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Coaches support fired O'Connor

Dave Filimoehala knows how difficult it can be to deal with the parents of student-athletes.

"If you haven't had parent problems, you haven't been in coaching long enough," said the Hunter boys basketball coach. "It's getting pretty ugly."

So at the annual coaches association meeting, Filimoehala read a letter supporting recently fired girls basketball coach Mike O'Connor and asked the coaches in attendance to sign it if they agreed with him.

"I'm doing this because he's a friend of mine . . . and it's bad for all of us as coaches," Filimoehala said. "If he's in trouble for the way he coaches, then the rest of us are in trouble."

He said he wanted to send a message to parents, the school board and school administrations that coaches can't coach with too much micromanaging from any group. About 30 coaches signed the letter, including the association's leadership.

The letter will be sent to Lehi High School's administration, the Alpine School Board and the Utah High School Activities Association. They said it is meant to offer "moral support" to O'Connor as he takes his battle with parents and the Lehi principal to court in a defamation lawsuit.

"We, as coaches of the state of Utah, want to preserve our right to coach our own teams. We want the right to pick our own teams. We want the right to set our own schedules. We want the right to call our own plays. We want the right to be the head coach. We want these rights without parents and administration threatening our jobs because they don't see things the way we do," the letter began.

"Athletics is not a right; it's a privilege . . . Each year many of our jobs are threatened due to parents and administrations. This year the job was taken from coach Mike O'Connor after he had just won back-to-back region titles. Some of the parents and the high school principal took his job from him for no other reason than they thought he should coach differently."

The letter acknowledges O'Connor's lawsuit and says, "Coach O'Connor decided to stand up for himself and for all coaches everywhere to stop these injustices . . . Coaches are leaving coaching in large number all over the country for the same reasons. We as an association want to stand beside coach O'Connor and say we support you."

Lonnie Magnusson, the association's president, coached for 13 years at Lehi High, and was the girls basketball coach just before O'Connor. He said he had his share of problems with parents.

"You always have some parents who aren't happy," said the current Wasatch boys basketball coach. "They have the best of intentions sometimes, but it makes it tough for you to do what's best for everyone and not just one individual."

Filimoehala won three state championships as Lehi's boys basketball coach before leaving to go to Hunter High and also had similar issues.

"You never seem to be able to keep everyone happy," Magnusson said. "Hopefully the kids have a good experience and that makes it all worth it."

Box Elder boys coach Keith Mecham has been teaching the game for 12 years, nine as a head coach. He said he's had some "pretty bad" experiences, but they're far fewer than the good experiences.

"Sometimes no matter what you do, people are unhappy," he said. "Parents have expectations, players have expectations and coaches have expectations, and sometimes they don't all line up like they should."

Mecham said he believes part of the problem lies in the fact that many parents coach youth and competition league teams now.

"More and more parents are called 'coach,' " he said. "They feel like they know these kids and their tendencies better than the head coach . . . Parents are also a huge part of our success. It's a double-edged sword."

Mecham has never met O'Connor but said he signed the letter because he'd read reports of the controversy and didn't see what warranted the firing.

"I have a tough time when someone's won two region titles," he said. "It seemed like it was just a difference of coaching philosophy."

Keep in mind, he said, high school boys basketball coaches make between $2,000 and $4,000 per year, which means they work without compensation for much of the year.

In other business at the yearly meeting:

NO MEMBERSHIP, NO VOTE: The coaches discussed setting a Feb. 28 deadline for coaches to join the association. The reason is that each year the coaches in the association choose a senior all-star team. Only players whose coaches are members of the association are eligible for nomination to the team.

Some coaches join just days before those teams are selected so that their players can be on the all-star team, which makes for a hectic balloting process. So the coaches will not accept new membership for this season after Feb. 28.

MORE ORGANIZED FALL BALL? Some of the coaches would like to move the moratorium on organized practices of the high school teams. In hopes of allowing college coaches to come to practices to see recruits, several coaches suggested moving a few weeks of the fall dead time to the spring to accommodate the recruiters.

The associations' executive committee will meet to come up with specific proposals and then every coach will be polled on his or her preference. Those who spoke said they'd like to have more time to practice and coach in the fall rather than the spring.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com