A few weeks ago, the long-time varsity boys basketball coach at Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua, NY was fired. He’d been the head coach there for 24 years. That’s a long time. And for many of his players, he was beloved.
But the AD at Greeley decided to make a change. And of course, because it’s standard school and state policy pretty much everywhere not to offer comments about why a coaching change was made, there was no official reason or explanation for the coach’s dismissal. “Just a change in direction” is the usual explanation.
Then about a week or so later, four long-time varsity coaches at Scarsdale HS (Scarsdale, NY) were also informed that their services were no longer needed. One of the coaches, faced with the reality of being let go, decided to resign instead.
Again, lots of outcry from the Scarsdale sports community about the abrupt dismissal: “How could this happen? Our kids LOVED playing for these people? How could the AD make such a radical move and not give any reason?”
IS THERE A BETTER WAY?
And again, as expected, no reasons were given except the standard “this is a personnel issue, and we’re not allowed to discuss it.”
The dismissal of long-time coaches is always charged with emotion. First, it’s a tough decision for the AD who has to make a case to the school board behind closed door to fire the coach. Then, once given the bad news, it’s always difficult for the coach to face the reality that his or her coaching tenure is over at that school. And of course, it’s also very, very tough on the HS athletes as this suddenly changes the landscape in their careers.
There are a lot of unknowns here for the kids: Who will be the new coach? How will the new coach run things? Most importantly, will the new coach see that I’m talented and good? And of course, the kids’ parents have the same concerns.
But let’s get back to the actual dismissal of the coach. It’s one thing, of course, if the coach didn’t have much of a successful win-loss record. At the varsity level, one of the top priorities is to win. No question. But does priority tallow the coach to play ONLY the team’s top players all the time, and not give other kids’ on the team any playing time?
And what about the coach’s ability to communicate? Is he “old school” and gruff with the kids with his feedback? If a kid comes to him and asks how he or she can get more playing time, does the coach simply tell them straight out: “Look, you’re too slow…or you’re too small….or you’re not as good as other kids on the team” or does the coach sugar coat their response?
My years of experience suggests to me that, in many cases, these two issues are often at the heart of these coaching changes: a lack of playing time for all kids, and the coach doesn’t communicate well. But the purpose of this column is to first focus on what’s the right way to announce to the community that a coach isn’t being re-hired.
Remember, HS coaches do not just have tenure like teachers. They are hired on a year-to-year basis, and they all know that. But if a coach has been on staff for a number of years, it becomes apparent that he or she has become a coaching fixture in that school. That’s one reason why it’s so jarring when it’s decided that they have been let go.
My question is….is there a better way to make these kinds of sudden coaching changes? Does the AD have any kind of responsibility to say more to the general community than “we just felt the program needed to go in a different direction?”
Or is that indeed enough?
Legal concerns aside, can the AD say in his explanation that each year, I sit down with the coach and give him or her an objective performance appraisal on what they need to improve….and unfortunately, in this case, the coach really didn’t make any significant progress.
Can they at least say that? Do you know whether your school’s AD even does annual performance reviews with his staff of varsity coaches? And if they do, can parents or athletes see that standard performance review sheet that is filled out? That, to me, would be interesting to see because it would give a real sense of what the AD’s top priorities for the school’s coaches.
One of the many callers this AM suggested that the coach should have the right to speak freely about why he or she was terminated. That is, the school can’t or won’t say anything, but the coach can. The same caller – Tom from North Arlington, NJ – also suggested that perhaps coaches should be allowed to get tenure — perhaps after being on staff for 5 or 7 years. And then, maybe that tenure is re-evaluated again every 5 years after that.
Another caller pointed out that in some cases, coaches have protested their dismissal, and have occasionally won their appeal to the school board. But it’s admitted that is very uncommon.
LIFE GOES ON…
The truth is, coaching changes come and go. It’s still very much a privilege to serve as a coach; it’s not a right. Even with just a few thousand dollars in salary, being a coach is a very special appointment. All that being said, there are lots of good coaches, but sadly, there are also weak ones. It’s the AD’s job to weed out the poor ones, and sometimes, even though some of the kids on the team (and their parents) truly cherish the coach, there are many other kids on the team who feel just the opposite.
It’s up to the AD, ultimately, to make the call.