In football, when you feint one way to divert eyes from what you’re doing, it’s called the old misdirection play.
In public policy, it’s called misleading and it ought to draw a penalty flag.
Lely High School football coach Steve Pricer resigned last week, a move the school’s administrators and the district’s communications office explained away as health-related after Pricer had knee surgery.
In truth, Pricer’s knee had next to nothing to do with his resignation, which he agreed to only to prevent his imminent firing.
Pricer had disputes with Lely Principal Ken Fairbanks over allowing players to practice when a lightning meter showed danger in the area _ Pricer felt the meter was faulty _ and discipline of a star player. Health wasn’t a factor, according to Pricer.
How can the district justify putting out an intentionally misleading statement about Pricer’s departure?
“It was a gentlemen’s agreement to allow him to step down and save face,” Collier schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson explains, adding, “The coach had a change of heart.”
Pricer, who has been with the Lely football program for 32 years, says he was never part of the deal.
“That’s not right,” he said when told of the “gentlemen’s agreement” version of events. “That was their idea to say that. I was obviously pretty shocked to be hearing what I was hearing. My recollection was they could say whatever they wanted to say.”
Pricer said the main point of contention in his discussions with Fairbanks was Darion Hall, Lely’s star running back who has committed to play for the University of Miami next year.
As the season has progressed, Hall’s attitude has deteriorated, Pricer said.
Given Hall’s stature on the team, that created a wider discipline problem. But he said his hands were tied by Fairbanks and Athletic Director Paul Ruby.
“I was basically told I couldn’t suspend him,” Pricer said.
After Pricer resigned, Hall did serve a one-game suspension handed down by Pricer’s successor.
The circumstances of a coach quitting to salvage his health and that of a team in turmoil are widely different and school administrators have no business forwarding one as an explanation when they know that the other is in fact the truth.
Thompson insists the cover story about Pricer’s health has at least a grain of truth to it. “There were some health issues. They’re not major. It’s partially true but it’s obviously not the main reason.”
While there are drawbacks to a vague “personal reasons” explanation or a brusque, “no comment,” Thompson said in hindsight, either would have been better than the attempt to save face. “I wish we had done it differently.”
Thompson sees little chance the grass-roots effort to reinstate Pricer will succeed. “I’m not going to change my mind and I seriously doubt he (Fairbanks) is going to change his mind since he’s the one who brought it up to me. It’s his call.”
Taxpayers and parents rely on school leaders to convey information on subjects vastly more important than the travails of a high school football program. If they can’t trust those reports, if they suspect the old misdirection play is part of the playbook, then the district has lost more than a veteran coach.