ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
After months of silence, the former coach of Duke University's lacrosse team has started to talk. Mike Pressler was fired last year after three of his players were accused of rape. Those players were later cleared, the state dismissed all charges, and the district attorney was disbarred for withholding evidence. Coach Pressler has just written a book.
Nancy Cook of member station WRNI visited him at his new job at a small university in Rhode Island.
NANCY COOK: Mike Pressler's new office isn't glamorous. It's very white and bare, and it's smaller than most people's walk-in closets. Just as he's about to begin talking about his experience at Duke, there's a knock on the door.
Unidentified Man: One of my star recruits is here.
Mr. MIKE PRESSLER (Former Coach, Duke University's Lacrosse Team): One second.
COOK: Jeff Hayes(ph) is an 18-year-old from Greensborough, North Carolina. I asked Hayes if he'd ever heard of Bryant University before Pressler got there.
Mr. JEFF HAYES (Student, Bryant University): No, ma'am. I'd gotten letters from there before he was a coach. But they just kind of went in the pile and I never looked at them, didn't know they existed so.
COOK: Hayes is part of Pressler's plan to transform Bryant's fledging lacrosse team into a regional powerhouse. This is a big change from Duke University where Pressler coached for 16 years, won three conference championships, and was voted Coach of the Year in the conference three times.
But Pressler says that feels like another lifetime. He still remembers the day when he heard about the infamous party.
Mr. PRESSLER: I got a call from the dean of students. There was an alleged gang rape involving strippers and members of the lacrosse team. And then two things she said. Number one is, quote, "the accuser wasn't credible." And number two is, this should go away.
COOK: But it didn't go away. The district attorney publicly called the players hooligans before he even brought charges. Pressler remembers asking the captains about their underage drinking, the strippers, and this alleged rape.
Mr. PRESSLER: Coach, this didn't happen. We did not touch this girl. We had the party. That was stupid. That's all we did. And I said to those guys, I said, fellows, I'll back you to the end if you swear on my children you're telling me the truth. And coach, they said, we swear. They couldn't say it fast enough.
COOK: Pressler believes the story captured so much attention because it had great narrative elements: race, class, and the town and gallant setting of Durham, North Carolina. He says that story overshadowed the facts. Still, Pressler says, his bosses assured him three times that his job was safe.
Mr. PRESSLER: Did we ever think it was going to cost us our season and cost me my job? On three occasions they said, absolutely not, Mike, you should not be worried about your job.
COOK: Twelve days later, Duke forfeited two big lacrosse games. Then Duke cancelled the season and fired Pressler. He had about an hour to negotiate his severance.
Mr. PRESSLER: We're doing this, firing you, because of your team's past disciplinary record. I go, wait a minute now. You just gave me a three-year contract extension when all of this was out there. So I think that was just and answer that was concocted at the time.
COOK: Pressler applied for jobs at three other schools. Nothing. The new athletic director of Bryant University heard through a mutual friend that he was looking. They signed a deal in August.
Pressler said it was hard for him to leave North Carolina. His two daughters were born there. Pressler spent months living alone in a Rhode Island apartment while his family sold their house. During that time, it was hard for him to return to Durham.
Mr. PRESSLER: You know, you're going back there and this thing was hanging over our heads. And even though it was still hanging over our heads up in Rhode Island, you know, I'm 13 hours away from it.
COOK: The rape charges were dropped in December. Pressler and Duke University reached the financial settlement although neither would discuss the details. The university didn't want to comment. Pressler's angriest feelings are still towards the Durham district attorney, Mike Nifong, who pursued the case even as contrary evidence kept mounting. Pressler says he'd like to meet Nifong today.
Mr. PRESSLER: First thing I will say to him - why? Was it worth it? Do you understand what you did to these people for your own self-interest here? And how dare you and who are you? And, you know, by the grace to God here, you didn't get away with it.
COOK: Pressler says he doesn't have any plans to file lawsuits for now. He's too busy on his book tour promoting his tale of what happened.
For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cook in Providence.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.