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Embattled incoming Rutgers athletic head says she had past troubles

By David Jones

(Reuters) - Rutgers University's incoming athletic director, under fire over revelations that players at another school accused her of abusive behavior, said on Wednesday that she had difficulties in the past but that they left her well-qualified for her new post.

Julie Hermann has faced calls for her dismissal after the public exposure of complaints from her former volleyball players at the University of Tennessee.

At a brief news conference in Piscataway, New Jersey, where she met with Rutgers coaches and officials, Hermann said she had "failings" in the past that she believes give her the qualifications to lead Rutgers' athletic department.

"That lesson of 17 years ago was arguably why I felt I was not only very qualified, but in some ways uniquely qualified," she said.

She was hired in May after her predecessor resigned under pressure for not firing Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice for abusive behavior toward his players.

After she was hired, New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper reported that Hermann resigned as women's volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee after all 15 players on the team signed a letter in 1996 accusing her of mental cruelty.

Rutgers officials have been criticized for not vetting Hermann more thoroughly.

Rutgers President Robert Barchi said on Wednesday he looks forward to Hermann starting her job later this month and added that the school's integration into the Big Ten athletic conference is a top priority.

"Julie and I had a great discussion today about her priorities and plans to strengthen the student-athlete experience and support the excellent coaches and staff at Rutgers by making sure they have the resources to succeed," Barchi said in a statement.

Some Rutgers' sports supporters said after Hermann's comments that they still have reservations about her hiring.

"We didn't think she'd end up coming, but I guess we were wrong," said Aaron Mansbach, president of the Rutgers Touchdown Club, the booster club for the school's football team and its largest booster organization with more than 1,100 members.

Rice was fired in April after ESPN showed footage of him berating his team with homophobic slurs. Tim Pernetti then resigned as Rutgers' athletic director for suspending Rice in December but keeping details of his behavior under wraps.

Last month, Hermann said in a statement that she had not been aware of the complaint letter signed by the Tennessee players.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Osterman)

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