Wilson investigated in 2015 for treatment of injured players

By Mike Miller
812-331-4369 | mmiller@heraldt.com

In May 2015, a letter was placed in Kevin Wilson’s Indiana University employee personnel file.

It was a memo from athletic director Fred Glass detailing the findings of a month-long investigation into IU’s treatment of injured players.

The investigation was spurred by concerns expressed by the father of former IU defensive lineman Nick Carovillano, who, in a series of meetings and e-mails, complained to athletic department administrators that Wilson and members of his training staff were not handling a back injury suffered by Carovillano with proper care.

In response, IU retained the Indianapolis law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP to investigate Dean Carovillano’s three claims: that the department’s medical care was inadequate, that the coaching staff exerted improper influence over medical care and that an “unhealthy culture” around the program led players like his son to avoid seeking necessary medical treatment.

Taft’s investigation produced a 26-page report, concluding that Carovillano did not receive inadequate medical care and that the coaching staff did not exert improper influence over the training staff.

However, the firm did note that Carovillano’s third clam had merit — there were noticeable behaviors by members of IU’s coaching staff that contributed to an unsatisfactory environment for players.

“The last conclusion was based on a variety of findings including your own admission that you made jokes to injured players about their injuries or implied that they are not useful members of the team,” Glass wrote to Wilson in the May 2015 memo, obtained by The Herald-Times, along with a series of additional documents related to Carovillano’s claims.

“Some players said that they felt pressure or witnessed coaches pressuring others and indicated that they found it depressing and demoralizing to have coaches make such comments when they were already frustrated with their injuries. It was found that coaches appear to push players to work harder than they should when they have injuries that are unconfirmed by an outside test.”

Complaints by the Carovillano family, alone, did not take down Wilson, who resigned on Thursday due to what IU athletic director Fred Glass characterized as “philosophical differences.”

But those complaints offer a conduit into the Indiana football experience under Wilson, an experience that the university ultimately determined was not worth sustaining.

The Carovillano incident is unsurprising, given Wilson’s public stance on injuries. Wilson often bristled at questions from reporters about injuries and the players who sustained them.

In most cases, Wilson would respond to an injury question in vague terms, with the implication clear: injured players couldn’t play and therefore couldn’t help him win games. Therefore, what’s worth discussing?

Wilson has not responded to repeated messages left by The Herald-Times. Glass did not respond to a message left Saturday.

In Nick Carovillano’s case, he injured his back during a practice on Sept. 23, 2014. When Carovillano approached an athletic trainer and asked to be checked out, the trainer dismissed the injury after asking a few basic questions, according to an email Dean Carovillano sent to assistant athletic trainer Anthony Thompson.

“My son’s never had a back injury and knew right when he was hit in that board drill against a 300-pound lineman,” Dean Carovillano told the H-T. “Nick was 230 pounds and knew something went wrong.”

Another trainer simply recommended that Carovillano stretch more, and it wasn’t until a trip home to Cincinnati during a week while IU was on the road in mid-October 2014 that a doctor diagnosed him with a bone fragment and two bulging disks.

“Once I actually proved I was hurt by saying, ‘Hey, I went to the doctor,’ they finally had me get an MRI,” Nick Carovillano said. “The attitude of the trainers turned from being like, ‘You’re soft, and you need to toughen up,’ to being like, ‘OK, you actually need to rehab.’”

Carovillano believes the trainers were operating under pressure from Wilson, who Carovillano says would berate the training staff with expletives if he believed they were coddling guys with extra care.

Tucked into a corner of Indiana’s practice field is a tent where injured players can ride stationary bikes, stretch or complete small-scale exercises while the rest of the team practices.

Carovillano says the medical tent was also a scene where Wilson would stop to shame players who were unable to contribute during practice.

“Midway through the season, Wilson got upset with the injured guys, because we were the first ones out of practice,” Carovillano said. “He was mad when he saw us laughing in the lunch room or having a good time. That’s when he created the tent. It was more of a shaming thing where, if you’re injured, you have to go to the tent. Kids who were having a bad day of practice or if they’d mess up, he’d send them to the tent to punish them or shame them.

“It was run by the strength coaches. They’d give you various exercises. The strength coaches took care of us 100 percent of the time, but it got to the point where injured kids had to stay after practice until everybody else left. Wilson would come over and make remarks and comments to us, talk down to us. Things like that.”

Since Wilson resigned, former players have come forward to give more positive reflections of Wilson and their interactions with the former coach, who early in his IU tenure developed a reputation for being naturally abrasive.

“Although he was tough on us,” former quarterback Nate Sudfeld wrote in a Twitter message, “he was always in our corner.”

Carovillano paints a different picture.

“A lot of the guys that are coming out were the starters or the star athletes, so it’s comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “I was a freshman, had never played, wasn’t starting, wasn’t a rotation guy. I was a scholarship player on the scout team. The way I was treated was completely different than some dude who had been there three or four years and was actually playing. That’s kind of how the mindset was there.”

Carovillano rehabbed until early in the spring 2015 semester, then decided to leave the school in April 2015. After his son’s departure and ensuing move back home to Cincinnati, Dean Carovillano reached out to Thompson to make his complaints known to the department.

“My son’s back is seriously injured, and he could have been crippled for life because of the unhealthy culture established by Kevin Wilson,” Dean Carovillano wrote in a message to Thompson, obtained by The Herald-Times.

Carovillano’s complaints initiated the investigation into Wilson, the team’s medical practices and the culture of the program later in April.

Although the Taft report absolved the medical staff of wrongdoing, it did come to the conclusion that Wilson’s approach to injured players was unsatisfactory.

In his memo to Wilson, Glass wrote that he wished to adopt the following recommendations from the report:

“Players should never be put in situations where they feel they have to defy the coaches in order to protect their own health. Coaches should listen to the players’ concerns and, if they doubt a player’s sincerity regarding the severity of an injury, they should send the player to the trainer for further evaluation before pushing a player to engage in activities that may create further injury. This not only protects the player, but also the coach from allegations of wrongdoing.”

During six seasons as head coach at Indiana, Wilson went through four head athletic trainers. That’s uncommon turnover for a position that typically sees individuals remain in place for years, even through coaching changes.

For instance, Purdue’s football trainer has been in the same for nearly six years. Maryland has had the same head football trainer for a decade.

“I feel like they wanted to get out of there because they were tired of Wilson and the way he treated them,” Nick Carovillano said.

Indiana retained Taft last month to investigate Wilson when Glass noticed old issues “bubbling up” once again. At his Thursday press conference, Glass declined to discuss specifics about the nature of that investigation.

“I would emphasize that a major conclusion of that report was that medical care was not compromised in the program at all,” Glass said Thursday.

But Wilson’s approach to the medical aspect of his former program does appear fair to question.

“He would say, ‘You’re this, you’re that, get out there,” Dean Carovillano said. “You’re nothing until you start contributing.”

12 comments

  1. In legal terms, Fred Glass has been exercising ‘due diligence’. When he took the AD job there were plenty of people who were dimissive of an attorney becoming the athletic dirctor instead of a career athletic department guy. As an attorney he recognized that he could not ignore the red flags and he was obligated to exercise due diligence in determining whether there was an issue of not.

    For almost every athletic department scandal out there someone in a position of authority was advised something might not be completely kosher before all the cards came crashing down. For us at IU, that someone was Fred Glass. He did not sweep it under the rug. Because of that, when the dust settles, IU comes out smelling like a rose. The storyline will be ‘Hoosiers part ways with their coach over concerns about player safety’. Parents will consider this before they send their kids off to be Division I gladiators. Down the road, recruiters from other programs will be throwing this in Kevin Wilson’s face until the end of time.

    Comments about how ‘everyone needs to go’ are, at best, silly. That’s never how it works anywhere with anything…with the possible exception of IU basketball in 2008. That resulted in three years of fielding an intramual team in the Big Ten and jumping for joy when any recruit signed with the Big Red. Scorched Earth should rarely become policy. Perhaps we’ve learned that may not be the route to take.

    Personally, I’m gonna sit back and observe as the dust settles. I actually feel good about the AD’s actions. Fred Glass appears to have put the pin back in the grenade. I’m glad someone felt the need to exercise due diligence.

    1. But Chet, calls for calm and rationality don’t happen when one is writing columns and commenting on sports blogs. You have to demonstrate your superfandom dusting off the guillotine and calling for the heads of everyone who doesn’t fit the narrative. This is no time for measured responses. It is time for purging those with whom one has a personal vendetta.

      In all seriousness, the HT guys are doing it well. Their reporting has been great. For the most part, a lot of coverage has been really good (Hutch, Bozich, DiPrimo). Conversely, I saw a link to Justin Albers over on Twitter and he’s calling for heads. Not just Glass, but Allen too. Consider the source: the guy was fired from Scout because his journalistic integrity = zero. He’s yet to land another job. You’d think that would humble someone. Nope. Instead, he just put up a WordPress site and start calling for people’s jobs. Even Skip Bayless has more integrity than that.

  2. I agree with Chet’s analysis and evaluation of AD Glass’ performance. I think the fact that he is a lawyer by training certainly contributed to his rational decision making (though I would be remiss by not pointing out that many lawyers routinely exercise very poor judgment in similar situations. That said, we got a good one and I’m grateful.

  3. Ouch. Being compared (unfavorably, I might add) to Skip Bayless. That will leave a mark.

    I agree that the HT guys, and other regional media, seem to be keeping their heads about them and providing information in a straightforward manner as it becomes available. I’m pretty confident that the ‘availability’ is pretty well calculated, as well.

    I think we dodged a bullet.

    1. Yes. I mean, there is definitely some smoke around Wilson and with some player allegations becoming public, I’m impressed with the integrity to keep the reporting on this issue to what is known and the speculation is something to be investigated and flushed out if possible.

      Via a friend who loves the Buckeyes, the Ohio State boards are blowing up. Apparently, Urban Meyer loves Wilson. They might have a new O-Coordinator in Columbus next year.

  4. Best of luck in your future endeavors, Coach. I’m all for Urban taking on all the baggage he can find. Of course, OSU would never be caught playing fast and loose.

    Right, Coach Tressel?

    I imagine, in retrospect, some older Buckeye fans would have accepted an athletic director suggesting Woody Hayes retire a year or two sooner…you know…before he started runnng onto the field and punching opposing players after they made an interception.

    “Everybody who played for Ohio State probably got slugged in the stomach or slapped by Coach Hayes,” Ohio State guard Jim Savoca said. “It was the era. We would joke about it and say, ‘Circle right to get away from that left hook.'”

    To show how times have changed, neither Keith Jackson nor Ara Parseghian even acknowledged Hayes attack on the Clemson player during the Gator Bowl or the ensuing bench clearing brawl. Today, that’s all anyone remembers.

  5. Chet, No doubt times were different and Wilson now most likely was relative to some of those times; although many passed players say different. But Po, myself and I would venture to say you, were also part of those times. We’ve moved on or are moving on.

    Reading your above posts reminds me of a statement made to me by the 1st lawyer, a seasoned Jurist, I hired to advise me on my fledgling business at the time. He said in some casual conversation after voicing my opinion on the law in general and lawyers in specifics, “there are good lawyers and bad 1’s and that makes it easy to figure out where the bad laws come from. We became casual friends and he past about 9 years ago. 1 thing I admire about lawyers and engineers is each have a disciplined process to get to the goal at task. I bring that up to state Glass is a good lawyer helping the AD to be a good manger of IU athletics.

    I really am high on the hiring of HC Allen. But I cannot lose sight of how hard it will be for him to replace the mental horsepower that was Kevin Wilson on the offensive side of the ball.

    On a side thought; Ohio is my adoptive state seeing how I lived there while a young teenager(heyday of Woodie). Unlike IU there was never a soft FB culture in Ohio. If Meyer were to hire Wilson as OC “that team up North” will be crapping razor blades along with there old school HC.

    1. HC,

      I’ve always appreciated your no-nonsense approach. It seems I always side with you or you always say what I’m thinking. The contributions you provide are appreciated.

    2. Oklahoma was only 4 and 5 in bowl games when Wilson was OC there. I doubt that’s enough to make Harbaugh crap razor blades. I think he is more concerned with the BIG refs spotting the ball correctly in big games. Wilson is a average OC. There are better ones out there. Lane Kiffin for one.

      1. I always felt more akin to being a defensive mind than an offensive 1 but if I were the OC of all the talent the Tide possesses they would still go 8-4.

  6. HC, that’s my background, too. My high school head coach was a dick but the position coaches were good, tough guys. My USMC Drill Instructor, while a very impressive professional, never put me in a place that I didn’t recognize was temporary. That being said, my kids are probably tougher than me so I’m not gonna paint any young people as soft. Every generation has thought they were tougher than those that followed.

    Speaking of lawyers. My daughter got married last January to a guy who I think the world of. He is absolutely a son to me. He’s humble. Readily admits to his failings and has a great sense of humor. Mostly, though, he loves my daughter. He’s also 6’7″ (my daughter is just under 6ft) and his Dad was a pro tennis player so I’m expecting some small forwards (they are living in Indiana at the moment as my little girl is in grad school). The reason I mention it is that he just passed the Bar Exam. He graduated from Georgetown Law School the same weekend he picked up his Masters In Economics from Johns Hopkins while working as an investigator at the SEC. I kid you not. I can only hope he is representative of the current generation of the profession. I’ve used the same attorney for a couple decades and he’s a great guy, too. Another good friend went from IU to Harvard law and she’s a pretty awesome person as well. There is hope.

    As far as the era or whatever. If a grown man of a coach thinks he can punch a 19 year old with no ramifications there is something bad wrong with him. I guess there is a continuum between being a gladiator being fed to the lions and passing out participation trophies to everyone. I’m somewhere in between…but I think I could stomach a lion easier.

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