West Virginia University placed the football team’s defensive coordinator on paid administrative leave Tuesday and announced an investigation into a player’s claims the coach made insensitive remarks about him, race, religion and protesters.
Kerry Martin Jr., a WVU safety and former All-State player at Capital High, claimed Vic Koenning called him “retarded,” urged a wall to keep out Hispanics, “antagonized” a Muslim teammate and declared that people who don’t want to get “tear-gassed ... shouldn’t be out protesting.”
The university responded a few hours after Martin took to Twitter to lay out his claims Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to thank Kerry Martin for having the courage to bring his concerns to light,” WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons said in a statement. “We will not tolerate any form of racism, discrimination or bias on our campus, including our athletic programs. ... This is serious, and we will act appropriately and in the best interests of our student-athletes.”
Martin said his claims came a day after a position meeting during which Koenning made his remarks about protesters, relaying a conversation he had with his son.
According to Martin, Koenning said, “If people did not want to get tear gassed or push back by the police then they shouldn’t be out protesting.” Martin said he immediately asked Koenning what he meant and the coach “couldn’t give a straight answer.” Martin said a graduate assistant defused the situation.
Martin said Koenning asked him to stay on the Zoom call after the meeting and then apologized and clarified what he had said.
But Martin said Monday’s case was not isolated, prompting him to turn to Twitter.
“I have not told anyone else this that is not my family member or involved with my family ... because I didn’t want to bring negativity to the program,” Martin said, “but with everything going on and for him to still act this way and feel okay with saying what he said is not okay.”
Both Koenning and Martin joined WVU last year. Koenning came to the school when Neal Brown was hired as head coach in January 2019. Koenning previously served as Brown’s defensive coordinator at Troy. Martin graduated from Capital early and enrolled at WVU for the spring 2019 semester.
Last year, Martin said, Koenning told players President Donald Trump should “build the wall and keep Hispanics out of the country.” A Latino player was in the room at the time, Martin said.
Martin also claimed Jon Carpenter, the player’s former high school coach, said Koenning had a “slavemaster” mentality. Carpenter said Tuesday he doesn’t remember saying that to Martin.
“If I gave him that impression ... I love Kerry Martin,” Carpenter said. “You wouldn’t even know my name if it weren’t for people like Kerry Martin. I’d love to be able to sit down and talk to him and straighten that out.”
During spring practices last year, Martin said, Koenning “antagonized” former WVU defensive back Derrek Pitts “for believing in something that he didn’t believe,” Martin said. Pitts is Muslim.
“He would make remarks about the Bible and talk about religion in front of Derrek, making him want to question the things that he believed,” Martin wrote.
Pitts entered the transfer portal in June 2019 and enrolled at Marshall University, where he was immediately eligible. Marshall’s athletic department could not be reached Tuesday to confirm whether Koenning’s alleged actions contributed to Pitts’ transfer.
Martin also claimed that he converted to Islam, Koenning brought him into his office repeatedly to talk about religion, reading Scriptures and giving Martin a book on “how to find Christ.”
After Martin used an incorrect technique during a position drill, he said, Koenning called him “retarded.”
“I have family members that are actually mentally ill and for him to say that hurt me,” Martin wrote, “because it was an action we could fix.”
Martin said he went to Brown about being mistreated. Brown did not comment Tuesday night but is scheduled for a Zoom meeting Wednesday afternoon with media.
Some of Martin’s teammates tweeted their support. Receiver Bryce Wheaton wrote, “This is NOT a secret in our program.” Defensive lineman Dante Stills tweeted back a raised fist emoji to Martin. Stills’ brother and fellow defensive lineman Darius Stills replied, “Anytime brotha,” when Martin thanked his teammates for their backing. Receiver Sam James quoted a Lil Baby lyric in his tweet: “I won’t take the stand, but I’ll take a stand for what I believe.”
Carpenter said he hopes Martin and Koenning discuss the issues between them.
“I support Kerry Martin,” Carpenter said, “but I wish they’d sit down, get together and talk. I hope they repair it.”
Martin said in a tweet later Tuesday night that he doesn’t believe Koenning is a bad human being, but he does believe change is needed in the WVU football program.
“[A]s I said in my initial post he has done good by me and he is not a bad person,” Martin wrote, “but his thoughts and beliefs are misled.”
Martin’s accusations come during a time of sharper focus across the country on coaches’ words and actions and on race at WVU.
The University of Iowa reached a separation agreement with former football strength coach Chris Doyle following allegations he mistreated black players. Clemson assistant coach Danny Pearman apologized earlier this month after word spread on social media of a 2017 incident where he used a racial slur.
At WVU, more than 800 people recently signed a petition calling the school “systematically anti-Black.”