Marcel Cooper’s short tenure as head coach of the Fountain-Fort Carson wrestling team ended Monday, and to the former Olympic trials competitor and Army veteran, the circumstances don’t hold water.
His dismissal centered on federally and state-required hydration testing, part of weight certification that each wrestler must complete before the start of the season. Cooper said he felt undercut by an administration that failed to adequately prepare the first-year high school coach for the arduous procedure. He also was left to conduct the test alone, without the assistance of a trainer.
“I’m a first-year coach, and I was told by (previous coach) Chris James to do it the way it was done before,” Cooper said. “I’m in there by myself, the trainer doesn’t show up, and this is coming up two months later? I was never advised about certain things, and I’d talk to (athletic director) Kelley Eichman every day before practice. She never mentioned any kind of hydration kit that I had to order for the testing.”
Eichman replied to an email from The Gazette, but did not address the situation, deferring to district spokesman John Fogarty. Fogarty did not return a message or email seeking comment.
James also did not return a call to The Gazette seeking a response from alleged advice he gave his predecessor.
Coronado coach Matt Brickell, who led the Cougars to the 5A state title in 2011 for the city’s first wrestling crown in 34 years, empathized with Cooper.
“My heart goes out to him,” said Brickell, who has coached at Coronado the past 25 years. “If he legitimately was told something, and he did it, that’s the tough part. To succeed in this business, you have to have good people around you. I don't know if he was mentored properly. You can't come in and take over a program and not get a little help.”
On Jan. 9, Fountain-Fort Carson’s dual with Pine Creek was postponed. Earlier that week, an unnamed Trojans wrestler allegedly blew the whistle on some aspect of the hydration testing, which was conducted in late November, and school administration quickly launched an investigation and put Cooper on leave.
Cooper was ordered off school grounds and forbidden contact with athletes and parents while the investigation continued. On Saturday, Frank O’Connor, a former wrestling coach within the district, accompanied the Trojans to the Colt Classic at Pueblo South. In the meantime, various reports wavered of Cooper's status. A wrestler said he had resigned; Cooper himself refuted that comment and maintained he was fighting to keep his job.
Cooper was to meet with school administration Monday to learn of his fate. But when he replied to an email from a Trojans parent seeking advice, district administration learned of it and informed the two-time national champion Greco-Roman wrestler that he was terminated because he broke that term of the suspension.
Cooper will seek legal means to make things right.
“I want my name cleared,” Cooper said. “I didn’t do anything wrong here. I was wronged. That’s how I feel. I never did this job for a paycheck. I’ve been in wrestling my whole life. I love this sport. I have some of the best kids, the best coaching staff in the state, if not nation.”
In retrospect, he reflected on a few things he might have done differently. Despite the experience, he welcomes another chance to coach high school wrestling in Colorado, or anywhere.
“I could have been more proactive about things, but I’m not going to take 100 percent responsibility,” Cooper said. “The AD, assistant principal, never said anything. I never had any guidance. That’s what it came down to. It just got way out of hand. I love the sport, and the kids are hurting from this. I’d love to continue coaching and I’m sure a school could benefit from my knowledge and experience.”