Community opinions vary after Willard coach is fired

Zoe Greszler • Mar 15, 2017 at 10:00 AM

WILLARD — Willard’s boys high school basketball coach Chris Long was fired Monday night at a regular board of education meeting, a decision that caused a lot of discussion and some hard feelings among community members and parents.

“We felt like the program has not progressed like we see fit,” school board president Rod Cok said.

“We feel like the program has not improved since he was made head coach, from top to bottom, down to the middle school kids through the high school kids,” Cok added. “We felt like it was going backwards. We also felt like he has felt a grip on the program a little bit. We just felt like it was time for the district to move in a new direction.”

“We’re very appreciate of Chris’ years of service,” Superintendent Jeff Ritz said. ”He’s a very passionate coach and we wish him the best.”

Long spoke to the school board and audience Monday night in a bid to keep his job.

“I’m willing to give up my time,” he said. “I’m willing to give up my family time. I willing to basically disown my 11-year-old son for the kids in this school system and this program. All they have to do is say yes. I told the kids when we left 28 days and we’ll be back in the gym, but you know all I can do is provide the opportunity.”

Long coached the Crimson Flashes for four season, 2013-17, holding a career record of 38-58, a four-year tract record that got worse each year by the numbers. The 2013-14 basketball season saw a 15-9 record, followed by 12-13 in 2014-15, 8-17 the following year and finally ended with 3-19 this season. 

“Sad day for Willard athletics,” Brian Keith-Music said on Facebook. “I know the wins were not there but I also know Long put his heart and sole into coaching. Hopefully the school takes there time and doesn't just hire the first alumni that wants the job.”

Jim Wiers attended the board meeting to voice his opinion on Long.

“I have full support for Chris,” he said. “He knows kids, he knows how to motivate kids. This team we're talking about is being summarized by Ws and Ls. Do we have goals, written goals for our extra curriculars? ... In my mind (the team) worked hard. They worked hard, though I do think they lack in basketball skills.”

“(I’m) related to Chris by marriage,” said Sara Lynn, who commented on Facebook. “We love Chris and we know what's in his heart. I think ‘support’ from the administration to the team members can also make or break a coach. Let's not just look at Chris but look at what walls he had in front of him.”

“You know, I think my least favorite part of Willard is the school board telling teachers/coaches how to do a job that they are definitely not qualified to do nor know anything about,” Bobbi Garcia said. “But hey, the wins. That's what we're all about, huh? The coach isn't the problem. The school boards morals are the problem. Because you don't have to be a descent human being if you can win a game. Isn't that right, Willard school board?”

“It's not a sad day though,” Jacquelyn Ann Panuto, a Willard mother, said on Facebook. 

“His job was to coach not to judge his players and that's something he didn't know how to do. He was very much a ‘last name’ person and the fact that the players could tell you — that is sad! As a coach you should try to inspire your players to be better people and maybe make better decisions. He was in it for him, not the kids. That was painfully obvious.”

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