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Fall Guys

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The current scandals taking place in revenue-generating NCAA sports appears to be blurring the line between amateur and professional athletes. And whether the coach has any knowledge of improper action or not, they are often times the one to take the fall in such scandals.

Don’t expect the general public to feel bad, however, as many high-profile coaches at major college programs make a more than reasonable seven-figure salary for the pressures that each face.

But that certainly isn’t the case in the high school coaching ranks. No coach makes a luxurious salary, yet most have to put up with the pressure of putting together a winning program while still pleasing boosters, parents and administration.

“No matter where the coach is coaching, he is underpaid. Every coach is underpaid,” Peters Township athletic director Brian Geyer said. “But you also don’t coach for the money. You coach because you like being around the kids, and you’re a fan of the sport that you’re coaching.”

Geyer also acknowledges that most of the pressure concerning wins and losses come from outside forces. But as an administrator, he’s concerned with the other characteristics that make a coach successful.

“I judge all coaches the same; would I let my kid play for them in terms of their role model and leadership capabilities?” he said. “By the same token, wins and losses are important. Not so much internally, but from the outside looking in.”

However, as Glenn Miller, a regular contributor to The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, states in his 2006 article, “A National Study of Nonrenewal in High School Coaching: Who is Coaching, and Why are They Dismissed,” pressure seems to be mounting on high school coaches nationally.

“It seems that a win-at-all-costs attitude has become common in high school athletics. Based on anecdotal reports, fans and parents often seem to have unrealistic expectations for the coaches of their children.”

That mentality seems to be the case at Baldwin High School, where early last month both boys basketball coach Kyle DeGregorio and girls basketball coach Dan Thayer had their positions opened. According to sources, the recommendation to open the respective positions was made by athletic director Vince Sortino.

DeGregorio had been the coach at Baldwin for nine seasons, resurrecting a program that, before his tenure, was essentially irrelevant. He guided the Highlanders to four playoff appearances as coach, including just one season ago. This is the second time in Sortino’s brief tenure as the school’s athletic director that he requested the boys basketball position be opened.

Thayer’s removal appeared to come as more of a shock to people, however, as the coach led the Lady Highlanders to three consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the 2009-10  WPIAL quad-A title game before ultimately falling to eventual state champion Mt. Lebanon.

“He was told by Sortino that he ‘underachieved’ with the talent at hand,” a source with knowledge of the situation said. “He was basically told that he didn’t win enough games.”

Sortino would not return calls to comment on the situation.

Geyer believes that a high school coach’s job goes beyond just winning games, and part of their responsibility is to mold young men and women.

“Again, it goes back to education. I’ve been around championship teams, and you learn more than just the X’s and O’s,” Geyer said. “You learn how to act under pressure, and those are skills that you can use the rest of your life. The vast majority of coaches are in it for the right reasons, and these are the really good guys in coaching.”

But according to one administrator, who chose to remain anonymous, being a good guy can only buy a coach so much time. He explains that eventually, being a successful public relations person becomes an essential part of the job.

“If a coach does everything right running a great program, and he’s a leader and has good communication skills, that might buy him a little extra time if the wins and losses don’t add up,” the administrator said. “But if the coach is a jerk, you’re going to pull the trigger.”

Support from the community at school board meetings can be equally as important once a position has been opened up.

“If the guy is not a bad guy, and people support him, most likely they let him come back,” the administrator said. “Quite often, if nobody comes to those board meetings, that guy isn’t coaching that team next year.”

Quick triggers and scandalous firings have become increasingly more common in high schools across the country. If you think it sounds like the current predicament that the NCAA is experiencing, you aren’t alone, as the administrative source believes that thinking is becoming the norm.

“It’s almost like you could see the NCAA rules beginning to ruin amateurism for years,” he said. “But with high school athletics, it seems more and more apparent that politics are getting in the way of really good coaches keeping jobs.

“One thing is for sure. If administrators and parents want to start treating high school coaches like NCAA coaches, they better be prepared to start paying them like NCAA coaches.”

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