UNC Wilmington Coach Suspended By USAU For Ethics Violations

Punishment stems from complaint filed by former UNCW coach.

Brian Casey coaching UNC Wilmington at the 2016 D-I College Championships. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

UNC Wilmington head coach Brian Casey has been temporarily suspended by USA Ultimate after the governing body, following a judicial committee review, determined that he had committed multiple ethical violations in the 2015-2016 season.

The allegations in the complaint, filed with USAU by former UNCW head coach Greg Vassar, were outlined in a Judicial Committee decision that was obtained by Ultiworld. Here is the text of that decision:

The USA Ultimate Judicial Committee (the “Committee”) received a complaint alleging several conduct violations by Brian Casey, a coach of UNCW’s men’s team. The allegations included having an inappropriate sexual relationship with an athlete on the UNCW women’s team who was a friend of [James]1, an athlete on the UNCW men’s team. When that sexual relationship ended, the complaint alleges that Brian bullied and intimidated James by sending a series of text messages in which Brian pretended to be the brother of the woman, claiming that James was causing the woman emotional distress and insisting that James end his friendship and have no further contact with the woman. The complaint also alleges that Brian violated the USA Ultimate Coaching Ethics Code by shunning James at practices and refusing to allow him to play.

Brian admitted that he falsified the text messages and sent them to James. He maintains that his coaching style was appropriate and that his sexual relationship was not inappropriate since he was not coaching the women’s team.

A hearing panel held a hearing and heard statements from the complaining parties, Brian and others. James did not participate.

The Committee finds:

1. That Brian violated the USA Ultimate Coaching Ethics Code by sending a series of false text messages to James, even after James repeatedly responded that the statements in the messages were erroneous and were upsetting to him. This was outrageous, manipulative behavior and totally inappropriate for a coach who was in a position of authority over the athlete.

2. The other actions complained of, taken as a whole, demonstrate a blurring of the line between a coach and athletes. Brian put himself in a number of borderline inappropriate situations that compromised his ability to coach competently and with the respect of his team and athletes. Under the USA Ultimate Coaching Ethics Code, Brian had a duty to avoid harming athletes and other participants and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable. We find that, considering the cumulative effect of these other actions, he failed in his duty as a coach.

Sanctions:

1. Brian Casey is suspended as a coach until he does all of the following:

a. Takes all steps necessary to be fully certified by USA Ultimate as a coach, including taking Safe Sports training.

b. Issues a full, written apology to James and provides a copy to USA Ultimate with proof that James received it;

c. Issues a full, written account to the UNCW men’s team of his bullying of James and provides a copy to USA Ultimate; and

d. Performs 40 hours of community service.

Casey was suspended on February 2nd, two days before the start of UNCW’s first tournament of the year, Queen City Tune Up.2

“Muddy Lines”

Establishing the events that unfolded over the last year is challenging; accounts vary on important details. Casey released a personal essay on Skyd Magazine recounting his version, but multiple sources called it misleading and, at times, outright false.

Here is what is not in dispute: Casey had a sexual relationship with a former player on the UNCW women’s team, who dropped out of school in the fall of 2015. During that fall, Casey heard rumors that James had been badmouthing that female player to teammates and Casey decided to act on what he heard by sending a flurry of text messages designed to look as if they were being sent by the brother of the female player – a Marine stationed near Wilmington – with whom James had previously had a positive relationship.

Although the text messages were not threatening, Casey, acting as the brother, said that James needed to stop talking about the female player.

“[James] said that he hadn’t said anything along those lines,” Casey told Ultiworld. “And I said I had information from a couple players on the team that had said that he had. And I trusted them and acted on it. I basically was very frank with him and told him, ‘You need to stop this and not talk to this girl anymore.’”

This all came amidst existing on-field tension between Casey and James. Casey had asked Vassar to take James off of the starting offensive line3 and Casey also felt that James was too frequently sitting out practices while being willing to compete at tournaments, a sentiment shared by James’ former teammate and current UNCW captain Austin McGrayne.

Vassar had meetings with Casey and James to try smooth things over, well before he knew anything about the text messages.

Here, the accounts begin to diverge. Tully Beatty, an assistant coach for UNCW in the late spring who testified to USAU as a witness for Vassar, said that it was obvious that Casey was hostile towards James.

“It seemed like [Casey] would give attention to 20 guys, and ignore the 21st guy, and that was [James],” he said.

Other sources confirmed Beatty’s sentiment, but Casey was adamant that his coaching of James was unaffected by the isolated text message incident.

“In his complaint to USAU, [Vassar] said that I refused to coach [James], which was not true,” said Casey. “[James] was on O points throughout the season, and I played the entire club season with him.”

McGrayne told Ultiworld that nothing appeared unusual last year at practice between Casey and James. “Their relationship on the field, to me, seemed fine,” he said.

James did not discover that the text messages were fraudulent until later in the spring, but didn’t tell anyone about it until after the season. He was worried about affecting team chemistry.

Casey maintains that the text messages were not intended to “manipulate or bully or anything along those lines,” though he does say that he deserved some punishment for the way he communicated with James.

He takes issue, however, with any sanctions involving his relationship with the former UNCW women’s player itself. “I firmly believed the entire time that I don’t think [USAU] should have any ability to rule on a coach’s relationship with a player that he didn’t coach at any point in his career,” he said.

Beatty isn’t so sure. “Those are some muddy lines,” he said. “That’s really muddy stuff. That’s what started it all.”

USAU’s Coaching Ethics Code says that “coaches should not engage in sexual intimacies with a former athlete for at least two years after cessation or termination of professional services,” but the athlete in question was never directly coached by Casey.

Another article of the Ethics Code (1.14.b) states: “Coaches do not engage in sexual/romantic relationships with athletes or other participants over whom the coach has evaluative, direct, or indirect authority, because such relationships are likely to impair judgment or be exploitative.”

Pinning down whether that applies to Casey’s situation is difficult. While he did not have direct authority over the female player, it could be argued that he did have indirect authority. USAU seems to have decided that the situation was more blurry than breach. The organization declined to comment on the suspension.

The Suspension

Casey and the UNCW leadership were frustrated by USAU’s suspension, particularly because of the timing of the Judicial Committee decision.

Complaints are supposed to be ruled on within 60 days, but a decision in Casey’s case did not come down until nearly 90 days after the initial complaint was filed in early November.

“I was pretty unhappy with [the decision],” said McGrayne. “I thought it came really, really late and came as the wrong decision.” That it came just days before their first tournament gave them little time to prepare for competing without their head coach.

Vassar and Beatty, however, were appalled by the lack of severity, considering the ethics violations they had reported.

“Slap on the wrist,” said Beatty. “I just don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. Maybe it’s, ‘Well we’ve had enough of UNCW. Let’s just do this and let them fend for themselves.’”

Before taking the complaint to USAU, Vassar filed a complaint directly with the university, but it was allegedly dismissed because no students came forward to testify and Vassar was no longer affiliated with the team. Club teams at UNCW are student-run and are free to openly select their coach.

Vassar has re-opened the case at UNCW following the USAU ruling. James has declined to be involved in any of the complaints and did not offer testimony to either the university or USAU.

Casey has already completed most of the remedial actions required of him by USAU before returning to coaching. He is waiting to finish the Coaching Certification quiz and still has some remaining community service hours, but expects to return to the field within the next two to three weeks.

Much Ado About Texting

The fundamental finding of the USAU Judicial Committee decision is that Casey’s text messages to James represented “outrageous, manipulative behavior.” But USAU only saw fit to assign a short-term suspension.

Nobody, including Casey, denies that it was inappropriate for a coach to send fake text messages to his own player, but is it a fireable offense?

Beatty is adamant that Casey should no longer be allowed to coach. “What are we doing here?” he asked. “What parameters are we setting? I’m out. Greg’s out. What’s next? You’re going to let this happen with a slap on the wrist?”

But many involved with the current UNCW team think that Vassar and Beatty’s response has been hyperbolic, and perhaps motivated by something other than justice.

“Text messages are text messages,” said McGrayne. “They’re not blows.”

McGrayne said that he believes Vassar was upset by the fact that the team’s captains wanted to make Casey the head coach for the current 2016-2017 season. Back-to-back disappointing College Championships performances had McGrayne and the other captains looking for a change.

McGrayne and Vassar met this past summer, soon after Nationals, to discuss the upcoming season. McGrayne says that, in that meeting, he told Vassar they were looking to make Casey the head coach but wanted him to stay on as a part of the staff. He suggests that Vassar didn’t take the news well. Vassar opened up about his concerns about Casey’s behavior and treatment of James, something McGrayne was hearing about for the first time.

“He didn’t take any of it,” said McGrayne. “He was solely focused on Brian and Brian’s situation.”

“He has claimed the entire time that this has nothing to do with personal reasons,” said Casey, echoing McGrayne’s statement. “But I don’t see it that way.”

But sources maintain that Vassar was planning to step away from coaching at the end of the 2016 season regardless. Ultiworld has obtained an email from Vassar to Casey dated July 2015 in which Vassar writes, “I am going to coach next year but it will be my last year. I reserve the right to change my mind on that but I think I’m fine with it at this point. I am glad to hear that you’re coming back.”

Vassar declined to comment for this article.

“[Casey] has painted this to some people that this is about sour grapes,” said Beatty. “He’s told people that the team booted Greg and now Greg is dragging him through the mud. I mean, really? We’re going to these levels? I quit the team, too. I filed a complaint too.”

There would be no resolution at the meeting between Vassar and McGrayne. Vassar went silent: the team didn’t hear from him for months over the summer. Then on August 25, he emailed the team to announce his departure as a coach:

I have been coaching in some capacity with the Seamen since the Fall of 2007. In that time I’ve held fast to the beliefs that everything I do must benefit the Seamen and also serve to establish the program as one of the top in the country. I may have made mistakes or taken wrong turns along the way but I’ve always done what I thought was right for the Seamen. The program is better for it.

Today I step down as head coach and my approach is no different — this decision is in the best interest of the Seamen. As part of stepping aside I will also no longer run any Fall or Spring tournaments. There are some activities to unwind through the 501(c)3 Wilmington Ultimate and I’ll complete those with the 2016/17 captains.

This email is simple and doesn’t get into the reasons. For anyone who needs or wants those, feel free to contact me directly. I also want to apologize for being distant and disconnected this Summer about my plans. It’s been fairly difficult to reach this decision and even send this email — I’m giving up something I’ve spent almost a decade in building.

Where Things Stand

The current UNCW team stands behind Casey as their head coach and are looking forward to putting this entire saga behind them.

“I’m happy that this thing is about over,” said McGrayne. “It’s been a tremendous weight on me that I think is absolutely ridiculous.”

Casey has already apologized to James and to the team – two of the conditions of his return to coaching – and wrote on Skyd that he has “learned from [his] shortcomings and will continue to strive to be a better coach, example, and leader.”

Beatty believes that the current team has been “hoodwinked” by Casey. “How can you defend a guy that has done this to a teammate?” he said.

As of this writing, the new complaint filed with UNCW had not been resolved. Considering the university’s original reasons for dismissing the case, it appears unlikely that they will change their position on appeal.

Casey is expected to be back at the helm in time for UNC Wilmington’s next tournament, Tally Classic, on March 11-12.


  1. This name has been changed to avoid identifying the player in question. 

  2. UNCW was initially planning to compete at the Carolina Kickoff in January, but they were unable to attend due to an unrelated club sports policy violation. 

  3. Casey was the O-line coach last year for UNCW 

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