COOK: Changing high school football landscape makes coaching more thankless than ever

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Students gather in front of Pine-Richland High School rallying in support of the fired head football coach Eric Kasperowicz Friday, Apr. 16, 2021, in Richland Twp., Pa. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette via AP)

Forget the baffling question about why Eric Kasperowicz was fired last week as the Pine-Richland football coach by the district's school board.

I have a question that's even harder to answer: Why does he want the job back?

Why would anyone want to coach these days?

It can't be the money. Pine-Richland advertised its opening after firing Kasperowicz and listed the annual stipend at $10,092. That is peanuts-per-hour based on the time commitment the job demands.

It can't be the fame and acclaim. Kasperowicz worked at a big school and had great success that received plenty of attention, but most coaches toil in anonymity. No one knows their names outside of their district.

It is the kids, I know. Nearly all coaches in all sports do the job because they love working with young people and want to help them become better adults. Times have changed, but kids haven't. They still want discipline. They still want structure. They still want instruction. They still want to know that people care about them.

Good coaches provide all of that.

Thank goodness for those coaches.

But you have to wonder how much longer it will be before coaches say that the headaches associated with the job just aren't worth it.

It's happened before: What has happened to Kasperowicz has happened to too many other outstanding, caring coaches.

I think immediately of Mike Zmijanac, who was fired at Aliquippa for no good reason after winning big year after year. I think of Jack McCurry, who was fired at North Hills without cause and quickly reinstated after the community revolted on his behalf. I think of Jim Render, the WPIAL's all-time winningest coach who had to fight off his critics on at least one occasion to keep his job at Upper St. Clair. I think of Joe Hamilton, who had to do the same thing at my high school, Blackhawk.

Those coaches and so many others are legends to me because I know how much they cared about their players.

But times really have changed, even if kids haven't.

Parents and politics are a big problem: Many parents are more annoying, demanding, unreasonable. They think their son or daughter will get a college scholarship if they get to play more.

The politics around sports are worse. All it takes is a school board member or two to act on a vendetta and force out a good coach. That's what appears to have happened with Kasperowicz. His assistant coaches told the Post-Gazette's Mike White that Pine-Richland superintendent Brian Miller and assistant superintendent Mike Pasquinelli wanted Kasperowicz out and were determined to get that done. They went so far as to tell White that Pasquinelli "hates" Kasperowicz. They said that was the root of the investigation into alleged hazing and bullying in the football program.

Administration is hiding: If there is a smoking gun involving Kasperowicz, let's hear about it — at least in general terms, without naming names of innocent victims. If there is a legitimate reason to fire him, tell us. I will support the Pine-Richland administrators 100 percent if that is the case.

The problem is those administrators are hiding behind their policy of not commenting on personnel matters. They don't care that, by firing Kasperowicz without an explanation, it amounts to character assassination. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. The administrators didn't have the guts to tell Kasperowicz to his face that he was fired and notified him by email.

This story isn't going to end any time soon.

Overwhelming support for the coach and vitriol for the board: Kasperowicz has received overwhelming support from his players and their parents, other students at the school and people in the Pine-Richland community. The vitriol directed at the school board has been equally overwhelming.

The Post-Gazette's White reported that football coaches state-wide are rallying around Kasperowicz. A campaign has been started by Gateway football coach/athletic director Don Holl asking all coaches and their assistants to not apply for the Pine-Richland job. That amazing show of support left Kasperowicz "extremely humbled, speechless," according to White.

He's reapplied: Meanwhile, Kasperowicz has re-applied for his job.

The players at Pine-Richland are lucky that Kasperowicz still cares enough that he is willing to continue working for Miller, Pasquinelli and the others who have pushed him out.

A lot of other coaches would say enough is enough.

Could you blame them?