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Lee: Parental pressure makes coaching a no-win endeavor

The more I’m around high school sports, the more I wonder why coaches want to coach these days.

The reward – and I’m not talking about wins or state championships for that matter – seems to be overshadowed too often by having to deal with discontented parents.

A classic case is the firing of Casey Curtis as Lewis and Clark’s girls soccer coach.

LC athletic director Jeff Norton made it clear that he didn’t support Casey’s dismissal. Norton also emphasized that he’s a good soldier and he supports his boss, principal Shawn Jordan, who made the final call.

Curtis was told he lacked communication and leadership skills. This came after LC went undefeated in the Greater Spokane League last fall and Curtis was named coach of the year.

“It’s been a situation that I have supported Casey 101 percent,” Norton said. “But I’m not the boss. The boss and I have respectfully had a tug of war about this one. Shawn thought it was time to go the proverbial different direction.”

What makes this all the more puzzling is Curtis was allowed to coach the boys this spring. LC goes to Richland for a regional game Saturday.

“He has been a champ this season (with the boys) in a very, very difficult situation,” Norton said. “It may be his best coaching job ever. I have seen nothing but him take the high road here.”

Norton wanted to dispel any rumors about Curtis’ dismissal.

“There’s no dirty laundry, no smoking gun,” Norton said. “That’s really, really important to point out. Any time there’s a male (coach) not retained who is the head coach of a female sport. … People can dig all they want, but there’s nothing.”

In fact, Norton plans to recommend Curtis for any girls coaching opening.

I called Jordan for further explanation. It was an opportunity for him to refute an accusation that because Jordan reportedly socializes with some of the girls soccer parents, that perhaps he offered disgruntled parents an easy audience. Jordan had his secretary return a call, saying he couldn’t comment because it’s a personnel issue.

What angers Curtis most is he was never told during the season last fall that parents had issues.

Unbeknownst to Curtis, a few parents went directly to Jordan. Curtis learned of this three months after the season.

“Early February was the first time anything was brought to my attention,” Curtis said. “We had a great season. We played well and had a few chemistry issues, but nothing that was a big concern.”

Curtis said that the issues shared by parents with Jordan were concerns about the lettering process for varsity players, some players who had off-the-field issues unrelated to the team, and an allegation by a parent of a junior varsity player that Curtis made fun of the player two years ago.

After a meeting with Jordan, Curtis was given a week to consider resigning. He met again with Jordan and Norton and at the end of the one-hour meeting, Jordan said he was going to go in a different direction – two weeks before the boys season began.

Norton asked Curtis if he wanted to still coach the boys. Curtis said he wouldn’t let the boys down by walking out on them.

LC’s girls have gone 27-2 in league the last three years. In six years under Curtis, the Tigers were state quarterfinalists twice, and earned their first league titles and state trips.

“What’s weird is no one complained the first years when we were terrible,” said Curtis, a substitute teacher for six years at LC. “I’ve led the team to unprecedented success and yet I don’t have communication and leadership skills?”

Curtis wasn’t told which parents talked with Jordan.

“I’m sour about the way it went down,” Curtis said. “I wish the parents had the guts to come to me and express their concerns.”

Kerry Novell has a daughter who plays soccer at LC. He supports Curtis and said there are many more who support him than have issues.

“Kids enroll at LC to play for Casey,” Novell said.

You have to wonder how Curtis could continue to coach the LC boys next year after having the girls position taken away.

“As coaches are we always right? No,” Curtis said. “But we built something with the girls program and I wanted to see it through.”

Norton said coaching isn’t always about winning and losing.

“Casey’s been wildly successful and we’ve enjoyed the success immensely,” Norton said. “We don’t fire coaches because they don’t win and we don’t retain coaches because they do.”

I agree wholeheartedly with that philosophy. But apparently coaches can get fired if parents apply the right pressure. And that’s just wrong.