Former Pepperdine Coach Joe Spahn Was Put on Administrative Leave After Complaints

Former Pepperdine women’s swimming & diving coach Joe Spahn was put on paid administrative leave after athletes alleged bullying and other misconduct.

A Pepperdine document shows that team members complained to the university about Spahn, alleging a broad list of misconduct including bullying, favoritism, pushing athletes through injury, sexual harassment and violating NCAA rules on required athletic hours. However, the document also concludes that there was not sufficient evidence to prove any of those allegations, beyond requiring athletes to train and/or compete while injured or sick.

You can view the full document here. It’s conclusions come after school officials say they conducted interviews with 47 people: every member of the swimming & diving team, the team’s coaches and athletic trainers, and several members of Pepperdine’s athletic department, including Athletics Director Steve Potts.

In addition, SwimSwam has obtained an audio recording of a November 2019 meeting in which a school official tells the swimmers that Spahn has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. The Pepperdine investigation document is dated December 20, 2019. Last week, Pepperdine officially named Jana Vincent the interim head coach and removed Spahn from the team website. He was still listed as head coach as recently as December 12, per page archives.

Here’s a brief look at the complaints from the team listed in the investigation document, along with the school’s findings:

Allegation Pepperdine Finding
Bullying, yelling, demeaning comments, favoritism insufficient evidence of bullying. Spahn did use profanity at a meet, and there is sufficient evidence of constant yelling and of favoritism in how Spahn treated different swimmers
Requiring athletes to train and/or compete while sick or injured In at least one case, Spahn allowed a swimmer to return to the pool without getting communication of clearance by athletic trainers.
Sexual harrassment insufficient evidence of sexual harrassment
Violations of the NCAA’s 20-hour limit on weekly required athletic activities The investigative committee forwarded this complaint to the school’s compliance department.

A shared document created by the swimmers includes some more specific complaints, ranging from making swimmers come to practice early to put in lane lines to allegedly “throwing punches at objects out of rage” and kicking a trash can at a meet.

The investigative document does not call for any specific sanction on Spahn, but he has been replaced as head coach and removed from the team website. We’ve reached out to the school and to Spahn for comment, but have not yet received a response.

Update: the school responded with the following statement from Athletic Director Steve Potts:

While the University cannot comment on private employment matters, Pepperdine Athletics takes seriously any concerns or allegations brought forward by student-athletes and investigates them appropriately and thoroughly. The physical and mental well-being of our student-athletes is the number one priority for Pepperdine Athletics. I am confident that the appointment of Coach Vincent as interim head coach of the women’s swimming and diving program will position the program for success going forward.

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Advice to young coaches: It’s Pepperdine man, not Cal or Stanford. Can’t go in guns blazing and expect people to go 20+ hours during the year and above 8 hours in the spring – they didn’t sign up for that when they chose the school. That kind of culture and commitment takes years to build. And…it’s Pepperdine. Gotta know your audience. Gotta know your people. Pepperdine isn’t looking to build a top-15 program. Meet them where they are. Not every D1 school is a legitimate top-15 contender….nor do they desire as much. And that is OK. You can swim at Pepperdine….but you don’t go there if you want to swim swim. See?


Then administrators need to be very clear about their expectations for the programs, communicate that to candidates, and hire accordingly. If you want a glorified admissions rep who happens to know a little swimming and will keep everybody happy (cause that’s possible), then advertise your position as such. Don’t hire somebody with a power 5 assistant background, that wants to raise the level of the program and change the culture. If you are going to hire that type of person, then expect some bumps and support them through it.

I read the Pepperdine report. Nobody is perfect and maybe some things could have been done better, but hardly anything in there that would constitute somebody losing their job.


Someone with P5 assistant experience should know enough about elite-level D1 Swim/Dive or have enough mentors to know that Pepperdine…while an incredible school with the best view in the world….is not the place to raise the level of the program or build a culture, regardless of what the administration says. And if that is truly the goal, (and I find that hard to believe based on funding) ….the guns blazing rule applies…think 5-10 years, not two. Meet them where they are. Just in California you have…. Stanford, Cal, Southern Cal, UCLA, SDSU, UCSB, UC Davis, Fresno State, SJSU, and a few others that are well beyond the commitment level of Pepperdine….If I were advising a young coach about next steps… Read more »


Negative votes shows how out of touch some of us are in regards to student-athlete time demands and who really wields the power in today’s NCAA….The old-school “my way or the highway” approach still works….sure….and coaches are the ones who will hit the highway.


The coach probably thought the athletic dept would back him. He should have allowed the old swimmers to age out of the program before hitting the reset switch. Put yourself in his shoes… walk out on the deck and you instantly know half(or more) of the swimmers don’t belong on a D1 program. So you know they don’t belong and by being there they are wasting your time and valuable program resources. I would be inclined to just cut all the swimmers who couldn’t make a B final in their lowly conference meet.


I’ve been in his shoes. I did it the right way in a harder situation. Not bragging – I had great mentors who I relied on heavily. I also had the backing of the administration, yes, but also earned it by treating the SA with respect, no matter their speed.

Coach 2.0

He was trying to create an environment that would lead to future successes. Regardless of the program, the coach is the one setting the foundation and culture for the program.

You’re being incredibly one-dimensional giving Pepperdine no shot at being a successful program. Bring in two recruiting classes that understand the culture and program you want to build and the rest takes care of itself.

Only mistake I possibly see is Joe not letting some of these girls go/transfer and move on from the problems.


It takes a lot more than two recruiting classes to go from a program that wouldn’t interest a good D3 swimmer to being a successful D1 program. Why ostracize the athletes who were already there? Let them play a (diminished) role and graduate out of the program. After all, it’s not completely fair to them to force them out just because a new coach has some (unrealistic?) expectations.


Have you read anything here? No one was forced out. Joe wasn’t allowed to do that nor did he try. The only thing he’s guilty of here is treating everyone the same. Apparently that’s not how it works at Pepperdine. Certain girls /families should get special treatment and when they don’t well… this happens.


In the snow? Uphill? Both ways? Impressive mobility on the self back-patting. I think you underestimate how things can be twisted, cherry picked, and a narrative created. Once again, not saying everything was perfect, but if you get picked over by a fine toothed comb and this is what they come up with…favoritism? Really? I’m a huge proponent of treating people with respect. I do my best to do that daily as a coach. That being said, I’ve seen and lived these situations as well. You hire a young head coach, who is also trying to improve a program that was dead in the water, you’re going to get some of this. Naive to think otherwise. Let the coach grow,… Read more »


In the snow, uphill both ways, five miles, etc.. It can be done, takes 5 years plus yes, but years 1-3 clearly needed to be a different approach. It was the upper class types who did him in…not recruited for that kind of coaching nor that kind of program. Mentors in the coach game should have told him that. So you start slow. You ride out years 1-2 one with those juniors/seniors, show them a great career, a happy ending, see that they’re friends of the program, then donate after graduation. You build around “your recruits” who get your vision and are bought in…but you don’t neglect the juniors and seniors who thought they signed up for a sorority, not… Read more »


Nailed it.
Also, I don’t take this Pepperdine-released report at face value. The school has the most to lose in this situation there is the potential that it is downplaying the negatives so that they don’t look too bad.
I did chuckle at the complaint that the swimmers no longer could sit with their parents or get snacks from them!


Yes I laugh too, I thought that was a summer league comment.


Something stinks that’s for sure. That’s the whole sad dirty investigative report full of empty accusations. And yet he was let go. Best part? The part that made you chuckle???? Thats what started all of this. The older girls were no longer allowed to go play ( model… sunbathe) in the stands with their parents (boyfriends) in between swims. They complained and joe didn’t back down. And from that…. all of this was born. So you say let the older girls play out their remaining years??? Like this???? Nooo Joe was treating them like a team and for that was punished. I pity the next ( current ) coach. This is a mess. Would not trust pepp.


Joe wasn’t guilty of showing favoritism to the new swimmers but was guilty of NOT showing favoritism to the old swimmers. Pure and simple. And money talks here at Pepperdine.


Well said amen 🙏🏼 …


He didn’t push the old swimmers past their ability. And he didn’t chastise them either. But when they weren’t getting the attention of winning and the youngest were getting stronger , they stomped off deck, and called their daddies. Then the lies and bullying. So pathetic. Joe was patient and kind through it all – even the investigation. I hope he sues


Agree. For All those who don’t swim
Here , or aren’t family members of those who do just read that again. THATS how it played out. Period. Envy can destroy the best of teams.

Swimmer Parent

Whole heartedly agree with you!! Those that couldn’t swim were being outdone by those that could. Is that favoritism or regular coaching??


“not bragging” proceeds to brag.

Nathan Smith

As a person who has been a part of intra-university investigation team before, it’s hard to prove anything. You usually only have one person’s word against another, and if they have different versions of events you can’t come to a conclusion about what happened. I imagine Pepperdine has a decently careful model for investigations since their affluent student body comes with lawsuit happy parents. I don’t have any personal connection and no knowledge of the situation outside of this article, but the bar for something to be put into the report should be pretty high. The specific incident of profanity that made it into the report is one where athletic trainers were around and could verify what happened, hence it… Read more »




He got fired for yelling and one documented case of profanity??? This smacks of California-PC-rich kid entitlement. I read all of the “progressive” commentary on SwimSwam and I’m sad for the current state and future of our sport. We’ve become a bunch of thin skinned wimps. It won’t be long before coaches get fired for assigning intervals that are “too fast”. Gut check time, people.


Hence my earlier comment. It’s Pepperdine. It costs 72,000 a year to attend. You simply cannot go into that kind of place with a Minnesota mentality and expect them to understand. Minnesota girls are are a different breed, they’re tougher than most (if not all).


Agreed. He seems to having done nothing wrong. What coach dosent use profanity? Is that a fireable offense? Who cares if he favored the hard working athletes who bought in initially? I would.

I can’t imagine working at a place like that.


There is a fine line that we all need to be aware of this day and age. As coaches, we have to be aware of our environment we are in, and read the cues as to how much the kids/parents can handle. But, some folks just have no business being on deck with kids, plain and simple! I can’t speak about this coach in particular, but I currently have a swimmer at Alabama. The things I have heard about on a weekly basis should have us all worried. He is still on the team, but really unhappy with the bullying, harassing, non-stop swearing, etc that is going on. This is just wrong. Why did we get into coaching? I’d hope… Read more »


The terms “bullying” and “harassment” are terms that are thrown around far too loosely. In the above example , these terms amount to holding kids accountable or creating a higher level of expectation now perceived as “harassment.” How dare a coach tell your child he isn’t that great or to move their a$$ in practice.

And coaches are supposed to somehow read these imaginary “cues”? Give me a break.

Putting Jonty in a category with Jack and Eddie Reese? I detect a bit of bias here.


I have heard the same about Alabama. Hoping it plays out as positively as possible for the kids.


The coach should determine the culture. Period. The kids can transfer out or get in line if they don’t like the coach’s new philosophy. At both Alabama and Pepperdine, the new coaches are trying to establish a new culture with higher standards and kids are upset because they aren’t allowed to ‘run the asylum’ anymore. Kids on full scholarships not traveling or scoring, poor grades,unexcused practices, and bad attitudes/complacency are reason to get rid of the old and get new kids in who buy in.


Can you elaborate?


A parent of a freshman indicated the Alabama situation. This parent also has a swimmer in another program with a new coaching staff. I think nice coaches are overrated, but there is a way to be respectfully harsh and disrespectfully harsh. It’s not difficult to identify the difference. It seems to me that the Pepperdine situation is not the same and the coach got hosed. It’s unfair, but I think he will be fine. Lots of press for him right now.


Every coach has different styles. I believe Coley has the kids’ best interests at heart. People have been upset because they were cut. Coley is tough but It’s more of a show. Eventually these kids will realize that he is creating a strong environment where they will excel. Coley does value hard work and does not like excuses. I hope he does realize that some kids respond to his coaching style but others respond better to positivity. Everyone can make changes for the better. Swimmers and coaches. Look deep inside and be the best you can be at all times. I believe that Coley will be an amazing coach who positively motivates the kids and guides them in life.



Captain Ahab

You can not yell and use profanity at college age kids or under college age kids anymore. Instead your suppose to ask them a lot of questions and explain what you want them to do. Apparently, yelling and using profanity is being “Direct” and that scares this new generation. The new way a coach and athlete are suppose to interact is through reasoning.


Joe swore once, almost a year ago now. Apologized the very next day and never did it again. Yes, read that again. That situation was resolved by himself and never did it again. Not once. This was handled back then. Done. Why after almost a year of no swearing, does this one instance come up now? And why are people acting like joe did this regularly? This just goes to show how stupid this all was.

millennial (@1:27)

“…Soft as Charmin.” – Friday Night Tykes


I’m old as dirt, but back in my day, if coaches weren’t yelling and swearing they weren’t coaching. I’m not scarred, my self esteem is fine, I know what love is…

This is a societal problem. Swimming is a microcosm. None-the-less, we’re becoming softer, weaker, whineyer (I like making up my own words). Everything I want to say to sum this up would probably get this post censored or rejected, but if you have a brain, you get my point. C&B forever.


Agree….BUT….it isn’t going to change and it isn’t going away. If you want to play the game in 2020 you gotta be a master of psychology. Robert Greene’s Laws of Human Nature is a great place to start. Should be required reading for all coaches. You can still swear in today’s game…but you gotta swear with them, not at them.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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