“Extremely concerned Razorback parents.”
This vague signoff on an otherwise anonymous letter sent to the University of Arkansas’ athletic director was preceded by 17 loaded allegations—all of them directed at the school’s volleyball coach, Robert Pulliza.
The head of the school’s volleyball program eight years running, parents said, regularly called their daughters “pussies” and “bitches.” When verbal insults and shaming weren’t enough, he threatened physical violence, once telling a player he wanted to punch her. When other players tried to take the pressure off their teammates, the letter says, they would become the target of “ongoing degrading comments designed to embarrass or shame her.”
“We understand as parents of athletes that coaches sometimes are passionate about their sport. Sometimes they yell. Sometimes they say things a little out of the ordinary. Sometimes they may curse,” the letter said. “But this man terrorizes our daughters.”
When word of the letter broke through the school’s newspaper, The Arkansas Traveler, officials scrambled to put together a statement. Hours after the story posted, top officials in the athletic department still claimed to have no knowledge of it. By mid-afternoon, they’d issued a statement.
The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, said the department’s manager of media athletics, Steve Voorhies, had received an anonymous letter with allegations “regarding” the head volleyball coach. “Although an anonymous letter does not provide an opportunity to authenticate the legitimacy of the author(s) of the letter or its contents, we have initiated an inquiry into the allegations,” said Voorhies.
Without any further evidence, it seemed, the letter and its allegations might have been slipped under the wrong door. That is until four players—two current and two former—came forward. In statements they gave to the Arkansas Traveler, all four spoke of not only witnessing Pulliza’s verbal attacks, but also being targets.
“He would call me a weak b---- or he would call me a pouty b---- or anything along those lines and that was pretty much on a regular basis,” Monica Bollinger, a senior on the team, said. “I mean, he even told one of my teammates he wanted to punch her out of the gym, but he never actually touched anyone.”
Signed in 2008, Pulliza has long held a losing record—one that continued this year when the team failed to make the NCAA playoffs, which he announced with disappointment on Twitter. He ended the tweet on a happy note saying that he was “proud of a lot of the things” the team did this season.
Attempts to contact former players since the article posted were futile. One student told me this was likely the result of the Athletic Department telling the players not to talk to the media again. Without any additional players’ input on the coach, it’s impossible to weigh the truth.
Although the players did allege that Pulliza was verbally abusive, one former player—Haley Koop—said she didn’t agree with one part: that players were “warned” not to sign with him. “When he recruits he is a good salesman, but he basically has two different personalities—one for recruiting and one when you actually get on the team—and they are very different,” Koop told the Traveler. “He treated everyone with little respect.”
Indeed, on Pulliza’s bio taken from the UA website, he’s described as “one of the nation’s top recruiters.” A native of Puerto Rico, Pulliza is said to have graduated from Ball State with a bachelor’s degree in “general studies,” followed by a master’s in athletic administration and coaching from James Madison.
His professional coaching career began shortly after, taking him from James Madison University to Northern Illinois to Madison, Wisconsin, and finally—the job before UA—the University of Kentucky. There he’s described on his coach bio as a “top-notch recruiter” and one of the “best in the country” at training setters.
Summer Morgan, another senior volleyball player, describes him a bit differently. “He would call us p------ and whatever he can get out of his mouth,” Morgan said. “You have to agree with him—even though you don’t really agree with him—because if you don’t say yes and nod your head to what he is saying about other players, he will yell and go crazy and sometimes you’ll be the one to get kicked out of practice.”
As the players wait to see what action the athletic department will take, rumors have begun flying that this may qualify as a Title IX matter, since it could be considered discrimination against women.