Are you willing to be fired over doing the right thing?
“Are you willing to fire a coach if needed?”
“Of course”. The words jumped out. The Superintendent and others on the interview panel smiled.
I felt like I had won the lottery. This was going to be the launching of my career. Assistant Principal/Athletic Director. I liked the sound of that.
So, yeah, I was willing to fire a coach. Why not?
The Coach with a target on his back
I was new to the area. All I knew about Coach Davies was that he had been around for 13 years as a teacher and the head football coach. He may have been a good teacher, but according to his stats, he was not a good head football coach.
His teams had only made the playoffs twice. His record was an abysmal 44–148. He was stuck with his system and couldn’t give up on it regardless of the losses. He was full of excuses about why he wasn’t winning. But coaches need to win. Losing coaches get fired. Right or wrong, that’s the way it works.
The Rules Are Changed
I set out to do my job — to fire him based on his record. I believed that was the only reason needed. Boy was I mistaken. My boss, the District Superintendent, directed me to build a strong case. “Use any, and everything you can to hang his sorry butt” was the surprising directive I received.
A huge rock now blocked the path of my new career. Questions exploded in my head. “Would I be able to get enough evidence to follow through with the hanging? ‘Why is my boss unwilling to fire him based on his record?’ ‘What will happen to me if I can’t get enough evidence to hang him?”
My case felt weak, so I interviewed more potential witnesses. I spoke with ex-players, members of the community, teachers, and parents. Through that deeper digging an unexpected truth soon became clear. Half of the community liked him and were loyal to the death. They had good reasons.
Davies was sincere, and he nurtured meaningful relationships with his players. Many reported being “okay” with the idea that he used his time to develop his players into being men, instead of focusing on improving their record.
The other half of the town wanted him gone yesterday. Among other things, they didn’t care for his arrogance. That gave me the confidence to continue my mission.
Building A Case
I watched him like a hawk eyeing prey. I recorded every minuscule move that violated some rule or guideline. I uncovered his mistakes. There were infractions of rules set by the school. Those, by themselves, were not enough. There was also a question about the use of marijuana by his players. Could that be the smoking gun?
Two seasons of football crept by until I felt there was enough justification to remove him from the team. It was finally time for the Superintendent to take our information to the school board. We would begin to fight our case.
As news of the upcoming hearing caught fire it threw the town into an uproar.
Thrown Under the Bus
It turned out that there was no “we”. As soon as the flames were stoked, the Superintendent began to wash his hands of it and throw me under the bus. With the hearings dragging on for months, nervousness over losing his job had the Superintendent shaking like an autumn leaf. Supporters of Coach Davies were much louder than those who wanted him gone. I began to dread that part of my job.
Despite the turmoil of the trial, I held onto some confidence about my future with the school. I had become popular with many of the students, teachers, parents, and staff. The initiatives and relationship-building practices I had developed led to very positive changes. Not with Davies though. He grew to despise me. I felt it and everyone knew it.
That little bit of confidence hung on until the final moments of the last hearing.
The Final Question
The mob packed the room as tight as sardines. Students tearfully defended the coach. Angry community members insisted he was cancer needing to be cut out. Hours of arguing resulted in a hung jury. The Board Members would have to make the decision.
The meeting adjourned into private session. They instructed me to take a seat in the closed room. I sat trembling at the end of the table, with all eyes focused on me. Like a hunter, the Board President shot the final question. “Are you willing to attack the character of Coach Davies to have him removed?” The shot pierced my soul. The decision to remove him as Head Coach should have been very easy and based on his performance. It became a political witch-hunt instead. And now I was the one tied to the stake.
“N-No.” Stuttered out of the corner of my lip. Davies has a horrible record and he made some poor decisions along the way. But his character, his motives — those are beyond reproach.
At the next meeting the Board President announced, due to budgetary restraints, my position was being cut the following year. I was out of a job. My career placed on hold. Coach Davies kept his job.
Someone leaked that final question, and my answer, back to Coach Davies. While we never became friends, he shook my hand and thanked me for doing the right thing.
A Better Ending
I accepted my wounds. Living with integrity resulted in upheaval to my personal life and my career. I had chosen not to play the game, not to attack the character of Coach Davies. I imagine I would have otherwise stayed in that position for as long as I wanted. It wouldn’t have been long at all.
For starters, I would never be able to trust my boss to support me when things got rough. But, I suppose, I could learn to live with that. Not doing what is right, to save my job, is not something I could live with. At best, I would have endured my time there. Guilt eats away the soul. I would never be able to change that.
I decided integrity was more important than my selfish desire to feed my pride. I made the right call. And it paid off greater than I imagined. Three years later, I was back into Administration, in a new district.
Very good article Steve!!! Thoughtful
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