Georgia Tech assistant backs out-on-leave Joseph

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A Georgia Tech official said there is no change in status for women's basketball coach MaChelle Joseph, who was put on administrative leave on Feb. 27.

Assistant coach Mark Simons, who has been guiding the Yellow Jackets in Joseph's absence, spoke out in support of her after the team's 80-73 loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament Thursday.

"This is her team. She was the leader of this team, not me," Simons said. "She put this team together. She recruited this team. Those two kids [Elizabeth Balogun and Elizabeth Dixon] that were on the [ACC] all-freshman team, one being freshman of the year [Balogun], those were her kids. She's my friend. She's my boss and the reason I came to Tech."

Georgia Tech associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Joeleen Akin said that there is no timetable for announcing a decision about Joseph's future with the program.

"There's nothing that we can say except that we're just trying to move as thoroughly and swiftly as possible," Akin said. "Because it's a personnel issue, we don't want to comment on anything."

Joseph, a former Purdue standout as a player, is in her 16th season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. Her attorney, Lisa Banks, said last week that Joseph has not been told the specifics of why she was put on leave, and called it an "act of retaliation" for Joseph, raising concerns about gender equity issues in the school's athletic department.

Two players who had started throughout this season, junior Francesca Pan and sophomore Kierra Fletcher, have missed the Yellow Jackets' last three games. They last played Feb. 24 in a loss at Virginia. Contacted by espnW, Fletcher said she was not allowed to speak with the media about her situation.

Akin said the players' status remains that they are away from the team due to personal reasons.

Former Georgia Tech player Antonia Peresson said she was fired from her job as administrative assistant on Friday. She told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the reason was she had a private conversation with one of the Georgia Tech student-athletes, which she said had been forbidden by the administration.

Simons is in his second stint as an assistant at Georgia Tech; he previously worked there for Joseph from 2006 to 2008. He has also been an assistant women's coach at Michigan State and head men's coach at Elon, among other stops in a 35-year coaching career.

"These kids were really resilient," Simons said of the Yellow Jackets' response to the absence of Joseph, Pan and Fletcher. "Some kids had to play that hadn't ordinarily played and increased their minutes and so on. I thought these kids stay focused. Our practices have been good.

"This is really a great group of kids, and they did an awesome job of staying the course: blinders on, let's go forward. Let's slide in the back door of the NCAA tournament somehow."

Georgia Tech fell to 17-13 with Thursday's loss and is considered out of the running now for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. But the Yellow Jackets could compete in the WNIT, as they have the past four seasons.

Akin was asked if the school would accept a WNIT invitation, in light of what's going on with Joseph.

"We don't have to decide that right now," Akin said. "We'll assess the situation and talk about it as an administration and with the team. We'd like to see what the team is thinking. We need to look at everything.

"We're really here for these kids; these kids are very important to us. We just want to talk through things with them."