Dean Huffman built Vista Ridge’s football program from the beginning, so he was shocked Friday afternoon to learn he was being fired as coach just three days before practice is set to begin on what looks like a promising season for the team.
“I can’t tell you how devastated I am right now,” Huffman said about three hours after a 2 p.m. meeting with principal Bruce Grose and assistant superintendent Bob Felice. “I don’t know what to do. My mouth is dry and I haven’t been able to really move.”
Huffman said he was given no indication that a change was coming. He spent the summer working with the team that he led to the 3A semifinals in the school’s first year with a senior class. With most key players returning, the expectations were even higher for this year.
All this made the timing and what Huffman said was a lack of a clear explanation for his termination all the more puzzling.
Grose -- who made the decision to remove Huffman -- and Felice sent a statement about the situation late Friday afternoon.
“We have decided to take our student-athletes in a different direction with our football program,” the statement read. “The change in coaching stems from a philosophical difference of opinion on how the program should run.”
The statement went on to thank Huffman for his service to the school and noted that an interim coach will be selected from within current staff. A permanent replacement will be sought after the season.
Huffman, who was named The Gazette’s 2010 3A-A Football Coach of the Year, disputed the explanation.
“They officially are going to say it’s philosophical differences,” Huffman said. “That’s a load of (bull).”
Huffman, who will remain as a biology and chemistry teacher, said he was reprimanded last year for his handling of a player he said had an attitude problem. Other situations over the past year included a meeting with a parent after Huffman said he and a student-athlete shared mutual teasing for a period of weeks and another this summer when one of Huffman’s assistants had an argument with a pair of players in a dorm room at a camp after the players left practice early.
In every case, Huffman said a resolution was reached. Two of the incidents occurred before his most recent job review that took place at the conclusion of the football season. But he said he was told Friday that a pattern of behavior was part of the reason he was being removed as coach.
“I’m not perfect, but I’ve got to tell you that I’m not someone who goes around and mistreats people on purpose,” Huffman said. “And I certainly don’t have a pattern of it, that’s what really (ticks) me off.
“I don’t know how you’re supposed to just have some fun with the kids and just relate, but I won’t do that ever again, I can tell you that. You can’t have fun. Times have changed. I haven’t done it since then. Not in the kind of climate it is any more coaching.”
Huffman coached at Skyview Middle School, which feeds into Vista Ridge, then took over at the high school when it opened five years ago. Last year he guided the team to a 10-3 record with the only loss against a 3A opponent coming at the hands of eventual champion Elizabeth in the semifinals.
Along the way, Huffman and his team built a reputation for their outspoken confidence in the media.
With quarterback Thomas Newman and The Gazette’s 3A-A Player of the Year Tyree Walker, a running back and defensive back, among a core of returning players, the Wolves should feature an improved team when practice begins Monday.
“You’re going to say this now, that you’re going in a different direction and take it away from us?” Huffman said. "I know that by far the majority of the kids love me. I had 70 kids coming in to lift at 6 in the morning before school. We lifted every day. We only had two weeks off. We’ve gone to 7-on-7 tournaments, we’ve gone to camps; that’s just ridiculous. If they want to fire you, they can just do it. You don’t have any rights. As a teacher you have some, but they know they’ve got me now because I like to coach, so this is fast and easy.”
FULL TEXT OF VISTA RIDGE PRESS RELEASE:
After a great deal of evaluation and discussion, Vista Ridge High School will begin the 2011 football season with a new coach. We have decided to take our student athletes in a different direction with our football program. The change in coaching stems from a philosophical difference of opinion on how the program should run.
Vista Ridge would like to thank Coach Dean Huffman for his commitment to the program. He has been our coach since the school opened, and we thank him for his more than three years of service to the Vista Ridge High School and District 49 communities.
We will be interviewing from within our own coaching staff to select an individual to serve as interim head coach for the remainder of this season. The head football coach position will be posted at the end of our season and Vista Ridge will begin the selection process for a permanent coach at that time.