GVSU coach resigns after Hitler remarks

Ottawa County
Morris Berger

Morris Berger. (Courtesy GVSU)

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Only 10 days after becoming Grand Valley State University’s offensive coordinator, Morris Berger has resigned in the wake of making comments about Hitler in an interview with the school’s student newspaper.

The university said Thursday it had reached a “mutual agreement” with Berger and that he was resigning effective immediately.

In a statement released by GVSU, Berger said he had been “excited and proud to be at Grand Valley” but did not want to be a distraction to the team or the university.

Berger was named to the job on Jan. 20. Shortly thereafter, he was interviewed by the Grand Valley Lanthorn student newspaper. According to a transcript of the interview, the reporter asked Berger about which historical figures he would like to meet.

“This is probably not going to get a good review,” Berger began, “but I’m going to say Adolf Hitler. It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can’t deny he wasn’t a great leader.”

He was soon suspended as the university launched an investigation.

In an open letter tweeted Thursday, Berger apologized, writing in part, “In a poor effort to give an outside-the-box answer to a question, I mistakenly communicated something absurd. There is no justifiable excuse — it was insensitive and not my intent.”

Head coach Matt Mitchell stated there was “nothing in our background and reference checks” to have indicated that a controversy might be forthcoming.

GVSU Philomena Mantella sent this letter to the campus community Thursday:

“I want to update you on an issue that impacted our community and thrust the university in an unfortunate spotlight. I want to assure you our values as an institution remain steadfast to be a welcoming community for all students, faculty and staff.

“Morris Berger, who began this month as the offensive coordinator for the Laker football team, resigned after concluding that given the controversy surrounding his recent statements to the media, he could no longer be effective in his role. We have accepted his resignation, which was effective immediately.

“I understand that our community, as am I, is deeply concerned about this situation and its implications for our university. That is why a thorough investigation began immediately after a published interview in the Lanthorn raised serious concerns and questions. We acted expeditiously and responsibly by suspending Mr. Berger and requesting the Office of Human Resources commence an investigation into this matter. Although we received wide-ranging views on the appropriate action, we isolated the issues, affording a reasoned, principled process, which is what we owe all members of our community. Now we can move forward.

“We must be a model for dealing with the deeply challenging issues we face today as a society and for holding ourselves accountable for civility, sound judgment and the protection of our freedoms. We have a strong campus community, and we need to continue to hold our values dear as we face complex situations that require wisdom and equity to resolve.”

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