Greeson: Blame football coaches, not players, for the mess in Marion County

Greeson: Blame football coaches, not players, for the mess in Marion County

November 21st, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

From left are Marion County High School coaches Tim Starkey, Randy Kirkpatrick, Mac McCurry, Chad Rogers and Joe Dan Gudger. Starkey has been relieved of coaching duties at the school, and Gudger was arrested on charges of vandalism Tuesday. No allegations have been made against Kirkpatrick or Rogers.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

By now, you are almost assuredly aware of the allegations and charges against the Marion County High School football program.

It's a sordid and disturbing tale of grown men putting themselves and their agendas ahead of what they know, what they love and what the job they have accepted. Here's the sequence of the alleged events, according to authorities and as detailed in text messages between Tim Starkey and Michael Schmitt, two former Warriors assistants:

-- The Warriors paid for former South Pittsburg running back Raquis Hale to practice with the team to emulate the team speed in preparation of the annual rival game against South Pittsburg. This is major TSSAA violation, and TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress told this paper's Stephen Hargis that the TSSAA is going to have to be convinced that Marion County deserves to have a football program next year. -- At least two assistant coaches spray-painted and vandalized the school's football field house in the days before the game against South Pittsburg. Schmitt and Joe Dan Gudger have been charged with vandalism by Jasper police and the Marion County sheriff's office.

-- Starkey is being investigated for stealing play sheets from the South Pittsburg football field house. And in text messages, Starkey says he got the play sheets like Schmitt did in "Dunalp." And yes, according to Sequatchie County coach Ken Colquette, there are two Sequatchie County playbooks missing.

-- Head coach Mac McCurry resigned Wednesday morning, saying it would be best with all the scandal that he separated himself from the program. You think? That's the understatement of the season. McCurry reportedly was allowed to resign on the spot Wednesday because the firing procedure takes a couple of days and the Marion County powers that be were extremely eager to end this nightmare as quickly as possible.

There likely is more. The investigation is on-going.

McCurry deserved to be fired and it stretches reason to believe McCurry did not know the wide ranging antics of his staff that swung from hijinks to criminal.

And if you hold out the last fiber of doubt, answer this: If the head coach of a team that is in the middle of the biggest high school football scandal in the history of the state had zero idea of what was happening, how could he keep his job since he has zero idea of the inner-workings of the program?

So if McCurry had zero knowledge of any of this -- which is next to impossible -- he must not have been at practice in preparation for the annual rivalry grudge match with South Pittsburg since Hale was running around. Or maybe he was there and just didn't notice the college-aged tailback on the scout team who was faster than everyone else.

And if McCurry didn't know about the playbooks allegedly swiped from South Pittsburg and Sequatchie County, they likely were used as coasters at the Starkey or Schmitt households.

As for the vandalism, well, maybe McCurry didn't know about the hair-brained scheme -- again, that's doubtful -- but Schmitt and Starkey each text about how they don't want to do it, but Schmitt says he doesn't want to make McCurry mad.

McCurry's either neck deep or has three blind eyes. So he was either oblivious or involved -- and we'll take all odds on the latter -- but either means he long ago forfeited his right to be the head coach.

Now that it's official, it's time to turn our attention to the Warrior players, who did not ask for this or need this. All they wanted to do was play football -- something they love, something they have done all their life and for most of this season, something they have done very well. The coaches involved got what they had coming. The players? They now are forced to pick up the pieces of a potential dream season gone terribly wrong. The administrators at Marion County High need to do whatever they can to keep that fact in mind as the Warriors prepare for an tough trip to Trousdale County made exponentially tougher by the ludicrous acts of the coaching staff.

In fact, here's hoping the TSSAA remembers who deserves to be punished in this mess. As much fire and brimstone as the TSSAA wants to bring -- and they have a fair case considering that a complete disregard for rules and laws and decency apparently were as much a part of McCurry's program as tackling drills and train whistles -- here's hoping they put the perpetrators in their crosshairs.

Rather than issue a one-season football ban at Marion County, Bernard Childress and the TSSAA should give McCurry and his band of not-so-merry fools its version of the NCAA's show-cause penalty.

The NCAA's show cause makes member institutions provide reasons why coaches who have been sanctioned should be hired to coach again. This could be the first TSSAA show-cause decision, and in truth the infractions in Jasper deserve a historic verdict.

But calling off the 2014 season would punish the players, the fans, the band members, the cheerleaders and a large part of a town that revels and relies on Friday nights in the fall. Maybe that import in some ways covered the collective eyes of the countless decent people who love this program as the coaches ran afoul of the rules of the state and of fair play. Still, it's McCarry and Co. that deserve the full brunt of the state's ire not the program.

Here's hoping the TSSAA doesn't punish the Warriors and those that support them -- they have suffered enough.