The Hot Corner

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Every, oh, about three months or so, I read about another casualty in the youth coaching fraternity that infuriates me even more than the last one.

And so it was like clockwork this week when the news broke that South Portland High School essentially canned Tony DiBiase as its boys’ basketball coach.

Oh, OK, let’s maintain the level of exactness and political correctness that we’ve come to expect from school administrators and committees in these situations. DiBiase’s contract “was not renewed.” He was “informed that he will not be returning.”

At some schools, the company line would sound something like: “Well, all coaches in our athletic department are year-to-year, you see, and (fill in the blank) may re-apply for his job if he so chooses.”

Not sure about South Portland or DiBiase. He’s not quite local enough a figure for me to dig too deeply into the grounds for this divorce. If it were me, though, I might consider sending a Xeroxed middle finger as the cover letter for my “reapplication.”

DiBiase has retained an attorney and reportedly will fight the decision. At the very least, he wants answers. School board members want answers.

That’s the least they deserve.

It would be a slippery slope defending a coach without a volume of work or a history of turning out quality kids. But we’re merely talking about one of the most respected bench bosses in the history of Maine high school basketball.

Start the conversation with state championships at three different schools: Portland, Gorham and South Portland.

With eight wins next season, DiBiase would have joined the 400-win club. That isn’t just another garden variety milestone, as the 400-homer honor roll has become in Major League Baseball. In boys’ and girls’ basketball combined, the number of head coaches to chalk up 400 victories is still one you can count on both hands.

No end to the questions here, but two stand out for me.

How did a coach with those credentials suddenly become unfit to coach a program he’s directed for nearly a generation? And when will school departments (in this case, the principal and superintendent) stop catering to the whim of one player, one parent or one teacher with a personality conflict?

I’d bet my tournament pass that it’s one person. It’s always one person. That’s all it takes to bring down the house today.

There doesn’t have to be conclusive proof of wrongdoing. There doesn’t have to be a paper trail of complaints and reprimands. There doesn’t have to be a list of signatures a mile long pleading for a coach’s ouster.

It’s scary stuff. Every year, the list of coaches resigning or dismissed under the specter of superhuman expectations gets more prestigious. The number of teams playing summer basketball without a coach in place grows. Classified ads trumpeting open jobs take up a full page in the paper deep into September and October.

We have the nerve to wonder why.

Hopefully the hundreds of former students and athletes who’ve matured under DiBiase’s tutelage over the years will step forward and help overturn this egregious error in judgment.

If not, South Portland will bring in someone less qualified, watch that person throw up his hands in frustration and find itself back in the hiring market within a year or two.

And they’ll wonder why.

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