They were the whistle-blowers.
Brad Pico, Matt Pryor, Mike Peterson, Todd Rogers and Jason Brown were the five Mountain View assistant coaches who toppled the first domino in Bernie Busken's removal as Toros football coach.
They resigned their positions, then told Mesa Unified School District officials how Busken mistreated his players. Less than two weeks later, Busken was out.
Now, nearly a year later, the coaches are convinced that what they did was just.
“I don't regret what I did at all because it was the right thing to do,” Pryor said. “Kids were being physically and mentally abused.”
Said Peterson: “I was never uncomfortable with my decision.”
The belief in their cause, however, did not make that decision easy. They were loyal to Mountain View. They knew that coming forward would lead to unwanted attention on the school.
“I will tell you with the exception of the death of my grandfather it was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through in my life,” Pryor said. “I often describe it as somebody going to war. You can't understand it unless you were there. I think I'm just now a year later starting to recover and come out of the doldrums, so to speak.”
“It' still very tough,” Brown added. “When you work with great kids and good people, it's tough not to work with them anymore.”
The coaches said most of the attention they received after going public was positive.
“I never felt any abuse or any animosity,” Peterson said.
Pryor said except for a group of players who “thought what we did was going to cost them a state championship,” he was lauded for his honesty.
“Complete strangers came up to me and recognized me and said, ‘I saw your name in the paper. I know you coached at Mountain View. I just want to tell you you did the right thing,’ ” he said.
There were instances, though, when the coaches felt the wrath of their community.
Pico was at church one Sunday when a former teammate on the Brigham Young University football team walked up to him and said, “Thanks for ruining my son's senior year.”
“I was devastated,” Pico said. “As it turned out, though, his son went on to play and Mountain View won the championship.”
Pico said he also had friends and associates who “turned their back on our friendships. But it was just a few of them.”
Three of the five coaches are back on the sidelines. Peterson coaches and teaches at Chandler High School; Rogers and Brown at Desert Vista High School.
Pryor and Pico have been turned down for coaching jobs at Mountain View but still teach at the school.
“Last spring was really tough, the toughest thing I've ever been through in my life, but I'm very happy where I'm at,” Brown said. “I'm at a great place now.”
The controversy left different imprints on the coaches.
“I learned a lot about the kind of educator and coach I am and the kind of educator and coach I want to be,” said Brown, declining to elaborate.
“I just know I've grown as a coach,” Peterson said.
Pryor and Pico, however, were left with a bitterness that remains to this day.
“I learned that I can't hardly trust anybody who's in position of authority over me,” Pryor said. “I learned that a school district doesn't care about your character or integrity. . . . It would rather cover up and hide whatever went on.
“I'm not the same as I was. I'm very guarded.”
Said Pico: “The saddest thing I saw were young boys being used as pawns to try to save a coach. The thing I learned the most is that school districts are extremely powerful.”
But like his former co-workers, Pico has no regrets.
“The bottom line is, boys are more important than programs,” he said. “There is nothing worth being dishonest.”