Months of blogging and community chatter about the state of Bradwell Institute football culminated in a request for the resignation of head coach Jim Walsh Jr. on Tuesday night before the Liberty County Board of Education.
Bradwell supporter Robert Darby, whose wife and children attended the school, took the podium for a three-minute chance to voice his concerns about Walsh, who has coached the Tigers for 18 years through 114 wins, 93 losses and 10 trips to the state playoffs.
“What I was advised to do was to bring it to the school board and the superintendent about having him step down,” Darby said. “The reason —”
BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker interrupted him and explained that she advised Darby to bring his concerns before the board. She also instructed him to speak in more general terms.
Though personnel matters cannot be addressed specifically during the meeting due to privacy laws, the audience seemed to know who Darby was talking about.
“Everybody thinks it’s just because of our record this past year, but it’s not that,” Darby said after the meeting.
Three years ago, he and some other members of the Harvey Overton Bradwell Booster Club met with Walsh to discuss their vision and expectations for the team, and the Tigers’ record has slid downhill since then, he said.
“It’s an embarrassment around here, and it used to be the pride of the community,” Darby said.
The Bradwell football team had a 3-7 overall record in 2010. As the Tigers churned toward 1-9 this season, the idea that the team needed a change of leadership gained momentum.
Darby said it’s not just losing that has upset the community, but that support for the team has dwindled.
“It’s almost nonexistent anymore because nobody is going to support a losing program,” he said, adding that an estimated 200 spectators were at the school’s last game and fundraising has taken a toll.
Darby said he spoke with board member Carol Guyett, District 3 representative, and she reportedly told him that the county will not make its personnel decisions based on a win-loss record.
“If we don’t, we’re the only county in the United States that doesn’t fire coaches on wins and losses. … If we don’t win, no one is going to get involved anymore,” Darby said.
In November, Tift County High School football coach Jay Walls resigned after a 3-7 season, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Under Walls, the team had a 44-34 record in seven seasons.
In November 2010, Long County High School football coach Kyle Wilson resigned with a career record of 13-47 in six seasons, the Courier previously reported.
But Bradwell Institute Principal Scott Carrier and Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer both agree that there’s more to Walsh’s role than the team’s record.
“Yes, we want to win, obviously,” Carrier said. “We look at a broader picture probably than they’re going to look at in college or when they get into a professional level. We’re still looking at the whole child, and I’m looking for coaches who have a clear understanding of that.”
People sometimes forget that colleges hire their coaches for athletic duties only, whereas high school coaches must be educators first, Carrier added. When not on the sidelines, Walsh teaches world history.
“I’m hiring teachers who coach, not coaches who teach,” the principal said. Character, sportsmanship, respect, discipline and ability to secure results in the classroom are greater factors.
Carrier also said he only received two direct requests for a change in team leadership. He described the first as a “15-second conversation at a football game” and the second as an email.
The majority of the people who approach Carrier about the topic are students and parents who speak in support of Walsh, he said.
“In fact, I’ve never had a student come to me and address concern,” the principal said.
Darby said he and another man have tried to email Carrier but that the email system has blocked them. He said former Superintendent Ed Edwards and former Bradwell coach Clifford Johnson are among those calling for change.
Scherer, who was scheduled to meet with Darby on Friday to discuss his concerns, said she does not allow athletic records to dictate personnel matters.
“The nature of the game is that every Friday night, somebody wins and somebody loses, so I don’t think a win-loss record should be a determining factor in whether somebody loses their job, particularly not at the high school level.”
Carrier and Scherer are optimistic that the school’s transition from 3-AAAAA to 3B-AAAAA will benefit the program. The change takes effect during the 2012-13 school year and removes Camden County, a frequent region champion, from the schedule.
Carrier added that there are other smaller steps the athletic department can take to strengthen the team, whose facility, Olvey Field, is in the process of a multistep, multimillion-dollar renovation.
Walsh did not return the Courier’s calls for comment, but he did offer a statement in correspondence shared with Scherer and the board.
“My calling is to teach and coach young men and women within the constraints of their abilities,” Walsh wrote. “In doing so, I have to remember what is best for the student. Sometimes, I am in a very complex position where what is best for the student may not be best for the football program.”
He added that those who speak against him likely have put more time into preparing arguments than constructively helping the football team and that he is open to constructive dialogue.
But for Darby, a change in personnel is the only solution.
“There’s not any solution because that’s where it starts,” he said. “He’s the one that calls all the shots, and the shots he’s calling just don’t work anymore.”