When former director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft retired on June 20 — with WilmerHale’s investigation into the Michigan hockey program publicly unresolved — the departure raised eyebrows. After viewing the documents related to his departure, it’s clear that the investigation played a direct role in his retirement.
A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Daily yielded a document that shows Bancroft’s retirement was negotiated by a settlement with direct connections to the investigation’s findings. The document references his “difficulty with interpersonal communication” and denies him any potential rehire in the athletic department.
The existence of a settlement seems unusual for a normal retirement, especially one that releases the retiree’s right to file claims against the University; Michigan Athletics did not yet respond to a request for comment regarding its retirement protocols. It is unclear if it is a standard retirement procedure, but in context of the WilmerHale investigation’s conclusion it is clear the settlement considered its findings.
On May 5, WilmerHale provided athletic director Warde Manuel with a report detailing Bancroft’s alleged mistreatment of women. The report described multiple instances of bullying and harassment by Bancroft, and it recommended that Michigan address them. It stated:
“The athletic department should take steps to address a number of issues discussed in this report, including the mistreatment of female staff members by Mr. Bancroft.”
The settlement suggests that Bancroft’s retirement was a direct result of those recommendations.
It should be noted that while WilmerHale did not directly call for Bancroft to be removed from his position, the severity of allegations in the report complicated his ability to stay with the athletic department.
While it is unknown if Michigan ever explored firing Bancroft, allowing him to exit the program through a retirement aligns with Manuel’s overall approach to the investigation. Despite former Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s involvement in the investigation — including blatant dishonesty regarding his own actions — Manuel allowed Pearson to remain head coach until the WilmerHale report’s results were released to the public by MLive. With full knowledge of the allegations, Manuel also let Bancroft retire instead of firing him with cause.
The paper trail reflects that Michigan knew the optics of Bancroft’s retirement, outlining how the athletic department planned to announce the retirement within a week of its signing — and exclude the document from Bancroft’s personnel file.
Referencing the public announcement of a retirement is not a standard procedure, nor is the exclusion of a crucial document from their file. The latter suggests that Michigan and Bancroft wanted to obscure the settlement from his work record. Notably, the settlement states that any references for rehire by other University departments — excluding athletics — will include “areas of good performance as well as performance concerns.”
The settlement also included an exit package that paid Bancroft a lump sum month’s pay and health benefits, as well as his accrued vacation time.
Bancroft left the athletic department months ago, but the exact context of his exit remained up to speculation. Now, the circumstances of his departure are known.