Gilbert football coach Leland Rodgers said he was fired by the school Friday afternoon.
Rodgers said his dismissal stems from what he called an “anonymous parent” accusing him of improper verbal and physical treatment toward players.
"We have the highest expectations for all of our athletic programs at Gilbert High School," Gilbert principal Christopher Stroud wrote in an email on Saturday. "We not only want to build a competitive spirit within our students but also build positive personal characteristics. We are proud of the hard work our student athletes put in each and every day, and each and every season."
"During this past season the Gilbert High School Football program has had too many distractions in order to maintain those standards. Accordingly, we have decided to go in a different direction with Coach Rodgers. We thank him for his service, and we wish him all the best in his future pursuits."
"Gilbert High School has epitomized tradition and excellence since 1918. I, along with the staff and students, intend to continue that here at GHS. We look forward to seeking out a qualified candidate who can help take this football program to the next level."
According to Rodgers, a parent went to Stroud and athletic director Dan Haasch alleging Rodgers made kids do extra physical punishments for missing or being late to practice. The parent also alleged an assistant coach used profanity toward one of the players.
Rodgers denied any wrongdoing and said an investigation revealed no specifics. Rodgers also said he’d never “had any kind of conversation” with the parent, nor ever had conversations with any parent about his players’ treatment. He said he received a letter directive from the district after the investigation, and was told his job was safe. Rodgers said he has his kids do “up-down” running drills similar to several schools, but said his players were never in danger health-wise and was never told what was “excessive.” He also said the assistant coach in question was suspended for a week.
When he was asked to resign Friday, he refused.
“I’m not going to have an admission of guilt or resign when I haven’t done anything and nobody has said I have done anything,” he said. “They told me nothing was specifically up against me they backed me and I don’t understand what changed or why.
“…For some random person to bring up stuff like this is disheartening. If I deserved it, that I screwed up and don’t deserve to be around kids anymore, that’s on me. But apparently instead I aggravated someone I shouldn’t have and don’t know what I did. It’s disappointing there wasn’t more (administration) support when nothing really happened.”
“(The parent) was going to threaten to go to the school board and (Gilbert administration) came back and told me to resign so they’d go away. I said no, I hadn’t done anything wrong and nobody could offer specifics. I’ve never met the person and never talked to them.”
Rodgers said an email was sent to administration (he was not included) two weeks ago. A number of players went to superintendent Dave Allison on Thursday and Stroud on Friday in support of Rodgers. Senior quarterback Conner Helvig wasn’t aware of Rodgers’ dismissal late Friday afternoon but knew an email alleging complaints had been sent to administration two weeks ago.
“I can see where (the anonymous parent) is coming from but don’t think it was anything to be fired for,” Helvig said.
Gilbert was 3-7 this year in Rodgers’ first season at the school. Before being hired by Gilbert to replace Dan Dunn, he was the defensive coordinator under Matt Gracey at Mesquite (Gracey resigned last week), and, previously under former Wildcats coach Mike Reardon. He worked briefly with Dunn at Mesa Community College, and at Mesquite under Rich Iverson. He played at Dobson.
Rodgers will continue to teach at the school. But besides suddenly being out of a coaching job, a precedent of having a person allege anything the person wants, anonymously, and see the administration act upon it, has him worried.
“There isn’t anything I can do, and anything that was said was either disproven or handled,” he said. “Someone got away with saying things and threatening to go further and further up (within the district), and it’s not true, and nothing happens to them. I think it’s outrageous. My parting words would be good luck to anyone who takes this job.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.