‘It shattered my world’: an Ohio soccer coach, sexual misconduct and the system that has protected him

·25 min read

Candice Fabry finished training with the under-nine girls team she coached and drove to El Camino Real, a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio. Fabry knew the restaurant from her time as a player with the University of Toledo women’s soccer team. Players would often go there and, according to a team joke, the restaurant didn’t necessarily have the best margaritas in Toledo but it definitely had “the most-known”.

It was July 2007, and Fabry was planning to meet University of Toledo women’s soccer coach Brad Evans and his wife at El Camino Real – as well as the team’s assistant coach Jennifer Whipple. Fabry had previously played for four years on the University of Toledo women’s soccer team, who compete in the Mid-American Conference.

Fabry, her playing career cut short by injury, was planning to announce at the restaurant that she would accept an invitation from Evans to join the team’s staff for the new season as an unpaid volunteer assistant coach – the first step on the ladder for many people wanting to become a college soccer coach.

As Fabry recalls, she arrived at the restaurant still wnearing her training gear – T-shirt and shorts – and saw Evans, his wife, and Whipple at the bar. There was cheering and hugs when she told them she would join the staff.

The group moved to a table on an outside patio and at some point in the evening Evans left the group. While Evans was absent, Fabry needed to use the bathroom. She left Evans’ wife and Whipple at the table and walked back into the restaurant, past the hostess table and a closet area near the bathroom.

“The next thing I remember is a tug on my arm and [Evans] pulling me,” recalls Fabry, who says Evans pulled her into an alcove in the restaurant.

“I remember my back against the wall. I remember his tongue in my mouth. I remember feeling him pushed up against my body. I remember his tongue. I remember his hands in my pants and in my underwear. And that’s where I leave my body.”

Recalling the incident in 2022, Fabry says she doesn’t remember how long the encounter lasted for but does recall feeling shock at what was unfolding with her former coach and, now as an assistant coach, her boss.

She still vividly recalls Evans’ mouth and his hands down her shorts and in her pants. She recalls pushing him away, yelling “No! No! No!”, and running down a passageway to a bathroom stall where she sobbed and spat into the toilet.

“The last memory of the whole night is me just sitting and spitting and spitting and spitting,” says Fabry.

The next morning Fabry opened up her flip phone and there was a text from Evans. It was unread the night before but now she saw that Evans had texted: “Can you come to the bathroom?”

“I deleted it and threw the phone across the room,” Fabry recalls. “I wanted to forget it.”

Today, Brad Evans is employed by the Ohio Soccer Association as its head of coaching education, according to the OSA website. He is also head coach of Ohio’s Olympic Development Program, a pathway for elite youth players, run by US Youth Soccer.

Evans is also a coaching education instructor for the United States Soccer Federation leading and managing the USSF coaching courses required for most professional coaches in the United States. He eventually joined the Ohio Soccer Association after resigning as head coach of the women’s soccer program at the University of Toledo in 2015.

Over a three-month period the Guardian has spoken with former players, coaches, University of Toledo staff, and families of former University of Toledo students to be able to reveal for the first time the circumstances behind Evans’ sudden departure from the University of Toledo, how the university managed reports about his behavior, and how he has still been allowed to hold prominent positions within the game in the US.

The Guardian also heard multiple allegations by former players and coaches of sexual assault and harassment by Evans and how they were unable to report inappropriate behavior or, if they did, how those reports were marginalized by a system that was supposed to protect them.

•••

“I said to [Evans’ wife], ‘Where are Brad and Candice?’” recalls Jen Whipple of the night of Evans’ alleged assault on Fabry. “[Evans’ wife] said, ‘I don’t know, let’s go find them’.”

Whipple had been a highly-rated goalkeeper at the University of Toledo, and at the time of the alleged assault was a member of the university’s coaching staff.

“[Evans’ wife] went to pay her tab and I walked in and saw Brad on his phone standing outside the women’s restroom,” recalls Whipple. She says Evans told her he didn’t know where Candice was but Whipple found Fabry crying in a bathroom stall. “Brad just kissed me,” Whipple recalls Fabry saying.

The following day, according to Whipple, she saw Fabry at the women’s soccer program office.

“I asked her again what happened [at the restaurant] and I am ashamed to say it now but I told her that she had to be careful what she should say because it could bring down the program,” says Whipple. “I was coming from loyalty and Toledo first. I was 23 years old and the messaging was always that you can ruin a man’s life. It wasn’t until much later that Candice told me the extent of what happened.”

Fabry says there was nothing in her relationship with Evans as player and coach that suggested he may make a sexual advance. “No texting or flirting,” Fabry says. She does remember during her senior year that Evans commented to teammates that of everyone on the roster her nipples were the most visible through her matchday uniform.

“That was a group setting and everyone was kind of laughing but I remember feeling weird and awkward,” Fabry says. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, you’re looking at my boobs’. He would always find time to mention players’ boobs.”

Several weeks after the alleged assault at El Camino Real, Fabry was invited to a bar by another University of Toledo assistant coach, Paul Fabry (Candice and Paul Fabry would marry several years later; for clarity the Guardian is using Candice Fabry’s married name in this story). Evans was also at the bar. Candice Fabry drank water that night and recalled that when Paul went to the bathroom, Evans turned to her and asked: “Did I kiss you?” Evans apologized and Fabry, unsure of his motivations but wanting to move forward in their professional relationship, replied: “Let’s pretend it never happened.”

Evans and the Fabrys (they were not in a relationship at the time) eventually left the bar and went to Evans’ home. His wife and children were away. Coaches and players often spent time at Evans’ house for team dinners or just hanging out. It was part of the team culture and not unusual to end up there.

At one point at the Evans house, Candice left the living room to use the bathroom. When done, she opened the bathroom door to find Evans blocking the doorway with his arm. Fabry says Evans said to her: “Paul can’t see us”. Fabry says Evans tried to push her back into the bathroom by her shoulders. She says she ducked under his arm and yelled at Evans: “It is never going to happen.” She went back to the living room, got her car keys, ran out the door and drove home.

Evans did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Fabry’s recollections but did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo. That statement is included below.

•••

By most measures, Brad Evans was very successful leading the University of Toledo’s women’s soccer program. His 13-year reign saw the team win three Mid-American Conference regular-season championships and bring four MAC tournament titles back to Toledo. The team qualified for the national NCAA tournament in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. Appropriately, Evans was MAC Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2011.

As a player, Molly Cornwell is acknowledged as the greatest-ever player with the University of Toledo’s women’s soccer program. Cornwell was the MAC’s Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and, in 2016, she was inducted to the university’s Hall of Fame. An elite youth player, she had offers from other universities to join their prestigious programs: Ohio State, Kentucky, Virginia.

“Something about the team chemistry brought me to Toledo,” Cornwell told the Guardian. “It wasn’t about the individual, like most of the schools. It was about how we can be better as a team. No other program was like that.”

During her time at the university, UT won the MAC conference three times but Cornwell missed four-in-a-row in her senior year. That 2009 season, she says, is the year that Evans persistently told her she was overweight.

“I was told I was too fat, over and over again,” says Cornwell today. “The pressure led me to an eating disorder and then ultimately a substance abuse disorder with alcohol. Trying to forget the pain and agony it endured. It’s a real trial and tribulation that most athletes don’t understand. Not [just] athletes but people in general.”

Cornwell stayed another year at the University of Toledo and, like Fabry several years before her, accepted a position with the women’s soccer program as a volunteer assistant coach. It was at that moment, Cornwell says, Evans dramatically switched gears.

“It was that year [2010] that Brad, my mentor, the guy I idolized and wanted to be, changed,” Cornwell recalls. “It was that year that we would go out as a staff, group drinking, and the harassment comments started. Comments like ‘You aren’t seeing someone’ and ‘Nobody cares’ and ‘Nobody will know.’”

At the end of each fall season, it was tradition for the team to have a banquet for senior players at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Toledo. Families of departing senior players would be invited. The December 2010 banquet led to an after-party in Evans’ suite at the hotel. Cornwell went to use the bathroom in the suite and when she opened the door she says Evans was blocking her.

“His arm was across the bathroom doorway so I couldn’t get out,” Cornwell says. “He was telling me he wanted me and knew that I did too. I said no. He pushed onto me, touched my face, I pushed and pushed until I got him away and ducked under him and ran out the door and to the street. I thought, wow. Then I thought [how] lucky [I was]. Then I thought, ‘How many other people had this happen to them?’”

Another member of staff present at the event that night, speaking anonymously because of a fear of personal and professional repercussions, recalls: “I was with Molly the night that it happened to her. I remember her crying to me and her being inconsolable about what he did to her.”

“It shattered my world,” Cornwell says. “My mentor. Someone I looked up to. Someone who I thought could teach me how to be an amazing coach now that I was an assistant. Who would do that? Who would take advantage of someone? He would. I only wish I spoke up sooner.”

Evans did not reply to the Guardian’s questions about Cornwell’s allegations but did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo. That statement is included below.

•••

“There was a culture of drinking,” says Cailin Preston*, a member of the coaching staff while Evans’ was in charge of the program. “Everything was always about booze and alcohol. I remember one night I was driving him home from a bar. [Evans] was holding my hand. I was 24 and he was in his 40s and I remember being really confused about what he was doing. He kept on repeating in the car: ‘This is so hard. This is so hard’, over and over.”

Preston remains uncertain of what Evans was referring to.

“He was drunk and I was laughing and kept on trying to change the subject,” she recalls. “That was the first time I remember being very uncomfortable. Like, why are you holding my hand?”

Preston recalls Evans would make sexual comments about players – their personal lives – and make sexual innuendos during work conversations.

“He wore me down with all these things,” Preston says. “It became kind of normal which is so sickening. I remember one time, ‘Do you want to hear a joke about my dick? It’s too long.’ And you laugh because what else are you supposed to do? Say that’s inappropriate? I might get fired. And that was constant. All the time with him.”

If a player was not performing at her best, Preston said that Evans suggested: “Her boyfriend needs to step up.” One player was singled out by Evans. “Look at her tits bounce,” Preston recalls Evans saying. “Always about her boobs,” says Preston.

Another former University of Toledo assistant coach speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, says: “He would make disgusting comments when players were running. He made an observation one time in front of me and [Cailin]… “Look at that girl’s boobs when she is running. Like OK, why [do you want me] to look at that?”

A third former assistant coach adds: “Comments about players. Their breasts. The size of their butt. Players that had put on weight and how they might have done that.”

Preston says during her time at the University of Toledo, Evans’ behavior graduated from comments to unwanted physical contact.

“He grabbed my butt at the indoor training facility and then it kept going for an extended period of time,” Preston recalls. “I finally gave in and kissed him. It is something that I am very ashamed of but what do you do? He’s my boss. I didn’t have an option at that point. I wanted to be a college coach and he had power for my future. That happened a few times.

“It never went past kissing. He would try to go further and I would say that I’m not comfortable with this and let’s wait to try and bide time. I remember feeling it was so wrong but had to do it. Otherwise, what am I going to do? I’m going to say no and I will be jobless or I am going to say no and this guy is going to control my future and I’m not going to get any coaching jobs [in the future].

“I felt that if I gave in to what he wanted to do, he would treat me well. When I started to date my future husband I got banished. I got treated really poorly. I wasn’t included in things. I wasn’t one of his people. It was like a cult. At that point I ended up leaving but the experience at Toledo directly impacted the rest of my life.”

Evans did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the Guardian concerning Preston’s allegations but did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo. That statement is included below.

•••

Danielle Case played at the University of Toledo under Brad Evans from 2008 for four seasons. She recalls Evans as a good coach on the field – the results spoke to that – but the environment was always stressful.

“Always on eggshells,” she says. “Always tense.”

Case had a big plan to leave her hometown of Toledo when she finished college. As plans sometimes do, things didn’t work out and she stayed in town not knowing exactly what to do next. Plan B: Case accepted an offer from Evans to join his coaching team in a “graduate assistant” role while also pursuing her master’s degree. It seemed the perfect opportunity when everything else seemed like a dead end. Very soon, however, Case learned that being a member of staff came with a different type of tension to when she was a player.

“We would get box lunches and [Evans] would have a pickle,” Case says. “He’d say, ‘Does anyone want my pickle?’ If you said yes, he would have to make an inappropriate comment about it.”

At the end of the 2012 season, the women’s soccer program held its traditional annual banquet at the Crowne Plaza in Toledo to celebrate the departing senior players. Case reserved a room at the hotel with a co-worker and joined the rest of the team’s staff, senior players and their families at an Irish bar in Toledo’s downtown area.

When the party at the bar ended, some members of the team and staff crammed into a mini-van for a ride back to the Crowne Plaza. Case recalls being squeezed in the middle of a bench seat between a player and Evans.

“I feel a squeeze on my right side and [Evans] is moving his hand up underneath my dress,” Case says of the drive from the bar to the hotel. “I freaked out and threw [the player] up into the air and yanked my dress down. In my head I thought it was a mistake but, as soon as I sat down, [Evans] immediately did it again. This time more aggressively, showing it was intentional. I froze.

“Many of us are daddy’s girls and when you go to college to play soccer a coach kind of takes on that father figure role. You want to make him proud. Then add on that time of my life was the most vulnerable I have ever been – being so uncertain about so many things – and having this person who you think wants the best for you and looks out for you to do that …”

Case pauses.

“When it is that guy, your coach and your boss, that shit messes you up.”

Case says the group got out of the bus when it arrived at the Crowne Plaza. She grabbed hold of the player she had sat next to on the bus and ran into a stairwell where she broke down.

“I was hysterical,” says Case.

Case didn’t return to her room that night - a fact confirmed to the Guardian by the staff member she had reserved the room with. Instead, she slept on the floor of the room of the player she sat next to on the bus. The player was sharing that room with her parents.

Years later the player’s parent would say to Case about the night: “I can’t tell you what it was like to watch you like that.”

“We kept this to ourselves for so many years,” says Case. “It doesn’t just impact us as individuals. It impacts our families, loved ones, and future loved ones, as they learn about our experiences.”

Evans did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about Case’s allegations but did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo. That statement is included below.

•••

“Brad Evans had to be the smartest person in the room at all times and he was not afraid to be critical of athletes or staff”, explains former UT staff member Marley Merritt*. “It was a high stress environment from student athletes to staff. There was a lot of conflict with his staff and if they challenged him or had an idea they wanted to contribute it would be a power struggle.”

“Within the staff there was a lot of sexual innuendos,” adds Merritt. “It felt like we were always talking about sex and always with innuendos. There were always jokes about pickles.”

Merritt says she initially felt welcome as a staff member but early in her tenure conversations with Evans would pivot to an unwanted direction.

“He was asking questions that I thought were inappropriate about sexual fantasies. He was trying to get to know you but he took it in a sexual direction. I was really put off by that but he wouldn’t let it go. I didn’t want to respond. He wouldn’t let it go until you responded. I didn’t report it to anyone at the university. It was like an everyday topic of conversation.”

Merritt says there was often alcohol around the staff: happy hours at bars, drinking on road trips, or parties at Evans’ family home. At one party where Evans’ wife was present, Merritt recalls Evans texting her with an invitation to meet him around the side of his house while the party continued inside. Merritt declined his suggestion but says over the rest of the night she drank more alcohol than was safe to drive home. She stayed in a guest room at Evans’ home and awoke in the night to find Evans standing next to the bed with his crotch in her face.

“I remember being taken aback by it,” Merritt says “I don’t remember if I did anything. I do remember he left quickly. The next morning I got up and left as soon as I could.”

Asked if that incident was normal behavior between her and Evans, Merritt says: “That was unexpected. I didn’t expect that at all. I did not stay over with the expectation or the thought that would happen. It wasn’t discussed again. I never reported anything. I never said anything.”

Merritt says there were continuing sexual advances.

“I said no until he wore me down,” she says. “I was tired of saying no. So at some point in the fall of 2014 I would say things escalated [between us]. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. There were multiple places [where sexual encounters occurred]. A lot of times it was on road trips. In a hotel room. Mostly his hotel room. There was one time at the soccer building on campus. In the staff locker room. It went on for months. There was never intercourse.

“He would treat me differently if I said no and he would be more difficult to work with and challenge me on everything. If you went along with it he made your life easier at work. If you rejected his advances he would make life difficult for you and if you agreed to some of his sexual advances everything would be ‘great’.

Adds Merritt: “I have a lot of guilt and shame and embarrassment around that I did it. I felt like I didn’t do enough or more to stop it and that I kept going back. But I don’t know what other option that I had. I think he stopped it because his wife was asking him about it. I was relieved. I was happy that it was over.”

Evans did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about Merritt’s allegations but did provide a statement to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo. That statement is included below.

•••

Candice Fabry quit her role with the University of Toledo in November 2007, after her first season on the coaching staff. The team had won the MAC championship that season, but Fabry did not receive a championship ring while players and other staff did. After she left the university, Fabry told her parents and a former teammate of what had happened earlier in the year with Evans.

“I ignored him in every way, shape, and form,” Fabry says of that season as an assistant coach. “I tried to put on a good face in front of the players but I limited every interaction I had with him. I was scared to death that he would try it again. I was scared to death that he thought I liked it or wanted it. I was thinking I don’t want to be here but I need the next job. I want the next job to be coaching soccer. Brad was my number one reference. He coached me for four years.”

On 15 February 2015, Fabry sent an email to the University of Toledo email address of Kelly Andrews. The university’s website currently lists Andrews as senior associate athletic director, a role she took on in 2008. The website says Andrews “has served as the Rockets’ senior woman administrator since June of 2002”. Mike O’Brien may have been the university’s athletic director but Andrews was credited with managing women’s sports including soccer.

Fabry’s subject line for the email to Andrews was: “Information I should have told you in 2007”. The email described experiences and interactions with Evans including many details in this story. Fabry wrote to Andrews about the night in 2007:

On my way to the bathroom, I saw Brad in the hallway and he grabbed me into a side room, began kissing me and was attempting to put his hands down my pants. I froze for a moment unsure of what was happening, but then quickly pushed him back with both hands and started screaming ‘no, no, no’.

In email correspondence seen by the Guardian, Andrews replied two days later:

Candace [sic]

I wanted to confirm that I have received your email. I’m not able to make any comment on it at this time….

If you have any questions, please feel free to call.

Thank you.

Kelly

In a telephone interview with the Guardian, Andrews said she was not told about alleged assaults or harassment by Brad Evans involving a University of Toledo assistant coach in 2007.

Asked if she was told anything about alleged events regarding Evans and an assistant coach in 2007, Andrews replied: “No.”

After sending the email to Andrews, Fabry received a telephone call from a university human resources representative, who asked about her experiences as a player at the university. It is unknown if Fabry’s email triggered the call. Fabry recalls very few questions from the HR representative about the email she had sent Andrews.

On 24 February 2015, Evans resigned as head coach of the university’s women’s soccer program. A brief announcement from O’Brien gave no reason for the sudden departure but a statement by Evans published by a Toledo television station the same day referred to relationships with multiple co-workers. “It was clear that my interactions with those co-workers demonstrated poor judgment on my part, and were against university policy, and resigning was best for all involved,” Evans wrote.

There was no mention in statements by the university or Evans of alleged assaults on Fabry. The university did not respond to specific questions from the Guardian about allegations by former players and coaches in this story. In an emailed statement Adrienne King, University of Toledo’s vice-president of marketing and communications, wrote:

UToledo did conduct an investigation following a report by a student-athlete in January 2015 of verbal harassment by Brad Evans, who was at the time the Head Coach of the women’s soccer team. The investigation did find that Mr. Evans’ conduct toward student-athletes may have violated the University’s Standards of Conduct policy, however, the case was not referred for possible disciplinary action because by the conclusion of the investigation in March 2015, Mr. Evans had already resigned his position effective Feb. 23, 2015.

No former player or coach interviewed for this story said they were aware of any other player or coach alleging verbal harassment by Evans at that time. Those details are important. Although the university had received a report containing serious allegations of assault, the report was not enough to trigger an investigation or a call to the police.

Perhaps if the university had publicly revealed Fabry’s allegations against Evans, it could have resulted in a different future. Two years after his resignation, Evans accepted multiple roles with the Ohio North Youth Soccer Association and its Olympic Development Program and as a United States Soccer Federation coaching instructor. The USSF did not respond to multiple requests for how its coaching instructors are selected and hired. In 2018, the Ohio North Youth Soccer Association – precursor to the Ohio Soccer Association – learned of the allegations against Evans by Fabry that she had reported to the University of Toledo prior to his resignation.

In a report received by the Guardian from the Toledo Police Department, police confirmed an investigation has been established into events at the University in 2007. The investigation is currently listed as “pending”.

Fabry has continued her own coaching career and, like Evans, is an Olympic Development Program coach and USSF coaching education instructor. Since 2007, she has participated alongside Evans at ODP events, and US Soccer coaching instructor staff events. She has also coached teams in games against opponents coached by Evans.

“I am used to being part of the boys club and being the only female in male groups,” says Fabry. “I remember thinking if I accuse this man of sexually assaulting me, all of these clubs of men are never going to hire the woman who said that her coach assaulted her. That was all I knew in my head. I didn’t want to get involved in it. I was thinking, I don’t want to be here but I need the next job. I was scared out of my mind.”

  • Brad Evans did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or emailed questions regarding specific allegations contained in this story. He did provide a statement by to the Guardian about his departure from the University of Toledo:

In 2015 I was asked to answer questions about my relationships with some past co-workers. It was clear that my interactions with those co-workers demonstrated poor judgment on my part, and were against university policy, and resigning was best for all involved.

With the help of counseling, I have learned a lot about the causes of my behavior. I am extremely lucky to have the support of my wife in this process. Together, I continue to learn to become a better person.

I am deeply sorry to have disappointed so many individuals, but I continue to work on making a positive future.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my perspective.

  • *Some names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals concerned about personal and professional repercussions from speaking publicly about their experiences.

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