It took a few tries, but the powers-that-be at Notre Dame Prep got it right this time.
The Catholic high school in north Scottsdale confirmed last week that George Prelock will climb the ladder from freshman football coach to take over the varsity program following a very high-profile clash with the Arizona Interscholastic Association that ended in a devastating close to the 2016 football season.
The team was put on probation for conducting a summer football class that had players in helmets and full pads, thus violating an AIA bylaw. An additional recruiting violation was also assessed, but the penalty for that violation was allowed to run concurrently so that the Saints would not be held out of the 2017 playoffs.
But the school was ruled ineligible for the 2016 5A playoffs – after finishing the regular season with an 8-2 record. Its head football coach, Mark Nolan, was fired at the conclusion of the season and just before the AIA heard an appeal from Notre Dame. The school had hoped his dismissal would show its attempt to correct the situation and lessen the penalty.
Nolan, who was only in his second season, fired off a 1,526-word letter to parents that also appeared in the media, defending his actions and claiming the allegations against him were false. He blamed the school administrators for not standing behind him and prohibiting him from publicly defending his position, which he said resulted in his 22-year reputation as a coach being “slandered in the media” and “irreparably harmed.”
Throughout the four-month review of the allegations, first presented to the AIA executive Board in August, Notre Dame first denied the violation and then argued against any penalties – but eventually conceded and tried to self-impose penalties that would lessen any AIA measures.
During that time, Notre Dame’s image took a hit as the process played out in the media. As a former coach at the school and part of the Notre Dame ‘family’, that was especially painful for me.
NDP President Jim Gmelich, who was a key player in the controversy, resigned his position in mid-December following a show of disapproval from the parents, who had circulated a petition in October calling for his removal.
But now, with the elevation of Prelock, it appears the school has made the smart decision in putting a foundation in place for the football program’s future. Instead of looking outside for its new coach, the school reportedly kept its interview process centered on several coaches already in the system, eventually selecting Prelock who has been on staff at the school for the past 12 years and freshman coach since 2014.
He has enjoyed a successful three seasons in charge of the frosh, going undefeated his first year and posting 7-1 and 6-3 records the last two seasons.
The players seem to be on board with the selection. Many of those who enjoyed playing for Prelock as freshmen will be back to help him with the varsity. The transition to a new coach will be minimal because of the decision to hire in-house.
Hey, after the chaos the players have been through during the past season, they’re entitled to some love.
And this time Notre Dame will know exactly what it’s getting in its new coach.