Former Pitt wrestling coach Jason Peters has filed suit against the university alleging wrongful termination and racial discrimination.
Peters, who is African-American, was the head coach of Pitt’s wrestling program from 2013 to 2017, when he was fired by then-athletic director Scott Barnes in response to an incident that occurred in an Illinois hotel room.
In town for the historic Midlands Championships, police were called to the team’s hotel room in Evanston, Illinois on Dec. 31, 2016 after an alleged theft of $100 following a visit to the hotel by someone that answered a response to an adult personal ad from the now shut-down backpages.com.
Peters was first suspended and then fired by Barnes. Peters had been originally hired at Pitt as an assistant under longtime head coach Rande Stottlemeyer and was promoted to head coach in 2013 by then-athletic director Steve Pederson. Pederson was fired in 2014, and was replaced by Barnes, who left for Oregon State in 2017.
Peters was replaced by Keith Gavin, who was hired by new athletic director Heather Lyke. Both Gavin and Lyke are white. At the time of Peters’ firing, Pitt had just one black head coach, track and field coach Alonzo Webb. New Pitt basketball coach Jeff Capel is the first African American to hold that position. Portugal native Alex Santos has coached the school’s tennis team since 2013.
Pitt’s wrestling program had seen a slight downturn in fortunes under Peters’ watch. Pitt went 11-5 in his final season and was 42-23 overall in his tenure. They went 44-12 in the final four seasons under Stottlemeyer. After Tyler Wilps’ NCAA finals appearance in 2015, Pitt had no All Americans in 2016 or 2017, although Peters was fired before the 2017 championships.
The alleged incident in December of 2016 was not the only legal trouble with the wrestling program under Peters’ watch. Edgar Bright was dismissed from the team in 2015 after an arrest for assault and drug possession. Bright had served a prison sentence the year prior as well, for crimes committed in his native Ohio.
Stephen Patrick contributed to this report.