You hear it all the time, from high school coaches.
“We don’t do it for the money. We do it for the love the sport and the kids.”
But that love that coaches show, both locally and around the country, isn’t always reciprocated by school boards and parents.
It has made the term “resign” both popular and vague.
It has put winning coaches in unwinnable situations.
And maybe most embarrassingly, it has allowed parents with children in high school to have the ball in their court far too many times.
So why not change?
It is something a New Jersey state senate bill is trying to do.
In an effort to prevent high school coaches to being fired without cause, a new bill would secure longer contracts for tenured coaches and change rules regarding firing allowances.
New Jersey state senator Troy Singleton introduced the bill in June that would ensure three-year contracts for head coaches who are tenured employees at public high schools and two-year contracts for assistants who meet the same criteria in the Garden State.
The bill also states that coaches cannot be fired or have their pay cut for “arbitrary or capricious reasons” and “only for just cause.”
Unfortunately, several local coaches haven’t been able to escape from the recourse of such complaints.
In December, former Belle Vernon girls soccer coach Tom Cameron was ousted after a heated school board meeting where players, parents and community supporters came to his defense.
Cameron was 25-9-1 in two years and led the Leopards to an undefeated Class 2A Section 3 record last October.
Former South Fayette girls basketball coach Matt Bacco resigned after the 2017-18 season concluded. He took the high road by saying it was a good opportunity to make a change and would be a break from the demanding schedule of coaching.
But Bacco also said being a high school coach can be “difficult” and that it’s “well-documented what the state of coaching is today.”
In 10 years, Bacco was 173-78 and his teams never finished lower than third place in the section standings.
The one major concern with the bill in New Jersey is that a power-hungry coach could abuse that power and would be tough to remove.
However, you might not have situations similar to what happened at Waynesburg when longtime football coach Russ Moore was asked by a pair of school officials to “resign, effective immediately” with two weeks left in the 2017 season. No reason for the coaching change was made public.
The Raiders had a 1-6 record but only three seniors and four juniors on their rebuilding roster.
Moore, one of the longest-tenured coaches in the area, obliged with a letter of resignation ending his third stint as Waynesburg’s coach. He retired in 2015 as the school’s football coach and athletic director but returned to the sidelines when a new coach for the program couldn’t be found.
So what is the state of coaching these days?
Most school districts in Western Pennsylvania operate under a year-by-year contract with coaches, meaning coaching jobs are opened annually. For some local athletic directors, who also serve as coaches, they understand the challenge of their peers.
“Here is what I tell young coaches,” McGuffey High School athletic director and football coach Ed Dalton began. “When I first started coaching, five people up in the stands would talk about how stupid I was. And five other fans would hear it. Now, they go home and put it on social media. People read all that stuff and it becomes fact. I don’t know if you can ever put that genie back in the bottle.”
Dalton said the McGuffey School Board is a rarity because it listens and takes the word of administration, especially in the hiring and firing process. Though the district hires coaches to yearly contracts, Dalton agrees that longer contracts to first-time hires would be beneficial, then to evaluate as the contract persists.
“The year-to-year (contract) isn’t always the best plan for the coach or the school district,” Dalton said. “Coaches used to be hired for three to five years. I don’t know many schools hire for three to five years anymore. If you are willing to hire a coach, then you should be willing to give him or her time to get their feet wet and get rolling. At McGuffey, I don’t deal with what other athletic directors have to deal with.”
Similarly, Mike Bosnic, the athletic director and football coach at Washington, said he’s been fortunate that he hasn’t had to deal with many of those situations.
“I have, just like everybody else in Western Pennsylvania, seen some situations that make you feel bad,” Bosnic said. “Whether it’s politically motivated or not, sometimes it just doesn’t seem right.”
The same athletic directors who hire these coaching candidates, with the ultimate support of the school board, too often end up looking sooner rather than later for a replacement.
“There is a lot that goes into it,” Bosnic said. “It just seems like it’s getting harder and harder to find coaches and officials to fill positions. You want to fill them with good quality people. People don’t want to deal with the negative. I’ve been fortunate at Washington. Our community normally understands it’s not all about wins and losses.”
But it seems more and more that r-word comes up again and again. Anymore, the definition of resign usually means fired or forced out, instead of a better opportunity has been found, time with family takes precedent or even that you walked out on your own terms.
More often than not, resigning comes with a whole different story that gets swept under the rug.
Maybe the best part of changing the coaching contracts is that unlike what they are trying to do in New Jersey, it doesn’t have to be approved in legislation. It doesn’t need to be like the private vs. public debate that the PIAA still can’t figure out. It can be solved within school districts.
The bill in New Jersey says if given a poor evaluation, coaches will be guaranteed a year to correct the mistakes.
But was it really poor performance or power abused that forced out Moore? Or Bacco? Or Cameron? Or about 100 other coaches locally in the past decade?
Last month, a complaint led to several Trinity High School girls basketball players and parents rallying at a school board meeting in support of head coach Bob Miles.
In seven years at Trinity, Miles has a 123-56 record and guided the Hillers to six straight WPIAL and PIAA playoff appearances. In 2017, they became the first Washington County girls basketball program to appear in a state title game.
Miles isn’t – and shouldn’t be – going anywhere.
So I ask, like many in charge of these decisions should, who are you going to hire that’s better? Is the next John Wooden going apply for the basketball coach’s job? Is the next Chuck Noll likely to apply for the head coaching position at your local high school?
Staff writer Luke Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.