Former employer endorses Bollant


Brenton Tse/The Daily Illini

Illinois head coach Matt Bollant applauds his team’s performance during the FIghting Illini’s 89 to 37 win against Mariam at Assembly Hall, on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012.

By Masaki Sugimoto

Matt Bollant has had a rough summer.

The head coach of the Illinois women’s basketball team is currently facing a $10-million-dollar lawsuit. Other named defendants include athletic director Mike Thomas and former assistant head coach Mike Divilbiss.

The lawsuit comes from seven former players who claimed racial abuse from Bollant and his coaching staff.

Before the lawsuit, letters from parents of the former players were sent to the University which prompted the University and Divilbiss to part ways.

Later, an investigation from a law firm in Chicago was brought in after an internal investigation by the University was deemed inadequate.

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    Bollant was seen as a promising coach. He turned both Bryan College and Green Bay into winners before coming to Illinois, where he was expected to do the same.

    A nine-time coach of the year winner and a Kay Yow Heart of a Coach winner, an award given to a coach that is seen as possessing good character by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bollant went from being seen as a respected coach into an alleged racist.

    “I just find that really hard to believe – that’s not the Matt that I knew,” said Sanford Zensen, Bollant’s former boss. “We had no indication of any such thing – in fact, we had just the opposite with him.”

    Zensen was the athletic director at Bryan College, a small Christian college in Dayton, Tennessee. Zensen held that position from 1990-2013 and hired Bollant to his first head coaching job in 2002.

    Bollant coached at Bryan from 2002-2007. He went 134-36 at Bryan, winning three conference titles and made one NAIA Sweet 16.

    “Absolutely phenomenal, he was top draw as far as I’m concerned,” Zensen said of Bollant. “Everyone who worked with him from his staff to his players were absolutely terrific.”

    Another complaint against Bollant was that he and his staff had attempted to recruit more white players to outnumber black players.

    “(Bollant) looked for kids who fit Bryan College,” Zensen said. “We are a small Christian college; we are really particular about the kinds of kids that fit the institution. That was most important, and they did.”

    Other allegations were that practices and away hotel rooms were racially segregated.

    “In terms of discrimination, or any such thing, that just didn’t happen at Bryan (under Bollant). I would find it hard to believe that (the claims) are accurate,“ Zensen said.

    Several players who played for Bollant and/or Divilbiss from Green Bay and Idaho were asked for comment, but they either declined to comment or did not respond.

    At the time of publishing, neither the University nor Bollant have commented on Zensen’s remarks.

    The lawsuit and investigation are ongoing.

    “If I was the AD for Bryan and he applied to come back, I would have him in a heartbeat.”

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