Former Cal women’s water polo head coach Richard Corso files wrongful termination lawsuit

Cal Athletics/Courtesy
Berkeley, Ca - Tuesday, February 7, 2015. Cal Women's Water Polo competes against the University of Pacific at Spieker Aquatics Center at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, California. Cal beat Pacific, 16-4.

Former Cal women’s water polo coach Richard Corso filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in December against Athletic Director Mike Williams, Senior Associate Athletic Director Jenny Simon-O’Neill and Associate Athletic Director of Compliance Jay Larson.

As first reported by the Bay Area News Group, Corso is seeking $1.38 million in lost wages in the suit, which alleges that the Hall of Fame coach faced gender and age discrimination. The suit also alleges that in 2015, Simon-O’Neill, who is also a senior woman administrator, told Corso that administrators wanted the team to be led by a young woman.

Prior to that meeting, the suit states that former Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said she “wanted women coaching women.”

Cal Athletics denied Corso’s allegations in its statement released in response to the lawsuit.

“Many of the allegations in Coach Corso’s lawsuit are demonstrably false, and statements that the lawsuit attributes to Cal Athletics administrators are entirely fictitious,” the statement said.

The Bears hired Coralie Simmons, 39, to replace the 62-year old Corso two months after his resignation in August. Simmons led Sonoma State prior to being hired at Cal after a search that Cal Athletics claims included male and female candidates. She is now the only female head water polo coach in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

Cal Athletics said Corso’s allegation regarding its desire for a “younger, female coach” was “absolutely false.”

The suit, which lists the UC Board of Regents and UC Berkeley as defendants, describes an internal inquiry into the water polo team’s training practices and whether it abided by NCAA bylaws. According to the lawsuit, Larson told Corso in March 2015 that the latter was “suspected of running afoul of NCAA over-training violations.”

That May, O’Neill received an allegation regarding potential violations of these rules that led to the internal inquiry. The lawsuit alleges the investigation “quickly became a crusade against Corso,” before finding the allegations to be “virtually meaningless.”

“Contrary to the suit’s claim that the allegations were meaningless, the NCAA Enforcement staff felt the violations were very serious and initially considered processing the case as a Level II (major) violation before ultimately determining it should be processed as Level III (secondary),” the Cal Athletics statement said.

Additionally, Cal Athletics said the result of the investigation, which it self-reported to the NCAA, was “significant” and led to a reduction of 48 hours of practice time.

The lawsuit alleges that Corso was mistreated despite his exceptional performance, which included compiling a 227-98 record and improving the team’s graduation rate. He took over the Bears in 2005, a time at which the team is described by the suit as “lacking in both athletic and academic standards.”

Cal’s best performance under Corso came in 2011 when the Bears advanced to the final game of the NCAA Championships before losing to UCLA. The water polo team’s current season — its first under Simmons — is underway, and the Bears are currently 9-1.

Contact Hooman Yazdanian at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian