One of the fundamental truths of the coaching profession, regardless of sport, is that it’s impossible to make everyone (players, parents, etc.) happy. That feeling often leads to coaches believe that they’re constantly “one parent away from being unemployed”. I’ve heard the same sentiment from a number of coaches over the years.
That notion brings me to a story out of Montana from the Independent Record involving a girl’s soccer coach who was recently fired in a rather odd fashion. Nan Brisko had just wrapped up her first season leading the Capital HS (MT) girl’s soccer program when a few parents decided they weren’t happy with the way the young coach was running the program, so they were going to raise a fuss.
The Helena School, like many districts, has a procedure in place to address initial concerns and complaints by first bringing them to the coach, and after that issues can be brought to the principal, then athletic director, and finally, to the superintendent. However, in this instance, no issues were brought to the coaching staff during the season, but a few weeks after the state tournament they banded together to meet with the prinicpal with the goal of not renewing the contract of Brisko. Instead of meeting in private meetings with the principal, the group refused to be heard unless they were heard as a group.
Meanwhile, the athletic director recommended coach Brisko for a contract renewal. Disgruntled parents then decided to go beyond the coach, principal, and AD and went to the superintendent, who told them the same thing: “It’s standard procedure to meet with parents individually”. Still, they refused, saying they wanted to meet as a unified group to voice their concerns.
Since that didn’t work, they sent a letter directly to the school board asking for intervention, citing “bullying and intimidating conduct,” which prompted an investigation into coach Brisko that cost the school district over $12,600. That investigation concluded no misconduct by coach Brisko.
Somehow, the school board chair called a special meeting to address the growing issue…and the board then voted to fire Brisko by a vote of 5-3.
How does that happen?
Coaches at the school, and in the surrounding area told the Independent Record about how worried they are about the precedent this sends to their kids, and the parents in the community. After the decision was handed down, a number of coaches felt so strongly about the wrong precedent that it set that they handed in their letters of resignation.
Pat Murphy spent 11 seasons leading the Capital HS football program before stepping down after a state title in 2014, and he had the following to say about the controversy.
“Being around so many different districts and coaching for 31 years, they should’ve probably not gone that far and taken it to the school board. It just opens up a new can of worms,” he said. “The athletic director is there for a reason, and that should be your last stop. You would think you’d want your school board’s concern to be focused on academics, and let the athletic director and other administration deal with those issues.
“I’ve worked for four other districts. I worked for a small school where it kind of broke down like that years ago, and that’s what everybody just did was go to the school board. If there’s a protocol in place, you’ve gotta stick to that. If you don’t, the school board had better be ready. Because the parents will circumvent the coach and just go straight to the top of the chain of command.”
There are a few good lessons in here for high school coaches; 1) Know what your district procedures are for dealing with disgruntled and upset parents. 2) Make sure your principal and athletic director are on board with those procedures and have your back and 3) develop and maintain a good working relationship with the people on your school board just in case.