There’s something unsettling about finding out that a high school coach has been pushed out the door after giving more than three decades to building a successful program at that school.
And now it has happened twice during this school year.
Eric Kibler had hoped to coach baseball one more season at Scottsdale’s Horizon High School, giving players, staff, and parents the opportunity to prepare for the transition to a new head coach. It would seem like a simple request from a man who has given 38 years to the school and brought it six state championships.
But the school administration just denied that request.
Four months earlier, the administrators at Cactus High School in Glendale pulled the rug out from under Larry Fetkenhier as soon as the football season ended. Fetkenhier was the school’s head football coach for 33 years, during which time his teams posted just one losing season.
Fetkenhier, one of only seven coaches in Arizona to reach the 300-wins plateau, was in the process of deciding how much longer he wanted to continue coaching when he was suddenly informed that his services would no longer be needed.
He “resigned” and immediately there was shock and outrage from former players, parents, and many in the Glendale community who knew how much time he devoted not just to the game, but to making his players better individuals off the field.
Kibler, too, was respected for putting everything he had into his job and making it more than just about baseball. He molded young men.
One of his players, who is set to graduate next year, has been dealing with leukemia and Kibler says he would like to be there to continue supporting him and his family through his last year of school.
By Kibler’s standards, this is an off year for his program. The Huskies are currently 14-10, with four games remaining. But he’s had 22+ wins all but one of the last four years, going a combined 94-31 over that period. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s losing his touch.
The 69-year-old coach has won more baseball games (807) than any high school coach in Arizona history. He started the Horizon baseball program 38 years ago and has devoted most of his adult life to building it into something the school can take pride in owning.
Parents and players have begun voicing their protests over the firing, in the hopes the administration will reconsider its decision.
And Fetkenhier, just as much a legend in his own sport, has been posting numbers that many schools would be happy to embrace. The last five seasons included two 9-3 marks and one 8-3 finish.
His overall record at Cactus is 316-96-3. That means he won more than 76 percent of his games over a three-decade span. And along the way took his teams to seven state championship games, winning two state titles and 14 region/sectional championships.
So, what’s the rush? Why wouldn’t you reward these kinds of careers with more respect as they begin to wind down?
Another season for either man would seem like the least the school could do.
Both schools, by the way, issued the standard kiss-off statement of ambiguity they all use when they don’t have a good reason for the firing, or don’t want to divulge the real reason…the administration has decided to go in a different direction.
“I have put my heart and soul into this program and would like to end it on my terms,” said Kibler in his formal request to the Horizon administrators. “The program has brought the school positive recognition state-wide, nationally, and internationally.”
Seems like a pretty reasonable request.