, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

November 15, 2013

COLUMN: Jefferson legacy fades to black amid bitterness, confusion

Bobby Jefferson picks up a photo.

It’s of he and sons Shae Jefferson and Dan Jefferson posing with Muskogee’s dual state wrestling championship trophy in 2010. Overlooking them is a chair Dan had gone up and pulled down at the outset of the meet to symbolize the absence of their father and grandfather, Orlando Jefferson, who died two years earlier.

Two framed football jerseys belonging to his sons along with the softball jersey belonging to his daughter Angela adorned his den wall.

“Just things that resemble memories,” he said. “We didn’t collect trophies. It’s about the memories.”

It’s also about the drop of a curtain on the elder Jefferson’s career in Muskogee Public Schools, a system he graduated in, playing football and a member of the 1974 state championship baseball team. His kids had their share of success too and then two of them joined him on the athletic staff.

As of Nov. 30, they will all be gone.  Although he’s already out of the office on a medical leave, Bobby’s retirement was made official on Tuesday by approval of the same MPS board that was at least partly involved in his departure.

It’s a trail of conflict that began two summers ago when Bobby was fired as athletic director. He appealed that decision, which was based on charges of illegal payment practices, and won reinstatement.

The outcome resulted in a parting of the ways between Bobby and superintendent Mike Garde. Bobby began reporting to assistant superintendent Jim Wilson, who last summer informed him that the district wanted to hire a full-time athletic director and gave him the choice of keeping that job but to do so, he’d have to resign as wrestling coach where he had 32 winning seasons in 34 years.

Bobby maintains even now he never made a decision and learned of his removal as wrestling coach when the job was posted. His sons applied for the job. Shae withdrew endorsing Dan, who was one of those who interviewed. Insiders have told me he never really had the chance.

Dan was shortly thereafter offered a job on the Union wrestling staff. Shae took a coaching job at Pryor on ex-Rougher Jason Freeman’s football staff.

“Two things you don’t mess with in a man’s life — one’s money and the other’s family,” Bobby Bobby said. “They couldn’t get me so they went after their sons and their families. So here they were, picking up their roots in August and if the people responsible for this think everything’s OK, it’s not. It’s the cowardly way of doing things but that’s what it is.”

Bobby said he was offered another chance at the wrestling job in July after the interviews were completed, a point he still feels like “pitted me against my sons.”  He understood he’d be on the committee that recommends a hire to the board but that Garde asked to remove himself from the process of selecting his replacement because Shae and Dan were candidates.

“If someone asked me I’m going to tell everyone I’m off this committee after you told me I’m going to be on it. People knew I was going to do what’s right.I was going to have my opinion for it. If you don’t listen to the parents, or don’t listen to what the community wants.”

What was right? “I’d recommended Dan,” he said, not surprisingly.

With little if any interest among Oklahoma coaches, the job went to John Petty, who had a college coaching resume at the NAIA level and brief high school coaching stints, in Georgia, Iowa and California.

The decisions involving the Jeffersons brought a range or protest, including a protest attended by family, wrestling team members both current and former and one area head wrestling coach.

“It’s one of the toughest things about this. I’m out, my sons are out and I still don’t understand anything other than I guess they don’t like me,” Bobby said, noting that things surrounding him hadn’t been the same since he won the appeal.

“I’m sitting with you in that same position I was then. I still don’t know what all the issues are about. I really don’t. I’m not trying to play dumb.”

Messaged by text for comment, Garde did not comment other than to say the AD position would be posted and in the interim, head football coach Josh Blankenship would serve in that capacity.

Asked what he hoped might come out of this now, Bobby suggested an approach similar to what happened when he fired Mack Chambers as softball coach, only to reinstate him within weeks.

“Honestly, hopefully, what’s learned out of this might be the most beneficial thing is, I would like to think parent input would be something that would be considered a priority. I made that mistake myself and I’ll admit I was wrong for doing it.  

“There are so many good people here. I don’t want this community to be wrapped up by what 10 to a dozen people have done. But it is definitely time to move on. I can endure another day of this nonsense and stupidity, Where I’ll pop up I don’t have any idea.”

Clearly, the end began much earlier than this summer. It’s a shame it festered, and it’s a shame someone didn’t lock the parties in a room much earlier and reconcile this. A new AD will be found, but the stain of this will hang a lesson of how not to work together.

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