The State News sat down with Michigan State gymnastics coach Mike Rowe to discuss how his program has been affected since the 2016 arrest of disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar. Rowe was hired in 2017 after former coach Kathie Klages retired while under suspension due to fallout from the investigation into Nassar's crimes. This is his first and only head coaching job at the college level after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh.
Q: How difficult was it to take over this program after it had gone through all of this turmoil?
A: It was difficult because from one day to the next, you didn't really know what the circumstances were. I basically shut myself off from the news and that kind of stuff because I didn't know facts and everything like that. I became aware of certain facts through people coming to me and me being a mandatory reporter ... . All I knew was what I was hearing. I'm not an investigative reporter or an investigator or anything like that, so I just complied with everything that was being asked of me. And, with that being said, looking out for the well-being of the team too — not knowing if there are maybe more of them involved or any of them involved at that point.
I've always wanted to have my own program and there's just no way you could've predicted it happening like this. Having a program handed over to you in a matter of minutes and then trying to deal with or cope with everything that was going on around you, it was really difficult.
Q: Was there anything before this that prepared you to take this on, or was it just thrown at you and you just took day-by-day?
A: No. There was no preparation whatsoever. It was just as it came to you. It was consuming in a way that, you want to be focused and organized in what you're taking into practice and we would have a set course for what going to be done in that practice. For the most part, that would happen. But occasionally, it was almost like you were waiting for another shoe to drop.
Q: Does that mean there wasn't a specific set of steps for recovery? How are you still helping the team recover from this?
We had a protocol to follow if someone reported to us, because we were all considered mandatory reporters and that was very specific and to the point and direct. But, we weren't part of any investigation or anything like that, so we had to kind of move forward with that without being disrespectful or anything to any of the survivors. ... Everybody has their own way that they need to heal, and I didn't feel that that was my right to determine or decide how they were going to do that.
Q: How is the team doing now?
A: They're doing amazing right now. Right from the beginning, the administration has been very supportive for all of the girls here, all of my team and anything we've needed — any resources they've needed whether it's counseling or anything like that.
I feel like a lot of the rules and policies and procedures have been tweaked to the utmost of where — not that we didn't know what to do before as far as reporting or anything like that, we knew what to do — but they've been fine tuned and the chain of command has changed and hats have been changed and the protocol has been changed into a lot of pretty intricate detail. And it's not just, 'okay here's the rules and policies, follow these,' but we've attended professional development seminars and updates of institutional equity and it just keeps going. They keep developing further and further and expanding as far as the staff they're using so there's more people out there to help to be resources for the kids. I feel like, if someone came to me to discuss it, or had another problem, or had an issue, I would have more resources than I did previously, even though that plan was in place.
I don't want to say it's behind us, because obviously it's not behind us. Our job as being coaches, and coaching the sport and being focused on our season and our next team that we're competing against, it's much easier because that isn't looming over us like it was for a pretty long time.