Utah Tech women’s basketball coach under investigation after players allege misconduct

Multiple women currently and formerly part of the program allege that JD Gustin has been abusive to players and that the St. George school has ignored multiple complaints.

Utah Tech University has launched an investigation into women’s basketball coach JD Gustin after current and former athletes accused him of bullying, physical intimidation and retaliation.

In interviews with The Salt Lake Tribune, 11 women alleged Gustin used obscenities while insulting them, humiliated them in front of teammates, gave the silent treatment to some, and threatened to revoke scholarships.

They claim Gustin threw whiteboard markers, shattered clipboards, overturned chairs, kicked basketballs, and routinely ejected random players from practices.

They also alleged there were times when Gustin gave unsolicited back rubs and shoulder massages, and made comments about players’ bodies and sex lives, which they said made them feel uncomfortable.

A group of parents concerned that the university had been ignoring complaints about Gustin hired a private investigator, who compiled a 55-page report in which more than 20 players and assistant coaches, past and present, anonymously made a similar range of allegations against Gustin. The investigator, Greg Rice, is a retired FBI special agent who now leads Flint Global Investigations, a private investigation firm licensed in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming.

The report was submitted to Utah Tech’s Title IX office and general counsel in May. Hazel Sainsbury, Utah Tech’s director of Equity Compliance & Title IX coordinator, said in a July 10 email obtained by The Tribune that the evidence presented to her at the time “would not rise to the level of a policy violation.”

Title IX is a federal law that charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination.

The report was then forwarded to the university’s Human Resources department in early July for a review of potential violations of other policies. Some current and former players told The Tribune they were contacted earlier this month by BestDayHR, a Boise-based consulting firm that does workplace investigations, which Utah Tech retained to review the accusations.

Utah Tech said it takes “reported allegations seriously” and is “working decisively to address and resolve these matters,” in a statement provided to The Tribune.

“Utah Tech University is committed to the safety and well-being of our students, staff and university community,” university spokesperson Jyl Hall said in the statement. “Harassment or inappropriate conduct of any kind is unacceptable ... As this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.”

While Utah Tech athletes are specifically prohibited from using obscene language and throwing objects, according to the university’s student-athlete handbook, the university’s Athletics Policies and Procedures Manual is more vague when it comes to coaches’ “code of conduct.” It says “coaches must demonstrate respect for student-athletes” and “avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of student-athletes.”

Gustin declined to comment to The Tribune through his attorney, Christopher B. Snow.

The Tribune was provided a copy of the Flint Global Investigations report by an attorney for three parents of Utah Tech players. Some of the women who spoke to The Tribune said they hoped that by making these allegations public, the St. George-based university would be compelled to take action.

Brooke Vance, who played at Utah Tech between 2020-23, said, “It was a lot of trauma and a lot of emotional and mental issues that came from that treatment. And so my hope is to get him out of that job, so that no other freshman who’s just excited to go to college and excited for the basketball experience [has] to go through that as well.”

An early complaint

(Jud Burkett | Special to The Tribune) A “Utah Tech” sign is installed on the east side of Greater Zion Stadium in June 2022. The school was formerly known as Dixie State University.

Tramina Jordan said she first brought a complaint against Gustin to a university official in 2018, after the coach’s second season in charge.

Jordan, who was recruited to then-Dixie State by a prior coaching staff, flourished in the first season under Gustin, starting every game and leading the team in minutes and points.

But in Gustin’s second year, as he brought in more of his own recruits, Jordan said she found her playing time cut. When she tried to ask him what she could do to get on the court more, she said, he gave her the silent treatment. She said teammates from the previous year had shared similar experiences with her.

While Utah Tech’s policy does not specifically outline how a coach should treat an athlete, the University of Utah’s definition of emotional abuse includes “when a coach isolates a student-athlete by ignoring them.”

She said she remembers only one personal conversation with Gustin from that season which extended beyond a few words.

“My family came [to a game] — my family was always there to support — and JD was just like, ‘You people act so different.’ You people,” said Jordan, who is Black. “And I just asked, ‘What do you mean, ‘you people,’ JD? What do you mean?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, you people are just so loud and making a scene at the game.’ Got it. Noted.”

Feeling as though Gustin wanted her out of the program, Jordan said she went to Senior Associate Athletic Director Mo Eckroth at season’s end to request a transfer. In that meeting, she said, she tried to sound an alarm about how Gustin was ignoring players.

“I complained to Mo [after] I complained to JD’s face, calling him out on his s---,” said Jordan. “… I made a complaint that I didn’t understand what JD was doing, that I felt like he was kicking me off the team.”

Jordan said she did not hear anything from Eckroth after that and said that it was her opinion that Eckroth dismissed her complaint as the exaggerations of a disgruntled player.

Just ahead of the next season, players said Gustin called a meeting at his house to break the news that a deal had just been struck for the program to eventually make the move up to Division I and join the Western Athletic Conference. Before the meeting was over, however, players said Gustin yelled at the team, warning them about making complaints about him to school officials.

“He was saying he was about to sign a five-year contract, and [told us], ‘I’m not going anywhere,’” said Morgan Myers Pack, who played at Dixie State in the 2017-18 and ‘18-19 seasons. She quoted him adding: “‘I know there have been complaints to the [athletic director], but the university and the A.D. have my back. So don’t try pulling anything.’”

The Tribune reached out to nearly 40 women who played for or coached with Gustin at Utah Tech. Of the 12 women willing to be interviewed, Kristin Baldwin, who is now a high school gym teacher and basketball coach in Arizona, spoke in defense of Gustin.

She spent one season at Dixie State in 2017-18, and while she said “some of his ways of motivating people are different than what I would ever do,” she also questioned the criticism of him.

Baldwin said in her opinion, “I think there is a lot of misrepresentation. … And I sometimes feel like some of the girls he recruits might be a little soft. I don’t think he was ever out of line in any way.”

The other players who spoke to The Tribune, though, said they’ve played for tough, demanding, even abrasive coaches before, and that they considered Gustin’s behavior to be extreme.

One player said he kicked a chair in the locker room, causing it to strike a teammate. “You’re like, ‘Hey, wow, this dude really can’t control his emotions,” said Ashley Greenwood, who played at Utah Tech in the 2019-20 season.

In the investigator’s report, two witnesses recalled him punting a basketball toward a group of players, missing one woman’s head by inches.

Two people said in the report that they separately witnessed Gustin referring to players as c--ts. The private investigator wrote that a former assistant said she left the program because of Gustin’s demeaning treatment of the athletes. The assistant said that rather than Gustin giving constructive criticism, it seemed to her that he preferred to get in players’ faces and “obliterate” them.

Cameron Mooney, who was an incoming freshman the year Gustin allegedly warned players against making complaints, said she had been promised a starting role when she was recruited. But she made zero starts and averaged only nine minutes per game.

She said Gustin belittled and humiliated her in front of the rest of the team, recalling once asking a question about a defensive scheme. She said he responded that he wasn’t surprised she didn’t understand, because “‘I know you’re not as smart as everybody else.’”

Mooney said Gustin’s treatment of her caused her to have suicidal thoughts. She decided to depart the program after that one season.

“My experience was horrible, I felt like I had been wronged, and I wasn’t in a good mental state being there,” Mooney said.

‘This is out of control’

A player identified in the report as Witness 4 transferred into the program in 2018, and told The Tribune she saw Gustin insult players, bringing them to tears, and ignoring others.

“Every day of practice,” said the former player, who The Tribune is not identifying because she fears personal reprisal from Gustin and his supporters, “I would leave thinking, ‘Wow, this is out of control.’”

She decided to speak to a school official.

“Just seeing the state of all my teammates, just seeing how he was wearing them all down, I eventually just said enough is enough,” she said.

On Feb. 2, 2019, she sent an email to then-Athletic Director Jason Boothe and said she later met with him twice in person.

(Courtesy image) This is an image of an email that a Utah Tech women's basketball player, identified in a private investigator's report as Witness 4, said she sent on Feb. 2, 2019, to then-Athletic Director Jason Boothe before meeting with him twice. She told The Tribune she complained to Boothe that head coach JD Gustin was verbally and mentally abusing players on the team.

Boothe told her he would look into it and keep her name private, she said.

The coach began what several players referred to as “a witch hunt,” trying to figure out who had reported him.

“He texted me, ‘I need to see you in my office immediately,’” Pack said. Once there, Pack said he asked her, ‘Why the f--- did you go behind my back and talk to the A.D.?’” She denied doing so, she said.

Multiple players told The Tribune that during the team’s scheduled film session, Gustin encouraged whoever it was to come forward and discuss her concerns. Then after starting the video, “he totally blows up,” said Pack. “He starts throwing markers, cussing everybody out, saying, ‘I don’t know why the f--- everybody has to go talk to the A.D. about all this stuff! You guys are all a bunch of babies!’”

Witness 4 said she admitted to sending the email when Gustin asked her about it two days later in a text. She said she asked to meet with the coach and he said no.

“That was the last I heard from him,” she told The Tribune.

(Courtesy photo) A Utah Tech women's basketball player said this is an image of her belongings in a trash bag, inside the team locker room after coach JD Gustin removed her from the team. Other players told The Tribune that Gustin put the player's belongings in the bag and told them to instruct her to retrieve them.

The next day, Gustin cut Witness 4′s nameplate from her locker, threw her belongings into a trash bag, and instructed the players present, including Pack, “‘Tell her to come pick up her s---,’” Pack said.

Gustin had revoked Witness 4′s access to the locker room, Witness 4 told The Tribune, so she had to be escorted by a campus police officer.

She said she emailed Boothe, hoping for an intervention. In an email shared with The Tribune, he responded, “We’ll make note of this and discuss with JD after some time.”

(Courtesy image) This is an email a student identified as Witness 4 said she sent to then-Athletic Director Jason Boothe, along with a photo of her belongings in trash bag. She said women's basketball coach JD Gustin removed her from the team, and other students say he then placed her belongings in the bag.

(Courtesy image) A student identified as Witness 4 said she received this email from Athletic Director Jason Boothe, after she reported to Boothe that Coach JD Gustin had removed her from the team and put her belongings in a trash bag.

Boothe, who left Utah Tech in January 2022, declined comment when contacted by The Tribune.

Another complaint

Greenwood transferred from Brigham Young University to Dixie State for the 2019-20 season. She started the first eight games.

“And then, just minutes before the start of our ninth game, [Gustin] told me that I had lost my spot,” she said. “I have no idea what I did … I tried to ask him, communicate with him, but he wouldn’t tell me.”

Greenwood said her bigger concern was that she felt Gustin was hurting other players with his behavior. She decided to approach university President Richard “Biff” Williams, whose daughter had been a high school teammate and close friend.

“I knew him on a personal level, which was a reason I felt comfortable to go talk to him,” said Greenwood. “And I thought he would take me more seriously.”

Greenwood said Williams sent a couple of observers to one practice, and their presence was conspicuous.

“JD was on his best behavior,” Greenwood said. “And then the next day of practice, those guys didn’t show up, and so it was just back to the norm. … [Williams] kind of slapped a Band-Aid on it for a day and then didn’t really do anything else.”

Williams declined to comment to The Tribune.

At season’s end, Greenwood said, Gustin informed her during an exit interview that she would not be allowed to return to the team.

“He just kept saying that I wasn’t coachable, but gave me no real answer [as to how],” she said. “He pulled my full-ride athletic scholarship and kicked me off the team.”

Greenwood said she felt Gustin made the actual reason apparent with this comment: “He said, ‘Oh, and this has nothing to do with the fact that you met with the president.’”

‘You wanna go? You wanna dance?’

(Chris Caldwell | The Spectrum via AP) A bison statue on the St. George campus of Utah Tech University, where athletic teams are known as the Trailblazers.

Gustin implemented a new policy at the beginning of last season: He would not speak to his players after a game because, he told them, he got too “emotional,” multiple women told The Tribune.

But after a loss to rival Southern Utah University on Jan. 19, they said, Gustin violated that self-imposed rule.

Utah Tech was leading Cedar City-based rival SUU (the best team in the conference) after three quarters but ended up losing 62-51.

He called their play “pathetic” and “disgusting” during a post-game radio interview before going into the locker room. There, according to multiple players, Gustin berated his team for a poor shooting night, and got inches away from team captain Breaunna Gillen’s face.

“You wanna go, Beans?” the coach screamed at her, according to five players from the ‘22-23 team who spoke to The Tribune. “You wanna dance?”

Those players said Gustin continued to disparage them throughout the season.

Gustin once told Tara, who is being identified by a pseudonym because she remains at Utah Tech, that it was pointless coaching her because she wasn’t capable of improving, and he ought to just revoke her scholarship and give it to someone useful.

Vance recalled a game in which she played for five minutes in the first quarter and then Gustin sat her the rest of the game. As the team was leaving the court following a loss, she said, Gustin yelled at her in front of the team that the loss was her fault.

A few parents reached out about meeting with Gustin last fall after hearing about his conduct from their students.

“We don’t do parent meetings. If you want a parent meeting, then my mommy and daddy will come and do a meeting with your mom and dad,” Tara said Gustin told the players at the next practice.

Multiple players said they became afraid to go to practice. Some said they came to dread basketball.

“I felt so defeated. It was just little things every day where he would tear me down,” said Witness 23 from the report, who The Tribune agreed not to identify because she fears speaking out against Gustin could impact her professional career. “… He found a way to make me feel like a terrible player, like I wasn’t worth anything. He kind of broke me, you know? He took my love for the sport away.”

‘It was really draining and exhausting’

Four women who spoke to The Tribune said Gustin touched them or made comments about their appearance in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

Witness 19, who The Tribune is not identifying because she fears potential damage to her career, said Gustin told her how good her legs looked, asked if she had a man, and suggested that she was too good for the male students on campus and needed someone in her own league.

“Being a player, an 18-, 19-year-old girl … having to be put in uncomfortable situations with a 40-plus-year-old man, it was really hard, and it was really draining and exhausting,” she said.

Tara said Gustin at times made her feel uncomfortable when he would give her unsolicited shoulder and back rubs, hugs, and held her hands. She said she felt like she could not object.

Witness 23 recalled once waiting for her luggage at an airport baggage claim on a road trip when she felt a presence “weirdly close” behind her. She turned around to find Gustin and asked him what he was doing. She said he laughed, leaned in, and whispered to her: “You smell really good.”

Next steps

Players who spoke to The Tribune said they want Gustin held accountable for what they believe is misconduct and also to see changes in the athletic department, including more resources for student-athletes — particularly women — to navigate such situations, such as an anonymous reporting system and more mental-health care.

Multiple players from the team, both past and present, said they have been contacted in recent days by BestDayHR, “to review a personnel matter.”

“Speaking selfishly, I feel that he played a huge role in wrecking my career and what I worked for,” said Witness 23. “I’m not talking about playing time … I’m just talking about the mental aspect of loving the sport. He just made it the most difficult thing ever.”

Witness 4, who alleges she was kicked off the team for reporting Gustin, wants to see both him and Utah Tech acknowledge some culpability and make a commitment to change.

“My biggest hope is just that JD can finally realize how his behavior has affected countless players of his through the years, and just that he can take responsibility for what he’s done,” she said. “I don’t want his whole life to be over or anything, but at the same time, what he’s done isn’t right.”

Eckroth, Sainsbury, athletic director Ken Beazer, HR director Travis Rosenberg, and general counsel Becky Broadbent all declined to speak to The Tribune.

Greenwood, the other player who claims she was jettisoned for speaking out, was succinct about her desired outcome.

“I hope he’s fired,” she said, “and that he never steps foot in coaching women’s basketball ever again.”

The university’s investigation is ongoing; one task it likely faces is weighing the women’s accounts against its code of conduct’s broad language that coaches “must demonstrate respect” for student-athletes.

But for now, “To ensure the university undergoes a thorough, unbiased process for all involved,” a spokesperson said, “it’s our policy to not provide information during ongoing personnel investigations.”

Editor’s note • This article discusses suicidal thoughts. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 988.