Will Lutz return?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2006

With the door left open for Bob Lutz to slip back through, Ironton City Schools’ Board of Education took no action on the head football coach’s vacancy Thursday.

The board will meet in special session next Thursday, June 22, to discuss the matter again.

Meanwhile, the other man at the center of the city’s sports firestorm, Athletic Director Terry Parker, also requested a clear-the-air meeting with the board in light of allegations made against him by various community members.

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Board member Jerry Rowe told the board he had talked to Lutz by telephone and that the veteran coach has agreed to meet with him net week to discuss returning to the job he has held for more than three decades.

“He has been in Columbus — his son had surgery — but he did say he wanted to talk about coming back,” Rowe said. “I do want to talk to him.”

Lutz’ possible return created a few questions.

“Everyone is saying he will come back ‘if.’ Are there any stipulations on his coming back?” said Mary Ann Philabaun, Ironton Education Association President .

“Is there any truth to the rumor he will come back if certain people lose their jobs?” she said.

Rowe said specifics had not been discussed.

Lutz isn’t the only one who wants to discuss things with the board.

The embattled Parker asked the board to allow him an executive session at its July regular meeting to discuss the issues that swirl around his tenure as athletic director.

Parker acknowledged there were rumors that some coaches were angry with him and invited them to meet with him and the board in executive session to discuss their anger.

“I have not always done things that were popular; but what I did, I put the kids first,” he said. “I acknowledge mistakes were made and I have corrected them.”

The meeting drew a crowd of about 50 people, including Rhonda Colegrove, who served on the head coach advisory committee. Colegrove wanted to know why Superintendent Dean Nance initially recommended Merrill Triplett to the vacancy when the committee had recommended Mark Vass.

Colegrove said four members of the committee wanted to recommend Vass. She and another member preferred Mark Lutz for the position but agreed in the end to support Vass.

She said Parker, who was on the committee, said current qualified employees may be able to sue the district if they weren’t given a chance for an interview.

“I felt used,” she said.

Nance said he did indeed recommend Vass to the head coach’s position, but Colegrove pointed out Vass’ name had only been put before the board after it rejected Triplett.

“He was recommended second and he should have been the only recommendation,” Colegrove said.

Nance said he had interviewed all three men — Vass, Lutz and Triplett — and that he was most impressed by Triplett. In his capacity as superintendent, he did what he thought was right, Nance said.

Given a chance to speak, some members of the audience called on the board to at least recognize the community had questions and concerns about the future of the district’s sports program.

“Everyone knows, honestly, that there is a someplace somewhere,” Susan McClellan said. “All I’m asking is for the school to investigate this honestly, and get the problem fixed. We have lost so many coaches. If problems aren’t addressed, it’s not going to help.”

Tom Osborne agreed.

“Why are we losing all these hall of fame-caliber coaches that other schools would love to have?” he said. “Amy Hughes and Bob Lutz and Roger Zornes. I’m not saying Mark LaFon didn’t do a good job. He did do a good job. All I’m saying is we’re losing people other schools would kill, well maybe not kill, but would love to get.”

Nance said Zornes, though he does not coach basketball anymore still teaches at the high school.

“But that’s my point,” Osborne said. “Why doesn’t he coach anymore?”

Nance said Zornes would not adhere to rules in the athletic department, including regulations on student dress and appearance.

Jack Dennin, in the audience wanted to know who made the rules.

“It’s the athletic director,” he contended. “It’s the same thing with all of them.”

While some in the audience defended Parker and decried the turmoil surrounding athletics, others wanted to know if he could be moved to another position and removed as athletic director. Philabaun said the board cannot just eliminate a job that falls under the contract without the union’s agreement.

She said while the board has some latitude in moving people from position to position, it must have a good reason. If that reason is related to a person’s job performance, that person must be given a chance to correct his or her weaknesses.

She also said job moves could not be deemed punishment and can’t be considered “arbitrary or capricious.”

One man asked if there was a “harmony clause” in Parker’s contract. Nance said there was none.

Like the last regular meeting, Thursday’s session came complete with a bouncer: An Ironton police officer stood by until the community input portion of the meeting was completed.

Next Thursday’s special meeting will be at 5 p.m. at the administration building.