Sharon Versyp to retire; Katie Gearlds takes over Purdue women's basketball program

Versyp, the program's all-time winningest coach, was the subject of a university investigation during the offseason into her behavior

Mike Carmin
Lafayette Journal & Courier

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue women’s basketball coach Sharon Versyp announced her retirement Thursday, one month after a university investigation into her treatment of players became public.

Katie Gearlds, who was named Versyp’s successor in late March and was scheduled to serve as an associate head coach, will take over the program one season earlier than expected. Versyp’s retirement is effective immediately.

Details regarding any financial settlement between the school and Versyp weren't released. Versyp's current contract runs through June 30, 2022. Gearlds was scheduled to take over the program on April 1, 2022. 

"Coaching at my alma mater has been the greatest honor of my professional life," Versyp said in a statement. "My purpose has always been to teach life skills through basketball: respect, hard work, discipline, selflessness, what it means to be part of a team.

"I am delighted that the alumna coaching tradition will continue with Katie Gearlds – it shows what a special program we have at Purdue. I believe that the team is in great hands with Katie and the entire staff.

"I am thankful for my close to 20 years here at Purdue and all of the people who have been such a positive and memorable part of my experience. I am ready to chase new dreams off the court."

Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp walks the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA women's basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

The school's announcement didn't refer to the investigation, which was conducted by the University's Office of Institutional Equity, led by director Christie Wright. The Journal & Courier first reported details of the investigation on Aug. 18. 

The OIE investigated whether Versyp violated the school’s anti-harassment policy. The investigation expanded to include Terry Kix, the program’s director of basketball operations. Whether Kix remains part of the staff in the future is unknown.  

According to a document provided to the Journal & Courier last month, Versyp was accused of creating a “toxic and hostile environment” within the program, including verbal abuse, manipulating players by using personal attacks as motivators, playing mind games and bullying among other allegations.

Kix was cited prominently in the original document for several incidents, including cussing out players, physically hitting a players’ arm and calling players pathetic on two separate occasions.

Terry Kix, Purdue Director of Women's Basketball Operations, reacts during the second quarter of a NCAA women's basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

Versyp, the program’s all-time winningest coach with 301 victories and a 1988 Purdue graduate who is from Mishawaka, was set to begin her 16th and final season with the Boilermakers. 

"We sincerely thank coach Versyp for her commitment and devotion to Purdue, her impact on the greater Lafayette community and the leadership she's provided our women's basketball program," Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said in a statement. "As we move forward, our program will benefit from the history of success and accomplishments under coach Versyp's watch. We wish her the very best in the years ahead."

At the end of last season, five players with eligibility remaining transferred out of the program. 

Sophomore reserve guard Bria Harmon put her name in the transfer portal two days after the season ended. Upperclassmen Karissa McLaughlin (Marquette), Kayana Traylor (Virginia Tech), Tamara Farquhar (Michigan State) and Fatou Diagne (Houston) submitted their names into the portal within 48 hours after the announcement that Versyp would return for the 2021-22 season.

Assistant coach Melanie Balcomb left the program shortly after the season ended with a loss in the Big Ten tournament in March, even though her contract ran through June 30, 2021. 

Versyp and her staff replenished the roster by adding transfers Mide Oriyomi (Northeastern), Jeanae Terry (Illinois) and Abbey Ellis (Cal Poly). 

The allegations outlined in the internal document run from the 2018-19 season through last season. Names of the players involved and at least one assistant coach were redacted in the copy obtained by the Journal & Courier. 

Gearlds, a former Boilermaker All-American who played one season under Versyp, becomes the eighth head coach in program history. Gearlds spent eight seasons at Marian University, winning back-to-back NAIA national championships in 2016 and 2017.

The three-time NAIA Coach of the Year, Gearlds compiled a 228-50 record at Marian. 

Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier. Email mcarmin@gannett.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc