On Tuesday, the Red Jacket Indians varsity basketball team ran out on the court like they do at the start of every game, amid applause from the home crowd and a song by rapper Childish Gambino blasting through the PA system.
What wasn’t normal, however, was the players’ pre-game attire. All but a few Indian players wore T-shirts with “Bring Em Back” in red marker on the front and “Miles” in black ink on the back. They also huddled together at mid-court and did a brief cheer: “1,2,3, Miles!”
As the team was preparing for its sectional game against Harley-Allendale Columbia Tuesday, the players learned their coach, Rich Miles, wouldn’t be on the bench. The school district elected to fire the coach over a disagreement about player discipline.
Miles said he kicked a player out of practice Saturday for being disrespectful. The coach had a precedent for suspending players for one game if they acted that way. In this case, the player was going to be suspended for Tuesday’s game.
According to Miles, the player’s parent contacted Red Jacket Superintendent Robert Leiby to complain about the suspension, and Leiby instructed Miles to play the student. Miles said he refused and Leiby asked the coach for his resignation. According to Miles, he refused and was then fired.
Leiby did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.
“I refused to resign, this is something the superintendent shouldn’t even be involved in,” said Miles, adding he regretted the controversy being publicized following the team’s win. “Former coach Tim Munn got run out of town ... and unfortunately this is a similar thing.”
Red Jacket Athletic Director Rick Yehl said that Miles was let go for “irreconcilable differences” with the administration. “Coach Miles did a lot for this program,” Yehl said. “He’s been a great asset to these kids and this program.”
Kory Fogarty is a freshman on the varsity basketball team. Miles contacted him Tuesday to let him know what happened. “I was devastated because he is our whole program,” Kory said. “He’s done so much for us, it’s going to be really hard to let him go.”
Kory and another Red Jacket player came up with the idea for the shirts. He said they wanted to rally against the people who didn’t back Miles and show the community they didn’t want him to leave.
The Indians defeated the Wolves 69-59 Tuesday. Fogarty said the win was for Miles.
This isn’t the first time this season that Miles has disagreed with the superintendent regarding player discipline, he said. Another player on the team was suspended for 15 days and the last six games of the season for attending a party where there was alcohol, according to Miles, who added that the 15-day suspension is district policy.
Page 2 of 2 - According to Miles, the administration wanted to know if Miles would play the student if his suspension were reduced. But Miles says he stood his ground — and that, he believes, was his undoing.
That player didn’t play in those games, but was eligible to play Tuesday.
The Red Jacket school board decided not to reappoint Tim Munn as the boys basketball coach in the fall of 2008.
Some parents had complained that he played underclassmen over upperclassmen, though board members refused to say whether that had any bearing on their decision.
Munn was saddened by the news of what happened to Miles.
“It’s basically run by the parents and the board,” Munn said. “It’s absolutely horrible timing for the kids. I came from this town and I’ve seen an erosion of ethics. I’m just so disappointed. They whack a coach every time you turn around.”
Miles attended Red Jacket schools and played on the varsity basketball team in high school. He spent five years coaching in the district. He said interference from parents, school board members and the superintendent made his job difficult.
“It’s impossible to maintain any sense of order or discipline because the kids know they can go to mommy or dad and they’ll go the district,” Miles said. “Because of the things I believe in, it makes it incredibly difficult to instill any good order and prepare them for the real world. I’ve done my best for four years.”
Kory felt Miles disciplined the team fairly this season.
“He’s by far the best coach I’ve ever had and one of the biggest reasons is what he does for us and how he treats us,” Kory said. “He treats us like young men.”
Includes reporting from Messenger Post reporter Scott Pukos