Triplett to withdraw from race for Ironton football coach

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2006

Merrill Triplett Jr. has no idea who the next Ironton head football coach will be but, for the sake of the players, Triplett said he hopes someone gets the job soon.

Regardless, the Ironton assistant coach and learning disability teacher said it would not be him at the helm since he plans to withdraw his name from consideration.

Still, Triplett said he remains committed to helping build the program that has been without a leader since hall of famer Bob Lutz retired in early May amidst rumors of conflict within the athletic department.

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Even with more than 20 years of gridiron coaching experience at schools that include Symmes Valley, River Valley and Oak Hill, Triplett says he has never seen anything quite like the “political circus” that has engulfed the Ironton sports community as the district has tried to fill Lutz’s position.

“I am simply a football coach of 23 years and I have always been there for the kids,” Triplett said. “It is the kids that are completely lost in this.”

Triplett said he plans to withdraw his name on Monday, a move he said should make the decision easier for the board that has said it plans to talk with Lutz about a possible return.

Regardless, 49-year-old coach did say he is more than willing to help whoever the next coach is.

“This will be better for the program. Instead of arguing, they can get on with it, give kids coach and get headed in the right direction,” Triplett said. “We have a great group of kids, anyone will be lucky to coach them and they will be able to make anyone look good.”

Triplett, 49, was one of 12 applicants for the position and one of three interviewed by Superintendent Dean Nance. After the school board and Nance seemed to be at odds over whom to choose, the board voted down Triplett and fellow assistant Mark Vass. Mark Lutz, Bob Lutz’s nephew, withdrew his name.

So the position remains vacant for now.

Assistant coach Mark Lewis said he couldn’t agree with Triplett more that now is time to come together because dragging it out only hurts the students.

“(The board) needs to make a decision right now,” Lewis said. “The kids are asking me everyday, ‘What’s going on? Do we have a coach?’”

Lewis, who also applied for the job, said that whomever the choice is —Vass, Bob Lutz, or anyone else — they would need time to pick a staff and get focused.

Triplett agrees and said he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the district that helped him during a time of need.

After returning to Ironton for family reasons, Triplett began teaching classes at the high school and joined the football team as a volunteer assistant coach. Now, the uproar that he unwittingly became a part of has him concerned about his family

“Family is more important than football,” he said. “Football is just football. Family is much more important and you have to put everything in perspective.”

Some of Triplett’s concern for his family stemmed from published comments from a public meeting that detailed a conversation between athletic director Terry Parker and the members of the hiring committee.

The comments were not fully explained in the newspaper. Parker told committee members that they should offer Triplett and any other current employees who are qualified to have the position a chance to be interviewed or that it could be a policy violation that could lead to potential legal action if those individuals so chose. Parker did not say Triplett or anyone else had discussed this course.

Triplett emphasized that the idea never crossed his mind and that he wouldn’t even consider that an option.

“I have never sued anyone in my life and I don’t intend to. This world is sue happy but I am not one of those people,” he said. “I appreciated the district giving me a job when I needed one. I came back here to help my family.”

The Ironton School Board will meet in special session next Thursday to discuss the coaching vacancy and possibly fill the post.

Attempts to contact Vass and Parker were unsuccessful.