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Editorial: Hutch Tech controversy shows how not to choose a coach

When it comes to selecting coaches for sports teams at public schools, seniority rules. It's a problem that requires attention.

At Hutchinson Central Technical School, members of the football team signed a petition asking that Nick Todaro be reinstated as head coach after he was passed over for the job in favor of another teacher who has more seniority.

Todaro, formerly an assistant with the team, had been serving as interim coach since the previous coach resigned at the end of last season. The new head coach, Tony Truilizio, is a longtime teacher who transferred recently to Hutch Tech. Truilizio is well-qualified: He coached Riverside to four Harvard Cup championships and also coached at North Tonawanda and Erie Community College.

Hutch Tech was adhering to protocol for public schools, which — following state regulations and by agreement with their teachers’ unions — have to give priority to teachers with seniority when filling coaching jobs.

This sometimes results in more experienced or qualified coaches giving way to less-qualified ones. A committee from the Buffalo school district has been working on proposals to change how coaches are hired. It's an area where fresh thinking is needed.

Truilizio appears to be eminently worthy of the job at Hutch Tech. The players there knew Todaro well and were upset to find out just one week before practice began that he would not be their head coach.

But what if, say, a social studies teacher with many years in the classroom, but few on the coaching sidelines, had applied for Todaro's job? School administrations have some say in the matter, and districts vary in how strictly they adhere to the seniority requirements, but in many cases the veteran coach would get bumped in favor of the veteran teacher.

Another scenario that plays out at some schools: A longtime coach decides to retire from teaching, but would like to stay on as coach. In most cases if a certified teacher at the school wants to replace the coach, the teacher would get the job.

Why would teachers with lesser sports experience apply to be coaches? Teachers get paid a stipend for coaching, and their pensions after retirement are based upon their total compensation in their final years of teaching. That gives some veteran teachers a financial incentive to develop a sudden interest in coaching when retirement is getting near.

It's not as simple as a teacher just putting in his or her name for a coaching spot and being handed a clipboard and a whistle. State regulations require teachers to take courses in philosophy and principles of athletics, health sciences, theory and techniques of coaching and first aid within five years of appointment to a coaching job.

As outlined in a recent Buffalo News story about the coaching change at Hutch Tech, some city parents are lobbying for a change in how coaches are chosen.

Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said his concern was over teachers who know little about a sport, "and you only want to collect a $7,000 stipend and you get to bump a qualified coach. That’s what we’re against."

A committee that includes teachers and district representatives has been working to come up with proposals for change. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore says the BTF is committed to working with the district to come up with a better process for hiring coaches.

We take Rumore at his word. Coaches form a special bond as mentors to the kids on their teams, and young student-athletes should be confident that the person leading them on the playing field is, in all respects, the best person for the job.

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