After listening to 45 minutes of sometimes-severe criticism regarding the departure of several high school coaches over the past two years, the Davis school board voted 3-1 Wednesday to rehire Julie Crawford as DHS girls volleyball coach.
The vote, which reversed an earlier administrative decision, was taken in open session following a two-hour closed-door discussion. Trustees Sheila Allen, Gina Daleiden and Susan Lovenburg voted in favor and Nancy Peterson dissented. Trustee Tim Taylor, who participated in most of the discussion via conference call, was not on the line and did not vote.
“I’m thrilled to be coaching the 2013 girls volleyball team,” Crawford said via email Wednesday night. She did not attend the afternoon board meeting. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the support I have received from my boys and girls volleyball teams, their families, the Davis community, and my friends and family. I cannot wait to get things started tomorrow.”
Peterson cited a passage from the school district’s handbook for coaches regarding “integrity,” and added, “My vote reflects nothing more than my continued pursuit of ideals centered on children. I cannot in good conscience vote to approve Ms. Crawford as a coach for young adults.”
Daleiden cited “new information” that had come to the board’s attention recently that influenced her vote.
The closed-session agenda also included discussion of the recent release of DHS varsity football coach Steve Smyte and a performance evaluation of Athletic Director Dennis Foster.
During public comment, parent Olga Simons said her son played on Crawford’s DHS boys volleyball team as well as other teams. “If you asked my son who was his favorite coach, he would say Coach Julie,” she said. “When I told him she might not come back, he was absolutely devastated. … It’s absolutely a crime to let Coach Julie go.”
Parent Jason Fisk, on the other hand, said “some things in volleyball didn’t go well for my daughter; she had a very negative experience.” And while Fisk said he’d heard “some things that didn’t sound right to me” regarding the recent departure of several coaches, he added, “As a board, you need to listen to your staff and you need to support their decisions.”
Cathy Haskell, former president of the Davis Teachers Association, expressed concern that recent school district decisions that resulted in the departure of several coaches “didn’t seem to be made in a timely way.” Haskell also worried that coaches who had not been renewed had not “been told what they needed to work on.”
“I hope everyone gets to keep their job and there is clear communication when someone might not be invited back,” she said. “I’m nervous about one board member’s participation and complaints against a particular coach.”
Smyte spoke about his recent departure as head football coach for the past three seasons. Saying that he wanted to “clear the air about some things,” Smyte spoke with some pride about how he and his coaching staff had attracted more players, achieved a better won-loss record and saw the grade-point average of football players improve from a collective 2.2 to 3.2.
Smyte said when he met last month with Dennis Foster and Assistant Superintendent Matt Best, “I came into the meeting with the expectation that this might have been my final year (as coach). My goal was to pass it on to a younger guy, who could grow the program.
“I did not quit. I expected to coach (this season),” Smyte said. “(But) after our discussion, they felt it would be best if I stepped down, and I did.” He said he is not asking for his coaching job back.
Responding to comments that his team’s practice sessions were too long, Smyte said, “We did have practice times that went over. … You can’t achieve greatness by doing the status quo. I believe that (student-athletes) need to work hard to achieve goals.”
Smyte added that “I was told ‘Davis kids are soft, they are not going to put in that time.’ My experience was different. We had lots of guys willing to work hard. What we needed was support, people to stand behind us.
“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions, do things that are going to be best for the program,” he continued. “A moral compass has to be where we start. Ethics are important. Whether you are 15 minutes late for dinner … that’s not important.”
He added, “I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone.”
Smyte said he and Foster had reached an “impasse” on philosophical issues.
“He is the athletic director, he has every right to ask for my dismissal,” Smyte said. “My hope, in the future, is that this district and the district leadership is transparent in what they do, and how they do it — that they make sure they do things in the right way.
“I was so blessed to work with the players I worked with, the coaches I worked with. My purpose is not to throw anybody under the bus, or affix blame. We really need as a society … to stand back, take a look and make sure we do the right thing for our students.”
Parent Colleen Martin worried that someone at the school district had “overstepped their bounds,” leading to the departure of several coaches. Parent Ashley Means acknowledged that she had complained about long football practices but added that “rather than terminating (Smyte), there were better ways parents and administrators could have come together.”
Dave Whitmire, who coached football at Davis High for 30 years, spoke at length, recalling that in decades past, the school board “never got involve in athletics” and parents were more supportive.
“When I coached, did we have long practices? Yes. Was I demanding? Yes. If you want to have a successful program, you have to be demanding. … We need to have a principal and athletic director that will start backing these coaches.”
Allen Carlson, who coached DHS girls and boys soccer for 20 years, charged that “the school board is trying to micromanage athletic teams. Board members should not be involved in conversations about coaches, and it is clear they are. … There needs to be a high bar for letting (coaches) go.”
Brent Miille, a baseball coach, told the board that the variable services agreements, under which coaches serve, “provide zero protection. … It may be nuts for coaches to take on such big programs, knowing you could be released (at any time) for any reason.”
Miille suggested that a neutral third party should attend evaluations between coaches and administrators “so that what’s happened of late doesn’t continue to happen.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.