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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘I’m extremely disappointed:’ Freeman High School football families question decision to change coach

Parents, athletes and the Freeman community attend a Freeman School District board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, amid the district's decision to not renew the contract of football coach Ben Cochran.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)

The Freeman School District chose not to renew the contract of its head football coach, and several parents and players are unhappy about it.

Bill Morphy, district board member, said at Wednesday night’s board meeting that Ben Cochran’s supplemental contract would not be renewed for the 2024 season.

Cochran has led the Scotties to three straight trips to the state playoffs. Freeman’s season ended nearly two weeks ago when Lakeside, of Nine Mile Falls, beat the Scotties (8-4) 24-20 in a State 1A quarterfinal game.

Cochran, who also was the school’s head track coach, resigned from that position, Superintendent Randy Russell told The Spokesman-Review.

Morphy said it was not appropriate to discuss the performance of a “specific public employee” in open session.

“That said, the Board understands that personnel decisions are often challenging, but I am confident that a comprehensive and thorough process has been followed to reach a very difficult decision made by the administration team,” Morphy said in a statement. “No decision made by the administration is ever made without careful consideration, process and discussion.”

Morphy said the administration reviews supplemental coaching contracts, which are one-year contracts, at the end of each season.

Athletic director Chad Ripke told The Spokesman-Review he could not comment on personnel matters.

Cochran could not be reached by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Parents Matt Grover and Sean Gilbert, and football player Cody Cayce, voiced their support for Cochran to the board.

Grover said he’s bragged about the school district many times, but can’t this time.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said.

Like many others, Gilbert, whose children played for Cochran, said he was looking for answers as to why Cochran’s contract was not renewed. He asked when the Freeman community can expect an answer, and Morphy replied he could not comment on that.

“It just feels too secretive with nothing being given to us as parents for a very good coach to be lost,” Gilbert said. “A coach that taught our kids morals, values, the things that I as a parent put way higher than the ‘W,’ way higher than the play call.”

Cayce, sporting his varsity jacket, said Cochran always showed his players love and put them first.

“Ben Cochran was one of the best mentors I’ve had in my life,” he said.

Heading into his senior season, Cayce, a linebacker and running back, said he’s frustrated he doesn’t know who his coach will be.

“I feel like there’s nothing that could have happened to warrant him not getting his contract extended ‘cause we’ve made state the last three years,” Cayce told The Spokesman-Review. “He came into a losing program and turned it around, and he’s made it known that he stands by his morals and everything he preaches.” 

Grover told The Spokesman-Review he did not expect to get answers from the board Wednesday but he wanted to shine a light on the matter.

“They need the accountability,” he said. “They need to know that they serve us. They work for us and that kind of behavior’s not acceptable.”

Grover said Cochran convinced one of his sons, Jackson Grover, to play football his freshman year. Now, he plays at the University of Idaho.

“I don’t vouch my character for very many people, but I do for him,” Grover said of Cochran. “Ben’s a good man.”  

About 30 parents, athletes and others, some holding signs backing Cochran, stood outside the board room doors prior to Wednesday’s meeting to display their support for Cochran.

One of the parents, Kris Johnson, said her son played football and track for Cochran before he graduated last year. He also served as a teacher’s aid for Cochran, who teaches physical education at Freeman Middle School.

“As a parent, he’s the kind of coach, teacher, mentor that you want your kids to have,” Johnson said. 

An online petition to save Cochran’s job garnered nearly 400 signatures by Wednesday night.

“After exceeding expectations and making it to the quarter final game this fall, the contract wasn’t renewed for Freeman’s head football coach,” the petition says. “We demand answers for this unjust and irrational decision.”

Dozens of people commented in the petition expressing full support for Cochran. They called him a great coach, role model and person.

“I have coached with Ben for the past 3 years and strongly believe that this decision was not made in the best interest of the Freeman community,” wrote Mallory McDonald, Freeman’s head cross country coach. “Ben is a phenomenal coach who truly cares about his athletes and instills valuable life lessons that go far beyond athletics.”