MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

May 25, 2014

Longtime baseball coach resigns at Fort Gibson

Fort Gibson is looking for a baseball coach – something it hasn’t done in a quarter century.

Randy Smith resigned his post last week. Along with him, assistant coach James Parnell and lay assistant Mickey Lashley stepped down.

Smith, who has won 630 games and had six state tournament teams since 1988, notified the Phoenix in a letter Friday, saying while the administration had encouraged him not to step down, “the climate has changed here in the last few years and we have a small group of parents who feel like I am too old school.”

Reached at his house on Saturday, Smith elaborated, saying a group of parents had gone before administrators including principal Gary Sparks and athletic director Gary Hendrix with complaints.  It was a group that Smith said became splintered from other parents during the team’s spring break trip to Alabama.

“Although (the administration) said they were still supportive of me, I’d already heard some of what was said by this group was real personal and this was when I decided we can fight all that but they’re still going to be there and they’ll keep it up until they get what they want,” he said.

“One of the complaints was that I was unapproachable. How can that be when I wasn’t ever approached?  I’ve had parent issues before but never  a lynch mob until this year. That’s when I thought maybe I am getting too old to deal with this stuff.  I have grandkids I want to see more of. I figured maybe that’s a sign.”

Hendrix said he understood Smith had become frustrated with things.

“Certainly I’m appreciative of the job he’s done. He’s a Hall of Fame coach and has had a great deal of success here,” he said. “As far as anything coming from parents, well, when you aren’t having as much success as some think you should, you start hearing this kind of thing. We had that run of state trips a few years ago and haven’t been recently. But Randy had them right there on the cusp of it this year.

“I don’t want to speak for him, but I think a lot of these frustrations just add up and you decide you’ve had enough. Twenty-six years, well, he’s been at it for a while.”

Parnell, who has coached over 20 seasons, didn’t want to continue without Smith.

“There are several reasons, but I’ll just say 25 years is enough for me, at least in this role,” Parnell said.  He said he would continue coaching middle school fastpitch and work with various summer ball squads, a prospect squad and work through USSSA baseball, but “that’s a lot less liability for me.”

“Working with Randy has been great,” he added.

Smith himself will remain in the sport in other capacities, coaching the Oklahoma Junior Sunbelt teams and being an associate scout with the Atlanta Braves.

Former Oktaha coach Chris Burt, whose son Nick was a junior this past season, said he “wasn’t sure about the parental issues and had purposely stayed out of it.”

“I’ve been close to Randy for a long time and have a great deal of respect for him,” Burt said.

Both Hendrix and Burt admitted to having had a conversation about the job. Hendrix said he inquired as to whether Burt, a Fort Gibson grad who retired three seasons ago at Oktaha to go into full-time administration there, would be interested in the job.

Burt said he wouldn’t be.

“I think I’m content with the situation I have,” he said.

“Obviously we have to move on and want to be proactive in finding someone to continue the tradition of success we’ve had,” Hendrix said. “Without naming names, there’s a couple of Fort Gibson grads out there who have coached that we’d like to consider. I don’t know yet if they’re interested but we want to find the best guy out there.”

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