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Coaches, LeVasseur deserve better

POSTED October 05, 2014
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            I have always struggled with certain elements regarding high school coaching in Connecticut. In fact I cringe at some of the inequities coaches face.  After being made aware of former Kennedy High basketball coach Armand LeVasseur’s situation I struggle and cringe even more.

            Let’s bring you up to date on LeVasseur’s situation as reported in the Waterbury Republican by Joe Palladino this past week.  He replaced the legendary Jack Taglia in 2008 and coached the Eagles through the past season. His teams were more than respectable so what happened has nothing to do with wins and losses.

            LeVasseur left Kennedy and took a job at Hyde Leadership School in New Haven.  This is where the blood pressure starts to rise. According to the Waterbury Teachers Association contract that is a no-no if you want to keep coaching in the city.

            The contract says that if a coach retires or resigns or “is in any way separated from either coaching or teaching,” positions will be filled by ‘qualified active teachers in the WTA bargaining unit working at the building where the vacancy  exists.”

            If nobody at Kennedy is interested in the job, teachers in the Waterbury system get a crack it. If nobody there is interested, qualified retired teachers or non-teachers are considered.

            So let me get this straight. LeVasseur puts six seasons of work and sweat into a program with a good measure of success and then takes a new teaching job and he loses his job and falls to 384th on the depth charts when it comes to getting the job back.

            Most importantly, how is that better for the team and student athletes? And how is it even remotely fair to LeVasseur or anybody else who might be in his position?

            Preference is given to teachers for coaching jobs and I get it. They are trained in dealing with young adults and being in the building is a tremendous asset in keeping up on with what your student-athletes are doing. It is an enormous advantage.

            But, should a veteran coach lose his job because he is not in the building or system? Should that be the deciding criteria? Under that criteria Wamogo should cut loose Gregg Hunt, Gilbert softball should not be hiring Scooter Zappone, Nonnewaug boys basketball coach Tim Drakeley should be let go, Torrington football coach Gaitan Rodriguez should be let go and the list goes on.

            Most schools have written in their contracts that if two similarly qualified candidates apply for the job, it will go to the teacher. No problem there. But I want the best person for the job and that may not always be a teacher.

            Years ago I called for a coach’s union. Teachers that coach are being both protected and hurt by their own teacher’s union contracts. Ask LeVasseur.  Coaches that don’t teach, they have nothing. Why, because the system does not respect them.

            They don’t work for the money but would be in a bread line for the pennies an hour they make. Coaches work under what are considered one-year contracts although precedent has established that the job is theirs unless something mandating removal or resignation occurs.

            They have no protection. All it takes is for two disgruntled parents to complain and the door on career can close faster than an overdrawn bank account.  And believe me, there are countless stories around the area of coaches losing their jobs over under at least debatable circumstances (ask former Litchfield girls basketball coach Bob Anzellotti).

            And there is absolutely no recourse. Thanks to former Lewis Mills softball coach Eileen Crompton who was dismissed after more than two decades and fought for some kind of protective legislation, now  if you have more than three years of service in, you are entitled to a hearing and that was a step forward. But all it means is that the coach has a chance to tell their side of the story and that is that. The Board listens; okay we gave you your chance. Where’s the next coach?

            At any time a school can say thanks, we have somebody else in mind.  Muffy Gomes, who coached the Thomaston High boys basketball team for 18 seasons, was quoted as saying once, “I’m just keeping the chair warm for a teacher.”

            The high school coaches I’ve known coach for two reasons – love of kids and love for the game. They are workhorses because they have to be, the job demands it. They don’t complain about what they do (although the constant parent pressure is a drain).

            The bottom line is that they deserve better. Armand LeVasseur deserves better. I would love to see a show of support for LeVasseur and nobody else apply for the job. He has said he will reapply.

            Down the line, schools are asking for another union to deal with. Be careful. Sometimes you get what you ask for.  Or maybe you could look at some changes. Because, it shouldn’t be this way.

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