a “hostile education environment through racial harassment.” She is also suing the university and state.
Fennelly has received the support of Iowa State’s administration, which said in a statement last week it “takes issue with the allegations and looks forward to responding in full to the lawsuit as the legal process proceeds.” Iowa State has also said its Office of Equal Opportunity looked into Moody’s complaints and was unable to substantiate her charges of racial discrimination.
Fennelly is 447-223 with Iowa State and is signed through 2019. He’s long been known for an occasionally abrasive sideline demeanor, but Fennelly’s charismatic persona has also helped Iowa State become one of the more well-supported teams in the country.
Dozens of his former players have defended Fennelly on social media using the hashtag #StandByCoach, and Fennelly said former Cyclones coaches Dan McCarney, Fred Hoiberg and Greg McDermott called him as soon as they learned about the lawsuit to offer their encouragement.
Men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm also attended Fennelly’s media session in a show of support.
“I’ll tell you this. I’ve had three different players from three different eras call me and say ‘Coach, don’t ever change. The world needs more people like you, not less,’” Fennelly said. “I’ve done this for 41 years, and I can’t change who I am.”
Nate Borland, an attorney for Moody, said it could be well over a year before the case reaches trial - meaning it likely will hang over the Cyclones next season. But Fennelly said he’s looking forward to telling his side of the story.
“When your personal character is attacked, it’s devastating,” Fennelly said. “And I feel bad for the people around me who have to suffer through this with me. They didn’t sign up for that.”
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