Cesar Chavez High School will have a new head coach when the boys’ basketball season begins.
How that happened is the crux of the story. And it’s not the only coaching change causing a stir.
It’s not uncommon to make coaching changes in the offseason. There are generally more than a hundred moves that reach across the full spectrum of sports at the 200+ high schools in Arizona.
But change in the Cesar Chavez program is significant. For a number of reasons.
Gary Lee started the boys’ basketball program back in 1999 when the Laveen school opened. He has been the only head coach in that position for the last 20 years. He took a team that won just two games in his first season and built a career record of 402 wins and a couple of trips to the state championship game.
And, after 20 years on the bench, the coach who has spent 29 years as a high school coach hadn’t lost a step. His teams over the past five years have averaged 22 wins a season. Last year’s squad went 22-7 and made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament before losing to eventual champion Desert Vista HS.
So it’s easy to understand the surprise when he was told in early April that his coaching contract would not be renewed for the 2020-2021 season.
The reason for the school’s decision to part ways with a highly-successful coach that built its basketball program into one of the best in the state centered on a fight that broke out in the handshake line between his players and those on the Skyline High School team following a Nov. 30 game.
It turned into a huge brawl, complete with Phoenix police to restore order, and both teams had to forfeit their next game.
Several players were suspended on each team, but it was Lee who paid the price — despite having no control over what happened. The teachers’ union filed a grievance on his behalf, but the appeal to the Phoenix Union High School District failed in a 7-4 vote. Lee has been replaced by Joe Esposito.
It’s still hard to believe that a sudden emotional outburst by a group of teenagers could bring a successful coaching career to an abrupt end.
More recently…another sport, another surprise coaching change. This time, a coach who just won a national title.
Four weeks ago, Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School dismissed its head swim coach who led the girls’ 2018-19 team to a national public-school championship.
In mid-August, Richie Krzyzanowski was issued a notice of intent to dismiss by the Scottsdale Unified School District following an investigation by the Arizona Department of Education that found he “did not have the right credentials for the certificates he holds.”
The SUSD governing board determined that Krzyzanowski had falsified documents while applying for a principal’s certificate from the state.
Krzyzanowski, who has been teaching math at Chaparral since 2014 and also served as an assistant coach on the girls’ basketball and sand volleyball teams, was named Girls’ Swimming Coach of the Year when he took over the swim programs in the 2015-16 season.
His brother, Russell, who was an assistant on Krzyzanowski’s staff, has taken over the program and will have a team favored to win a third straight girls’ state championship, and quite possibly sweep both titles. Last year, the Chaparral girls finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country, while the boys’ team was No. 9.
The girls’ team returns most of its top swimmers, including Ashley Strouse, the reigning Arizona Republic Female Swimmer of the Year.