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Judge upholds coach’s dismissal in Williamsville District

The Williamsville Central School Board had every right not to reappoint Allan Monaco as varsity coach of the Williamsville South High School basketball and golf teams, a judge has ruled in dismissing the former coach’s petition.

Board members approve annual coaching appointments, and when they named others to coach the two teams, they did not even have to cite any of the problems during Monaco’s final season, the court said.

Complaints about playing time, call-ups to the varsity squad and accusations of bullying and favoritism drove a wedge among basketball players, prompted complaints from parents, and sparked investigations that ended Monaco’s 24-year coaching career at the high school.

“The court concludes that it was within the authority of district officials to relieve [Monaco] of his coaching duties irrespective of whether accusations or complaints had been made against him,” State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer said.

The judge noted the school district’s investigation into how Monaco treated some of the basketball players in the 2011-12 season.

“The court is left only with a sense that [Monaco], a long successful and widely respected coach, was guilty only of being an old-school-type coach with a gruff manner and an untamed tongue,” NeMoyer said in his recent decision.

“The court further has a sense that those personality traits rendered [him] particularly ill-suited to initially stave off and ultimately survive a protracted bout of school sports team politics as rather ruthlessly engaged in by some parents of some ballplayers,” NeMoyer added.

After Monaco coached a winning team to another league title a year ago, the school district appointed someone else to lead the basketball squad, sparking an outcry of support for Monaco from former players and program supporters.

But parents of other players wanted a new coach.

“The court further senses that, wearying of the controversy, or perhaps more likely wearying of [Monaco’s] defensiveness and his own apparent lack of coachability vis-a-vis his interactions with his ballplayers and their parents, the district officials simply decided to not reappoint [him] to the coaching positions for the 2012-13 year but to go instead in a different direction,” NeMoyer said.

In his court papers, Monaco traced the loss of his coaching positions to some disgruntled parents who he said made false allegations against him in retaliation for his decision not to promote their sons to the varsity team, or who were unhappy with their sons’ playing time, or who believed their sons had not received enough accolades.

Carolyn Nugent Gorczynski, Monaco’s lawyer, could not be reached to comment.

Whatever the district’s reasons for not reappointing Monaco, the judge dismissed his petition to regain his coaching positions as moot.

Dismissal seen as warranted

Monaco could challenge only the district’s decision not to reappoint him for the 2012-13 school year, the judge said. But with the golf and basketball seasons already ended, the court cannot give him his coaching spots back, the judge said. And Monaco could receive monetary relief only if the court annulled the district’s decision to appoint the others in his place, “the very judgment that the court cannot now grant, given the conclusion of the pertinent sports seasons,” NeMoyer said.

What’s more, “were it to consider the merits of the petition, the court would conclude that they likewise warrant dismissal,” NeMoyer said.

District officials can reappoint or not reappoint incumbent coaches as they see fit and can replace coaches with other qualified individuals, according to the ruling.

“As the court sees it, district officials are not limited to exercising such discretion only [after] a given outcome of a given investigation into allegations of wrongdoing or misconduct lodged against the incumbent coach,” NeMoyer said.

Coach’s attitude key factor

District officials did not ignore Monaco’s supporters, Williamsville Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff said in an affidavit dated March 12, a few days after The Buffalo News first reported Monaco’s legal action against the district.

Monaco “claims that I fell prey to a ‘conspiracy’ among disgruntled parents and completely disregarded the praise extolling [his] coaching ability,” Martzloff said in the affidavit. “I did not, however, dismiss any showings of support from former players, friends and colleagues. In fact, I took it as a given that [he] had strong supporters from the community, as one would expect with a longtime coach.”

Monaco’s attitude during the investigation and his refusal to accept any responsibility for how the basketball season unfolded and the team’s problems “overshadowed” the opinions of his supporters, Martzloff said.

“During my three meetings and one telephone conference with Mr. Monaco, the thing that stood out above all else was that he had no plan for addressing the problems among players on the team or the negative perception of him as coach,” the superintendent said in his affidavit. “All he could hear was the praise of his supporters, which I don’t deny was real, but it left a serious problem to fester.”

Principal investigated

Former Williamsville South principal Daniel Ljiljanich, who resigned in June to become superintendent of the Silver Creek Central School District, said he “absolutely supported” the district’s decision not to reappoint Monaco as the boys’ basketball coach, according to his affidavit to the court.

Coaches must make tough decisions, Ljiljanich said, so he did not consider playing time or who was or was not promoted to the varsity squad when evaluating Monaco.

He also did not account for Monaco’s talent as a coach, he said.

Rather, Ljiljanich said he simply looked at whether Monaco followed the district’s code of conduct when interacting with players and parents.

Monaco had several negative encounters with some of his players and their parents, Ljiljanich said.

One student reported the coach made repeated comments about his weight.

Two parents complained that Monaco referred to their son as belonging to the “sophomore mafia,” whom the coach believed pushed around eighth-graders on the junior varsity squad.

Another student’s parent detailed her concerns about Monaco’s “utter lack of professionalism and disturbing conduct,” including accusations that he swore at her son during games and belittled him, Ljiljanich said.

Among the comments Monaco made to her son, according to Ljiljanich’s affidavit: “You are a truly horrible fundamental player. You lack all the important skills. You’re a ball hog.”

He called her son and another player “cancers,” according to her letter to Ljiljanich.

After the parent and her husband met with another Williamsville South administrator to discuss their complaints, Monaco allegedly rebuked their son in the locker room saying, “I don’t need you going home telling your daddy,” the parent reported.

Ljiljanich told Monaco that he owed the student an apology for the “telling your daddy” remark, and Monaco sent a letter to the student’s parents apologizing for the statement.

“It resembled more of a defensive explanation rather than a true apology,” Ljiljanich said in his affidavit.

Coach defends record

Monaco has pointed to his coaching evaluations as proof of his abilities.

Monaco said he signed a revised evaluation in June after the principal completed his investigation.

The revised evaluation gave him a satisfactory grade in 11 of 13 areas but indicated improvement was needed in two areas: maintaining individual and team discipline and morale, and also showing self-control and poise as a coach.

In none of the areas was he graded unsatisfactory – the lowest mark available.

“At no time did any administrator corroborate that I ever engaged in the wrongdoing for which I was falsely accused by a handful of disgruntled parents and students,” Monaco said in his affidavit.

“Despite self-serving and after-the-fact allegations, I received positive coaching evaluations for the 2011-2012 basketball and golf seasons, as I did every prior year,” he said.

That’s not the way Ljiljanich saw it.

“What was not expressly reflected in that coaching evaluation, however, was [Monaco’s] defensive attitude and insistence that he had not engaged in any wrongdoing whatsoever,” Ljiljanich said in his affidavit.

“He refused to accept any responsibility and merely responded to the allegations by stating that they were ‘absolute lies.’ ”