Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
After months of speculation of a football coach’s future, word comes out that he has officially lost that title. He says a few well-chosen words about the opportunity given him, and then he moves on — after less than a year on the job.
And with that, the move is made and the hiring process is in full swing.
Sound familiar? If you follow Southern Lee football, there’s no doubt you’ve seen this movie before.
On May 18, 2009, it was confirmed by one school official — at the time it was then-Athletic Director Cletis Gore — that Cavaliers football coach Bill Maczko was no longer at the helm. That was as far as any official comment went, and Maczko’s 363-day reign on the gridiron was over. To this day, no reason has been given by Southern Lee officials or Lee County Schools for Maczko’s release.
Fast-forward one year. In fact, exactly one year later, right down to the day — May 18. After months of swirling rumors since the head football coaching position appeared on the state jobs board online, Cavaliers coach Eric Puryear said on Tuesday night that he had stepped away from the program, feeling, he said, that the move was in the best interests for all the parties involved.
But despite repeated attempts by The Herald seeking comment from Lee County Schools, Southern Lee Principal Bonnie Almond or Athletic Director Jolanda Clunie — it’s now five days and counting, and there seems little reason to continue counting — no one affiliated with Lee County Schools has commented on the departure of a teacher and coach hired just 11 months ago in June 2009.
Are they upset it didn’t work out? Disappointed a man they were so enamored with less than a year ago is leaving? Do they feel bad for the players? Any words of reassurance to the students? Or to the kids’ parents, the ones they say they always want so badly to be a daily influence in children’s lives at school?
Maczko’s short tenure came under a different principal, Rob Dietrich, who was a key player in the hiring of Puryear, who came to Southern Lee after successful stops as a position coach and coordinator at the small college level.
But while there was little comment from Dietrich’s administration during the string of parental allegations of abuse that sunk Maczko, Almond did initially step forward in the early stages of Puryear’s downfall, calling the job posting “cautionary” and leaving it at that.
The reasoning isn’t necessarily unsound. Lateral entry teachers are now required to reapply for their jobs each year. Puryear fell under that category, and so posting his position could be classified as a cautionary move.
The problem is that this story didn’t end there — even if the school’s public support of Puryear essentially did in that moment. Almond gave no vote of confidence in Puryear at the time, instead choosing to remain inside the comfortable confines of a system policy that allows administrators to refrain from public comment on personnel issues. Puryear, Almond said, had requirements to meet in his contract. But she didn’t have to reveal what those requirements were, and so she didn’t.
And a community, much of it with a personal stake in the school, was left holding the bag, wondering just what in the world was going on — again.
The personnel policy is, in principle, probably a good rule. Teachers don’t have to worry about having their dirty laundry aired in public.
Problem is, if a teacher says his laundry is clean, but the boss won’t say one way or the other, then rumor and innuendo are allowed to run roughshod over the laundry basket and then throughout the entire laundromat. Everything gets stained.
A month after the initial comments after the job positing, the writing was on the wall. Almond confirmed in April that Puryear was not allowed to participate in spring football workouts. When asked whether she would like to have Puryear coaching the program again next season, Almond said, “I am not prepared to make that statement. Right now we are in the decision-making process.”
It would have been nice for someone to explain why. Was Puryear behind on the terms of his contract? Was the school system taking into account the best interests of its students over a single teacher’s? Parents, and even football fans, could certainly live with that.
Or was it something else?
Six weeks on, with rumors persisting that the school system was deep into the interview process and that an offer to a new coach may be imminent, Puryear decided to publicly make things official by saying he left the program.
Is it the truth? Has he been wronged in any way all this time?
The answer: we really don’t know. We’ve only heard his side of the story.
Perhaps the school system has done the noble thing throughout its second coaching ordeal in as many seasons at Southern Lee. Perhaps the system has taken the high road and allowed Puryear to walk away with his dignity and his reputation relatively intact.
It’s hard to tell.
Because they won’t say.
But after seeing the memorial placed at Paul Gay Stadium in honor of Josh Britt, and seeing his teammates wear their Jackets jerseys and hearing the football coaches speak at his funeral, surely we understand now just how much athletics can mean to our kids and their schools.
They have a right to know the truth.
They have a right to hear from their leaders on the decisions that directly affect them.