Parents vs. Coaches: the real battle in high school sports

One thing about high school sports never seems to change: the battle for control between the school and the parents.

As the 2012 winter prep sports programs wrap up, it appears the parents are winning this year. According to an article by Mark Heller at the East Valley Tribune, Gilbert High School‘s head football coach was fired on Friday following complaints from an unidentified parent.

The “unidentified” part of that is particularly unsettling.  According to Leland Rodgers, who took over the program this year, he still hasn’t heard directly from the parent/parents that lodged a complaint against his program.  The parent took his/her dissatisfaction directly to the school administration.

That’s not the way the matter should have been handled.  Any responsible athletic director would tell an unhappy parent that the first step in the process is to take the issue up with the coach.  If it can’t be resolved at that point, then it can move up the line.

And I’m speaking as a high school coach who has been through the distasteful experience of dealing with parents trying to sabotage a program.  My administration, thankfully, made the effort to call the parties together, interview the players, and then determined the claims were baseless allegations made by a few parents who wanted the program run their way.

But it would appear the Gilbert administration folded under a little pressure and threats to take the complaints to the district.  Rodgers says he learned the complaint involved an allegation that he gave his players extra physical punishments for missing or being late to practice, and some additional allegations that one of his assistant coaches used profanity in dealing with the kids.

From what I know about the coaching fraternity, those allegations could be applied to most of the high school coaches in the state.  The problem with profanity isn’t as prevalent, but there are plenty that use it – and, as far as I know, there have been no incidents of it scarring young players for life.  I never used it, but that’s a personal preference.  Heck, the kids deal with far worse from their peers.

This kind of parental meddling is neither fair to the coach, nor to the players – who actually have the most invested in the program.  For some reason, the best interests of the kids are too often the last thing to be considered in these squabbles between the supposed adults in the room.  Bringing in a new coach every time a parent takes issue with his/her style of coaching is not in the best interest of the players.

Rodgers still doesn’t fully understand what happened.  When he was asked to resign, he refused, telling Heller: “I’m not going to have an admission of guilt, or resign, when I haven’t done anything, and nobody has said I have done anything.”  He said he understood the parent in question had threatened to take the issue to the school board and the school administration opted to get rid of their head coach rather than stand behind him – despite the fact that a group of players had supported their coach in a meeting with the principal, Christopher Stroud.

Stroud said in a prepared statement: “During this past season, the Gilbert High School football program has had too many distractions in order to maintain (the school’s) standards.”

OK, if those “distractions” were serious problems, the principal might have some cause to consider changing coaches.  But Rodgers apparently isn’t aware of any issues.  He’s still waiting to be told directly what he did wrong.

“Accordingly, we have decided to go in a different direction with Coach Rodgers,” Stroud continued.  “We thank him for his service and we wish him all the best in his future pursuits.”

That’s the wording generally used by the schools when firing their coaches…they decide “to go in a different direction.”  That avoids the necessity of having to answer specific questions.

It’s the same kind of phrasing Gilbert Christian High School used in January of 2011 when the school fired its head basketball coach, Steve Currier, in mid-season after Currier started the program seven years earlier and had taken the program to two state championships.  An unhappy parent, who was also a major donor, was credited with pushing the school to make the move.

It’s also basically the same words school officials at Desert Vista High School used after dismissing its head basketball coach, Doug Harris, the year before.  Harris ran the program for seven years and took his teams to a state championship game and a couple of state semi-final games during that time.  A couple of down years led to his ouster, but instead of admitting that, the school was able to attribute the decision to “looking to move in a different direction.”

These are but a couple of examples of the underside of the care and feeding of high school coaches.  It just seems to be getting worse the past few years.

Rodgers’ Gilbert team finished the season with just three wins.  But no one is going to use that as a reason for his firing.  That would send the wrong message to the kids, who have been told since grade school that there’s more to the game at this level than just winning.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time.  We’ve posted a number of articles on the issue through the years, and other media have shone a spotlight on the problem.  But still it continues.

And, even though this has been going on for a long time, maybe it’s time someone tell the kids the truth, that their sports programs aren’t really about them.  As in most divorces, they’re the ones who have the most to lose – but have the least to say about it.

Isn’t it time the parents start growing up?