On Wednesday, Syracuse Orange athletic director John Wildhack addressed the press in brief — and we say “brief” because there wasn’t much to the short statements and carefully articulated responses to questions during the event, which largely focused on the women’s basketball program.
As you know, things are rarely calm around Syracuse athletics, and that is only exacerbated by a relative lack of transparency around what goes on. We’re not singling out one person or team within athletics, or even Wildhack as a standalone entity. You could argue this is a continuation of a theme that existed throughout the DOCTOR Gross era as well. Except now, it’s in a time when buck-passing and a lack of general accountability aren’t publicly accepted to the same extent they once were.
To get to what was actually said by Wildhack, we’ll paraphrase some and quote some below.
He acknowledged the investigation into Orange women’s basketball and the resulting report, thanked those interviewed and then got into some of what was uncovered. Among those, per Wildhack:
“... serious flaws in our processes and a failure of certain personnel to address, or come forward and escalate to the appropriate people, complaints about behavior among certain members of the coaching staff and their impact on the overall culture of the program.”
The AD then addresses solutions — staff changes that weren’t necessarily options as much as imperatives — and Real Response, which is actually a good thing to implement, followed by words that suggest building a better environment for all student-athletes. He gets to the apology at this point, saying: “To the student-athletes and staff that had a poor experience in our program, I apologize. We are taking actions to address those experiences.”
Wildhack goes on to defend the decision to have Vonn Read take over as the acting head coach despite his presence on Quentin HIllsman’s staff. That’s not blaming Read specifically for anything that transpired, either. But one would think that after events including what was detailed by the Athletic and likely more in the investigation as well, it would be best to just clean house.
The idea with Read, apparently, was stability and continuity. Yet, he was part of a Hillsman staff that lost nearly a dozen players before the Athletic’s story broke, and more since. In the time that Read’s been named acting coach, the program lost four current or incoming players, along with a 2022 commit. Again, this is no personal knock on Read as much as it is calling out the obvious problem with creating “continuity” with a previous regime that resigned amid scandal while you’re now ushering in basically an entirely new roster.
While Wildhack offers up an apology above, it does come off as a simple statement, rather than an acknowledgement of the damage caused by what’s transpired (at least in part) under his own watch as athletic director. Issues that he’s previously acknowledged he lacked any awareness of until the piece appeared.
As Chris Carlson detailed for Syracuse.com, assembled press pushback around elements of Wildhack’s statement, Wildhack’s accountability for various issues occurring during his tenure and his statement supporting Hillsman just weeks before the Athletic release were pretty much shooed away. Despite being in a mess that is ultimately his responsibility as the man in charge, Wildhack was able to issue a short “sorry,” then abdicate himself from any additional need to speak on the matter.
He’s not the first athletic director at Syracuse or elsewhere to make such an attempt, and he won’t be the last, either. But in our wider society, the idea that press and/or the public simply need to take you at your word and stop questioning those in power is no longer acceptable. And here, Wildhack shows an ability to simply walk away from a problem, dictating the terms of how the conversation starts and ends (same goes for the Chase Scanlan incident, though there are some additional legal considerations there).
Ultimately, Orange athletics events of recent months (including allegations within the softball program) have begged the question, “where does the buck stop?” Based on the statements — and lack thereof — from Wildhack, it would seem not with him, though you should trust that his department is handling everything now that they know. We’ve heard this repeatedly at Syracuse over the years, and will hear it many times more.
Because ultimately, if the buck doesn’t stop with the person in charge of athletics when things go poorly with Syracuse athletics, who does it stop with? The fans? The coach that’s no longer employed by Syracuse? The chancellor? The board of trustees?
No matter the incident at SU — be it athletics-related or one of the various other problems that seem to spring up on campus with frequency — it just appears like the person(s) at the top is never at fault. That’s not a bad gig if you have it. But for those watching this transpire over and over again from the outside, it’s become an absolutely maddening spectacle.