LINCOLN — Connie Yori, the most successful coach in Nebraska basketball history, resigned Tuesday amid allegations of mistreatment of NU players.
Yori “vehemently” denied any allegations of mistreatment, insisting that “totally personal reasons,” including divorce proceedings with her husband, Kirk Helms, fueled her departure from the program she’d led for 14 seasons.
“This has been a very challenging time for my family,” said Yori, who has an 11-year-old son with Helms. “It’s really in the best interest of all of us. This is the right decision for me.”
According to multiple sources interviewed by The World-Herald, Nebraska’s athletic department had conducted an investigation into the women’s basketball program that had spanned roughly two months.
According to a source with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the athletic department had questioned “quite a few” players about the coach’s conduct and leadership.
No single issue led to some players’ dissatisfaction with Yori and some members of her coaching staff, the source said.
“It was a collective thing going on here,” the source said, and players “weren’t held to the same standard” and were “treated unequally.”
Ongoing struggles with injuries were a factor in player complaints, according to the source. Several Husker players in recent years have suffered foot and ankle injuries — frequently stress reactions that required walking boots and down time.
Most recently, All-Big Ten freshman center Jessica Shepard wore a boot between the Huskers’ ouster from the Big Ten tournament and its loss in the postseason WNIT. All-American point guard Rachel Theriot missed parts of two seasons with left foot injuries and has twice undergone surgery for them.
Theriot, reached by phone Tuesday, declined to comment, although she said in a recent interview that “there’s nothing I could have done differently or the coaches or the trainers.”
Another player, Kyndal Clark, left the team with three games left in the season because of the pain in her knees. Clark also declined to comment.
The source who spoke to The World-Herald also said that Yori and some on her staff were overly critical of and cynical with players.
Multiple sources confirmed that at least one administrator attended each practice and began to travel to road games. Several Nebraska players were questioned by a panel, with a court reporter present, according to a source. Another source said Yori’s practices got “better” after the administration started monitoring them.
Whether Yori, whose annual base salary was $732,913, would have been reprimanded or fired was rendered moot by her resignation.
Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst released a statement that read in part: “Coach Yori achieved great success in the program during her tenure and we appreciate her many contributions to the university. We wish her and her family all the best and we are grateful for her dedicated service to Nebraska. We will begin a national search for a new head coach immediately and will not comment or speculate on the search or candidates until an announcement is made.”
Athletic department officials met with players on Tuesday.
The father of current Husker guard Maddie Simon was shocked by Yori’s resignation.
“She’s upset, and I am too,” said Doug Simon of Lincoln. “I’m completely stunned. Absolutely stunned.”
Simon said his daughter picked Nebraska because of Yori’s personality. Simon’s son, Zach, was occasionally a practice player for the Huskers, as well.
“Connie’s tough,” Doug Simon said. “She’s demanding. But was she out of bounds? Maddie never felt that way.”
Kelly Sopak, the former AAU basketball coach of current Husker point guard Natalie Romeo, said Romeo is “distraught” because she was so close to Yori, who often praised Romeo’s work ethic this season.
Former Nebraska player Lindsey Moore, an All-Big Ten guard who played on both of Yori’s Sweet 16 teams, occasionally served as a practice player this season. She said allegations against Yori are unfair.
“I don’t understand how someone can take her constructive criticism — to help them get better — as such a negative thing,” Moore said. “It’s funny, I actually thought over the years Coach Yori had gotten softer from my freshman year to where she is now.
“It’s amazing to me that now we’re having issues with allegations of her being a bully. It’s really sad to me. I don’t think she’s like that. And now, in the media, all they’re going to say is she’s a bully. I don’t agree with that. It’s really sad. I feel like she’s a really damn good coach.”
Moore, who played from 2009 through 2013, said Yori would ask players in practice if they were too hurt to complete a drill.
“Coach Yori will say, ‘If you’re hurting, tell me, and you can get out of the drill,’ ” Moore said.
Layne Reeves, a Husker player from 2008 to ’11 who struggled with knee injuries and eventually had to take a medical redshirt, said Yori handled players’ injuries properly.
“I never felt overworked,” Reeves said. “Never did I feel any pressure to return to the court.”
But a former player, who transferred out of the program to a different school, said Yori could be meticulous about weight. The ex-Husker recalled having to weigh in weekly and get on scales in hotels to make sure she was playing at the right weight.
“I felt kind of like I was a wrestler, and I’m a basketball player,” the former player said.
When asked if the Yori paid undue attention to a player’s weight, Moore said: “All (Yori) would say is, ‘You need to get in shape.’ I’ve never once heard her tell someone that they are fat.”
Yori, 52, grew up in Iowa, where she was a high school basketball star. She has spent most of her adult life at two schools, Creighton and Nebraska.
At Creighton, Yori played for current Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen and coached under him as an assistant.
Yori then succeeded Rasmussen as CU’s head coach and paced the Jays’ sidelines for a decade. She had a 170-115 record and coached in two NCAA tournaments. She then took the job at Nebraska and compiled a 280-166 record. The Huskers made seven NCAA tournaments, reaching the round of 16 twice. Nebraska also won a school-record 32 games in 2009-10 and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Yori won Big 12 and national coach of the year awards that season and was Big Ten coach of the year in 2013 and 2014. NU won 24, 25 and 26 games in its first three seasons in the Big Ten.
But the Huskers finished 21-11 in 2015 despite having four seniors. This season, with Romeo setting the school record for 3-pointers, Nebraska failed to make the NCAA tournament with an 18-13 record and accepted a bid in the WNIT. In the tournament opener, NU had so little depth at guard that Yori couldn’t properly employ a full-court press against Northern Iowa.
The past several seasons have been marked by staff changes and player transfers.
Now, current Husker players and their parents are in wait-and-see mode on the future of the program.
“Maddie loves Nebraska,” Doug Simon said. “We all love Nebraska. It’s a really emotional thing to happen. For us, it’s tough. That was one of the reasons she came here — because she liked those coaches. It’s really shocking to see all this change.”
Contact the writer: