The announcement last month that a renowned football coach turned down the head football coaching position at Clay High School has left the Oregon Board of Education scrambling to find another coach to fill the position.
Mike Vicars, who led Delta and Genoa high schools to state playoffs, including two state semifinal appearances, was hired by the district to lead the Eagles. Vicars was also hired as the assistant principal at Fassett Middle School, where he would have also served as the school’s athletic director.
On April 19, Vicars told Superintendent Dr. Michael Zalar that he would not be accepting the position.
According to P.J. Kapfhammer, school board president, Vicars applied for a middle school principal position in the Pike-Delta-York district, where he led the Panthers to the Division IV state semifinals in 2003. Vicars, it turned out, had not signed his contract for the $90,000-a-year position in Oregon.
Delta High School, where Vicars coached for eight years, currently does not have a head football coach.
Currently, Oregon is “going backwards,” Kapfhammer said. “We are re-doing the search. We want someone who wants to work with the Green and Gold. We want someone who wants the job because it is a passion. We want someone who, on Friday nights, is proud to wear green and gold.”
Kapfhammer said the district has posted the position internally for a week and has since posted an ad for the position externally.
“When he (Vicars) did not take the job, we had to post the job internally for a week,” Kapfhammer said. “The job has been posted externally. We must post internally first. We have to follow the rules. I don’t like the process, but it is the process we have to follow. We are not going to rush and get the wrong guy. We want to get someone who will be here longer than three months.”
The district will also have to find someone to take the assistant principal position at Fassett, he said.
“I have said it before and I will say it again, Vicars was the perfect hire,” Kapfhammer said. “Vicars was a great coach and he had his administration license. I am not sure we will be able to find someone who will be able to fill all of the positions that Vicars was to fill.”
In the meantime, Clay’s assistant coaches are still running the weight training program for the players, Kapfhammer said.
“The coaches who were doing the workout are still doing it,” he said. “The players are with coaches they have worked with for years. We have staff in place who have picked up the ball.”
According to Zalar, the football team was to have a meeting last week for the first time since Vicars left. Members of the football team were informed of their coach’s departure through a group text from Vicars.
“We continue to work through the process of hiring a head varsity football coach for Clay High School,” Zalar said. “The athletic director has scheduled a meeting to update the players on the status of the search process. The assistant coaching staff continues to manage the day-to-day interactions with the players, such as weight lifting and conditioning activities.”
Zalar went on to say the hiring committee is interviewing internal applicants first and then, if necessary, they will broaden the search and interview external candidates.
“It is our hope that the position will be filled by the end of the school year so the summer schedule can be in place before the students leave school,” Zalar said. “We are committed to finding and hiring the best qualified person for the position as soon as we can.”
Change of policy
Jeff Ziviski, a board member, said the district has changed its hiring policy in the wake of the Vicars debacle.
“The decision by coach Vicars to not accept our offer to be Clay’s next football coach and middle school assistant principal caught everyone off-guard,” Ziviski said. “We have changed our process for offering contracts to prospective employees. Now they have two weeks to come into the board office and sign the employment contract. If they fail to do so, the offer is rescinded.”
Ziviski added the district is now trying to recover and move forward.
“As a district we are trying to build our programs to be the best in the area, and to have individuals back away from their commitments leaves the district trying to catch up,” Ziviski said. “In this particular situation, the only people that are truly affected are the student athletes. They were under the impression they were going to be playing for a coach that knew how to win, one that has had the taste of success. They were excited.
“It was going to be a new era for Clay football,” he added. “Then coach Vicars walked away from those kids. Personally, I don’t know how someone could do that. Where I am from and the way my parents taught me is that you have to be a man of your word; no one will respect you if they can’t trust you.”
Ziviski said that across the country, coaches have been known to up and leave when a better job is offered.
“The sad part is that coaches walk away from verbal commitments every day at all levels,” he said “You see it in college sports all the time. A team hires a new coach, maybe signs a five- to 10-year deal, goes out and recruits a bunch of talented athletes and then gets a better job and walks away.”
“That is exactly what happened here,” Ziviski continued. “Coach Vicars walked away from a commitment to our kids for a better opportunity. I feel bad for our kids, but the truth is, that is not the type of role model and mentor we want around our district leading our kids. Our kids deserve much better. We are in the process of finding our next football coach, but let’s be honest, Vicars left us high and dry and now we are scrambling to repair the damage he has caused. In the end, we will have a new football coach, and that person will be someone these players can look up to and someone that will run the program with class and integrity.”
Ziviski said he believed with this challenge, the Eagles’ will rise to the occasion and be a better team because of it.
“Again, for the players, I feel horrible, but this creates an opportunity for leaders to emerge,” he said. “Our seniors can step up and be leaders. I think in the end, when all the pieces are in place, this is the type of situation that bonds a team together and carries them to greatness. Out of sheer determination and desire, I believe these athletes have something to prove. They don’t need Vicars to be successful because they already have it in them. I truly believe in them.”
Vicars told The Press in April, via email, there were issues with the contract dates. He said he was waiting for an extended-day contract before he signed. Vicars said the timing was just a coincidence.
“My decision to resign was based solely on my personal assessment of the different skill sets required to lead a big-school program,” Vicars stated. “My experience has always been with smaller schools. I came to the realization that I was neither comfortable nor confident that I could make the transition to the big school.”