MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 27, 2014

Coaching carousel causing dizziness

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— Lots of coach shuffling going on around here.

Some is understandable, some poses some big questions.

From the Hilldale boosters I spoke with Saturday, there’s plenty unanswered there concerning the resignation, or promotion, or whatever you want to call what Chad Kirkhart did Friday when he told a gathering of his players — those about to graduate, those returning and middle school kids who were learning his system — that any system learned from this point on would come from his assistant principal’s office.

That’s his new job. That’s a job he went back to school for and got certified for. But when reached while playing golf with his sophomore daughter Katie on Friday, he didn’t sound convincing that this was all he wanted.

I’m not sure he convinced those kids on Friday either. According to them, there were times he had to leave to gather his emotions before continuing the discussion.

In a benefit-of-the-doubt rebuttal I’ll allow him, he wouldn’t be the first sports figure to have an emotional farewell. And, you don’t go back for administrative certification without expecting to use it.

But Hilldale’s a place where that hasn’t gotten in the way with at least one other coach. If Darren Riddle can coach fastpitch and baseball and be middle school principal, why can’t Kirkhart do both? I tried to ask that of athletic director Erik Puckett and Dr. Kaylin Coody, the superintendent, in calls and/or text messages this weekend. I never heard from either.

Pushing Kirkhart with my doubts, he suggested we’d hook up Sunday. Ironically, there’s a Hilldale quarterback club meeting that afternoon and a couple of officers who know him well have told me they want satisfaction on the unclear question.

Is one job all Kirkhart wants? If so, all will be at peace.

If not, there’s going to be some irritated folks. Because the precedence for double-duty is already in place. Forcing such a decision on a coach who transitioned the program through Don Hendrix’s death isn’t right. Not to mention Kirkhart’s capping of an unprecedented back-to-back quarterfinal run, the only time in school history the program has gone three-deep in the postseason.

Two jobs mean two benefit packages and I would suspect, more total salary than what would occur if you fashioned a combination of the two. With the shape of school budgets these days, that move might seem practical.

Bottom line: He deserved that option if he didn’t get it. If he did, he’ll merely be a big part of choosing his successor, which isn’t a bad thing either. It just needs to be made clear.

Now, for the Muskogee wrestling gig.

John Petty’s career here began amid controversy. Critics of the move, which included the dismissal of Bobby Jefferson and passing on son Dan Jefferson as a replacement never really made it easy on a man who didn’t get a chance to move his family from Georgia when he took the job in August. There were valid reasons for them to remain behind and there were valid family reasons for his decision to leave the job after one season.

This will go one of two ways now.

One is there will be greater in-state interest in this job. The timing of Petty’s decision will allow for that. Finding a replacement in August isn’t conducive to moving a family. Plus, there won’t be protesters greeting those who dare interview to replace a legacy family of father and sons who grew up as Roughers.

The other is a reinstatement of that legacy if Dan Jefferson, who spent this past season as a Union assistant, should return, which might bring about a mending of some fences from an ugly showdown dating back to Bobby Jefferson appealing  and winning, the appeal hearing after his dismissal for alleged spending improprieties.

So Petty, one way or the other, made it easy on his replacement — if for any other reason, no one will have placards waved in their faces.