Timeline of events in Minnesota wrestling drug scandal

J Robinson served as Minnesota's wrestling coach for 30 years (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)

"The University of Minnesota has terminated head wrestling coach J Robinson, effectively immediately. Acting head coach Brandon Eggum will assume the position of interim head coach for this coming season."

With that terse, 30-word statement from the school, the 30-year career of J Robinson, 70, as Golden Gophers head wrestling coach is over, having been fired for "just cause." His bio has already been erased from the official Minnesota wrestling website.

The situation which led to the dismissal of the coach known as J Rob by Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle began approximately four months ago, when a Minneapolis-St. Paul TV station first reported allegations that some Minnesota wrestlers had sold and/or used the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax. It's difficult to imagine that today's firing will be the end of this story.

Wednesday's termination

On Wednesday, Coyle issued a letter to Robinson, which concluded with the statement that "your position as head coach of wrestling is hereby terminated, for just cause, effective immediately." That same day, the brief announcement which opens this article was released to the media.

The two-page letter spells out Coyle's case against Robinson and his handling of the drug allegations involving some members of his wrestling squad.

"The investigation into this matter revealed that you engaged in multiple acts of serious misconduct," according to Coyle. "The investigation found that you violated University policy and acted in a manner inconsistent with the expectations of a Head Coach. I am also disappointed with your repeated failures to answer important questions asked of you during the course of this investigation. You have not provided me with any information that persuades me to question the investigation's findings."

Coyle then lists four findings from that investigation:

  • "You failed to disclose information regarding drug-related activity of your team, including drug sales by current team members.

  • "You instructed student-athletes to turn in drugs to you, drugs were turned over to you, you took possession of drugs, and you disposed of them. This directly impacted the ability of the University and law enforcement to investigate and address this matter.

  • "You made promises of amnesty and confidentiality to student-athletes that you were not authorized to make.

  • "You disobeyed reasonable directives from me and the University to share information regarding the drug-related activities of wrestling team members. Although you have the information, you refuse to say which student-athletes were involved in selling drugs. You have also declined to answer other questions asked of you regarding your actions in this matter."

    The letter goes on to state that Robinson had "not refuted the investigation's findings, or offered any acceptable explanation for your conduct. You have not accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for your conduct. As a result, I cannot trust you to refrain from such conduct in the future."

    The letter states the university is firing Robinson with "just cause," meaning no formal buyout was paid to Robinson by the university, despite reports that there were negotiations for some sort of deal.

    Robinson had been under contract through 2020, with a salary of $146,000 per year. (Robinson also earns additional income from his wrestling camps.)

    At a press conference held late Wednesday afternoon after the announcement, Coyle said, "I'm terminating Coach Robinson's contract because he was not forthcoming with his superiors when reporting his suspicion about selling and abusing prescription medication."

    "He did report the suspicion to his supervisors, but he did not tell him everything he knew, and he was not forthcoming," Coyle continued. "When we had a chance to meet with him, he did not answer many of our critical questions (such as) what did he know, when did he know? Those types of things.

    "He had multiple opportunities to visit with us, and he refused to answer many of those questions."

    Coyle added he had met face-to-face with Robinson "multiple times" to discuss a possible settlement but added he couldn't reach him on Wednesday, so the AD informed the coach of his termination by email and a text message.

    A timeline

    Late May 2016: InterMat's first story, titled "Minnesota wrestlers investigated for selling, using Xanax" -- dated May 26 -- reported that four University of Minnesota wrestlers were being investigated for selling the prescription drug Xanax and ten others were suspected of using the anti-anxiety drug, while head coach J Robinson was being investigated for how he may have tried to handle the situation internally, according to a news report from KMSP-TV, the Fox affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

    That initial InterMat story also quoted reports from additional Twin Cities media outlets which provided additional details, including allegations that the drug activity took place between January and March of this year.

    At the time, a University of Minnesota spokesperson said, "The University takes allegations of this nature seriously, and upon receiving information the University provided it to UMPD (University of Minnesota Police Department). In consultation with UMPD, the University is allowing for the legal investigation to conclude before conducting its own internal investigation. As it remains part of an active investigation, we do not have anything additional to share at this time." The spokesperson added that Robinson remained an active employee at the time.

    June 1: A few days after that initial story, InterMat reported that, in his second day as athletic director, Mark Coyle had placed J Robinson on paid administrative leave, pending the completion of the school's internal investigation regarding the Xanax allegations.

    "[University of Minnesota] President [Eric] Kaler and I had conversations about [Robinson's leave] and given the seriousness of the allegations, and the beginning of the internal investigation with the office of the general counsel, I thought that was the best thing to do at this time," Coyle said.

    June 16: According to emails uncovered by the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, J Robinson had informed his superiors - including the interim athletic director at the time -- about his concerns about possible drug use and sales on the part of some of his athletes back in March.

    June 17: J Robinson Intensive Camps -- one of the longest-running summer wrestling camp organizations in the nation -- which were originally scheduled to take place at the University of Minnesota campus were relocated to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, approximately 35 miles east of the Twin Cities, after new AD Coyle told Robinson he was not to be on campus.

    June 24: County prosecutors declined to charge a University of Minnesota wrestler with selling the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax. A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said there was "insufficient evidence at this time." However, an investigation by university police remained open.

    August 1: The University of Minnesota announced that Brandon Eggum has been named the acting head coach of the school's wrestling program. Eggum will assume this new position immediately.

    "Given the University's internal investigation of Coach Robinson, it is important to have clear and continued leadership as the program prepares for the 2016-17 academic year," said Coyle. "Coach Eggum is an effective leader and will ensure continued stability within the wrestling program."

    August 13: The agent for J Robinson said that negotiations for an exit strategy were falling apart, claiming that the school was trying to place all blame for allegations of some wrestlers using and selling prescription pills on the doorstep of the long-time coach.

    August 20: Despite state and federal prosecutors declining to bring criminal charges against any Minnesota wrestlers, the school reportedly began interviewing all wrestlers suspected of using Xanax, with the ABC-TV affiliate quoting a university report stating "any wrestler who is found to have been less than truthful could face suspension or a loss of their scholarship."

    September 7: J Robinson was fired for "just cause" by the University of Minnesota.

    J Robinson

    Not that long ago, the relationship between the University of Minnesota and its long-time head wrestling coach was much more positive, as evidenced by the opening paragraph of an archived version of his official bio:

    "Gophers head coach J Robinson consistently works to continue the success that has defined the Golden Gopher program under his leadership. Robinson has developed an environment of excellence over the past three decades that has seen Minnesota rise to elite status in college wrestling. Since taking over the Gophers program in 1986, Robinson's teams have claimed the first three National Championships in Minnesota history while the three-time National Coach of the Year has helped develop 63 All-Americans, 14 individual National Champions, six Big Ten team titles and 31 different Big Ten Champions accounting for 49 individual titles. All told, Robinson's wrestlers have amassed a total of 124 All-America honors, including an NCAA record 10 All-Americans during the National Championship run in 2001. His .753 winning percentage is a program record, and his 430 dual meet victories stand as both the best mark in Minnesota wrestling history and the highest total for any active, Division I head coach."

    Wrestling has been on the roster at University of Minnesota since 1919. However, J Robinson can be credited for putting the Golden Gophers among the all-time top Division I wrestling programs to have won an NCAA team title ... and among the handful to have won more than one. Since taking the helm in 1986, Robinson has guided the Golden Gophers to three NCAA team titles: 2001, 2002 and 2007. He had been the second-longest serving in Minnesota mat history, behind Wally Johnson, who was head coach for 34 seasons immediately before J Rob.

    Despite being long-associated with Minnesota, J Robinson's wrestling roots also tie into two other top collegiate mat programs: Oklahoma State University, and University of Iowa.

    J Robinson wrestled at Oklahoma State as a middleweight (152-167 pounds) from 1966-68, compiling an overall record of 20-15 with 6 falls. He graduated in 1969.

    While at Oklahoma State, Robinson was involved in the ROTC program and left as a Distinguished Military Graduate, Distinguished Military Student and was offered a Regular Army Commission as a Second Lieutenant in June 1969. Robinson then attended Airborne and Ranger School, as well as Jungle Warfare School, before beginning his tour in Vietnam. His accomplishments in Ranger School included becoming an Honor Graduate, and his first duty station was the officer in charge of the small arms department.

    In late 1970 through early 1971, Robinson was attached to the United States Military Academy in the Athletic Department. In February of 1971, he left for Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and then served with the First Cavalry Division as the Information Officer for the Third Brigade.

    The former Cowboy wrestler made a name for himself in national and international competition. Robinson competed on two World teams, placing fourth in 1970 and fifth in 1971. Robinson captured four national titles during his amateur career, two in freestyle and two in Greco-Roman. He earned a place on Team USA's Greco-Roman squad competing at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

    While working on his master's degree at University of Iowa, Robinson launched his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Hawkeyes under Dan Gable from 1976-84. During that span, Iowa won seven NCAA team titles, and eight Big Ten championships. He served as an interim head coach during the 1983-84 season and led the Hawkeyes to Big Ten and NCAA titles.

    In addition to his experience in coaching at two Big Ten programs, Robinson has also been involved in coaching on the national and international level. He served as an assistant coach on four consecutive U.S. Olympic squads -- 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 -- and was the head coach for the United States at the 1983 Pan American Games.
  • Comments

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    coolbeans (1) about 4 and a half years ago
    According to Jay Robinson (JR). JR contacted the Athletic Director (AD) at the onset of the drug problem. The AD should have laid out a specific plan, with continued follow up and interaction with JR of how to attack as well as to resolve this very serious issue. So JR was left to resolve this issue on his own. Much later on the AD and police want answers to questions such as who, how much etc.

    If JR had already granted the guilty parties amnesty for cooperation and compliance. I don't blame JR for withholding requested information later in the investigation. JR had given his word. A man's word is very important. It's called Integrity. I further agree to not kick off wrestlers off of the team with a program lacking serious depth of high quality wrestlers.

    If you listen to the AD during the press conference. The AD dances away from the questions of whether JR was left to resolve this serious problem himself. I respect someone who takes full responsibility for their actions. It looks like the AD threw JR under the bus and shifted the real blame of how this problem was handled to JR. I TEND TO BELIEVE JR. In which case JR should not of been fired the AD should have been fired.

    I will follow up with the proper authorities to investigate what really happened with this drug related problem and implore others to do the same. I will let my opinions be heard. We all need to stand up for what is right and wrong in the USA. Most people don't and won't. It sounds like JR did. Blessings to JR for whatever the eventual outcome.