Escambia High School football coach Willie Spears was terminated on a 3-2 vote after hours of comments by his supporters. Linda Moultrie and Gerald Boone voted against Escambia County Schools Superintendent Malcolm Thomas’s recommendation for termination and Jeff Bergosh, Patty Hightower and Bill Slayton voted in favor of termination.
A two-month investigation into recruiting violations at Escambia resulted in the findings that were finally released. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) ruled that the six players under scrutiny are ineligible for the 2014-15 season. According to the FHSAA, their research revealed several recruiting violations. Additionally, last Thursday, Malcolm Thomas said that the employee investigation had been finished and he recommended termination for gross insubordination, improper contact with students and ethics violations of the district’s code of conduct.
However, the crowd that filled the meeting room filed up to the speaker’s podium one by one stating how Coach Spears has been a role model for all kids. Over and over again parents stepped forward to state how Escambia High has changed, how their children have been impacted by the loving personality and skills of this coach. The superintendent’s recommendation was challenged by every speaker.
Finally, Spears was called by School Board Chair Linda Moultrie to speak. He led off his remarks with thanks to the Gator Nation. He then asked for a bible to place his right hand on top of it as if he was in a courtroom and said, “I did not recruit, I did not recruit, I did not recruit”! The coach then stated, “I am here to beg for my job”! Spears followed that request with a revelation that several civil rights groups have urged him to file a lawsuit against the district, but he stated he did not want to do it. “I just want to teach and coach”, he said. He then apologized to the superintendent for what he had done.
It was then time for the school board members to determine their votes. After Board Member Boone shared his review of the investigation he stated, “Consequently, in all good conscience, I will not be able to support the superintendent’s recommendation”. The crowd of supporters let out a celebratory roar that sounded like there was a high school touchdown. Next to speak was Bill Slayton who did not reveal where he stood on the vote and Patty Hightower who was quick to share her support of the superintendent’s termination request.
Then there was the thoughtful analysis by Bergosh who admitted he did not like the decisions made by Spears but realized that he is as an asset to the school district and if fired his career would be destroyed. He then asked the superintendent if there was any way he could change his proposed firing of Spears. Before Thomas could respond, Moultrie jumped in with her comments that she liked the analysis by Bergosh and asked the superintendent if he would reconsider his proposal to outright fire Spears as a coach and a teacher.
Superintendent Thomas said that it was the “gross insubordination” on August 30th by Spears that was the most grievous offense. He stated that when Spears allowed his players, under investigation, to play on the night of August 30th that his decision to disobey a direct order would not allow him to change his recommendation. The board members voted and the first round ended with the 3-2 vote against the beloved coach.