A previous version of this article implied Michael Wright told TSE an employee feared for their job. The employee stated this in a letter to Wright, which was obtained by TSE via FOIA request.
The South End regrets these errors.
This article was previously published in The South End’s spring print edition on April 27.
Wayne State’s Athletics Department has faced a series of administrative changes after former Athletic Director Rob Fournier was mysteriously placed on leave in November 2022.
According to an anonymous letter obtained by The South End via FOIA request, a tip was sent to WSU’s Office of Internal Audit on Oct. 26, 2022 citing a hostile work environment under Fournier.
The hand-written letter was addressed to WSU Chief of Staff and VP of Marketing and Communications Michael Wright, and said the employee actively feared for their job.
The letter accuses Fournier of running a dishonest and mismanaged workplace.
“I’m telling you Rob is losing it. Rob is extremely forgetful. Rob leaves meetings and tells other lies about that meeting,” said the letter. “If Rob doesn’t like someone he makes it hell for them and they leave. Rob is hurting (WSU) and the Athletic(s) department.”
The only information redacted from the FOIA’d letter is the length of employment the employee has had with WSU. The employee said they’ve seen fluctuations in Fournier’s management style over the years.
“Rob runs the office like he is a dictator. Rob is also very good at playing the role,” the letter said.
Fournier was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 1, according to reporting by TSE, and on Nov. 23, 2022 the Athletics Department announced Fournier’s status changed to retirement.
WSU alum and host of “The Warrior House” podcast Mike Sangster said attending football games was a major part of his college career as a member of the Warrior Marching Band.
“I’ve been a fan of (WSU) sports since I started attending in 2013,” Sangster said. “That has translated to our friend group being football and basketball season ticket holders, W Club donors, and providing Warrior fan content on(line).”
Sangster said he doesn’t recall Fournier being an active member of the campus community.
“I don’t recall him visiting or speaking to donors in the W Club tent,” he said. “And as a donor, I never felt that Rob was accessible.”
Serving as WSU’s Athletic Director since 2000, Fournier played a role in the department’s new $28.5 million basketball arena in partnership with the Detroit Pistons and the installation of a new infield at Harwell field.
Chief of Staff Erika Wallace, who assumed responsibility since Fournier’s placement on leave, was named interim director on Nov. 26, 2022.
The Athletics Department declined multiple requests for comment.
TSE will continue reporting on this ongoing investigation.
A new era for Warrior Football
The departure of Fournier was only the beginning with an announcement that head coach of 19 years Paul Winters would no longer be leading the Warrior Football team as of Dec. 9, 2022.
Winters joined WSU Athletics in 2003 and started the team on its first winning-streak in decades. In 2011, the team lost the National Championship Game to Pittsburg State, setting a program record of 12 wins.
No reason was given for Winters’ departure, who finished his career with a 94-105 record.
Michigan-native and 16-year coaching veteran Tyrone Wheatley was chosen by Wallace to lead the team.
According to a Jan. 26 press release, Wheatley was selected because of his commitment to student-athletes.
“His ability to mentor men, develop talent, and recruit will elevate our football program,” Wallace said in the release. “I'm looking forward to watching his leadership as he guides our Warrior student-athletes into a new era.”
Wheatley was welcomed to campus with a press conference at the WSU Fieldhouse on Feb. 2, attended by local press and members of the campus community.
Sangster said the addition of Wheatley is a motivating step in the right direction.
“His mantra of ‘It's time’ makes me believe that there is so much potential at (WSU) that hadn't been tapped the past several years… the vibes are just different,” he said. “There's that feeling of something new and exciting coming to Wayne State Athletics.”
The Warriors finished the 2022 season 1-9, a fourth losing record in five seasons, which Wheatley said he’s prepared to rebound from.
“We’re going to play like we love Detroit,” Wheatley said at the press conference. “We’re going to win with pride.”
Wheatley signed a four-year contract and will make an average base pay of $207,500, according to contract details uncovered by The Detroit News. In addition, Wheatley was given the option to hire his own staff of assistant coaches and hiring began immediately.
Amelia-Benavides Colón is The South End's Editor-in-Chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover photo provided by Quinn Banks