Former longtime Paso Robles High School head football coach Rich Schimke blasted the school district’s leadership Tuesday night, saying the district engages in intimidation and bullying tactics in hiring and firing employees as it strives to create a “culture change.”
His impassioned testimony at the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting came in reference to the hiring — and subsequent departure after just one game — of head football coach Larry Grant, a former Ohio State and NFL linebacker.
Grant was hired last winter to replace Schimke, who was fired last fall from his coaching job after 19 years but retained as a Paso Robles High teacher following an incident in which he poured syrup on a player’s belly button and either mimicked licking it off or licked it off during a locker room celebration.
“The last few years, I’ve noticed a definite attempt at culture change,” Schimke said in the public comment period of the board meeting. “Also, I have noticed people being intimidated — and, for criminy sakes, bullied, threatened (over) hiring practices. These are all facts by the way — firing practices... smear tactics, just to name a few.”
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Schimke’s comments echoed concerns among community members over an influx of coaches, teachers and administrators from the Central Valley since Paso Robles District Superintendent Chris Williams was hired three years ago after previously serving as assistant superintendent at Central Unified School District in Fresno.
The comments, which drew a standing ovation from those in the crowd and are Schimke’s first since his firing, put a public face on sentiments that had simmered within the community after The Tribune disclosed in late August that Grant had brought with him two family members to live with him and play on the team.
Either Grant or the school failed to file the proper transfer paperwork with the CIF-Southern Section — Southern California’s high school sports governing body — until a week before the season’s first game. The players, who came from Northern California schools, had been practicing with the team since spring but can’t play until the transfers are approved. They’ve missed the Bearcats’ first two games.
Still, Williams and at least one board of trustees member defended Grant’s hiring.
“We want great people in our organization leading our community,” Williams said at Paso Robles’ football game Friday night. “My goal is always to hire for the long term. It is really unfortunate that we had an early agreed-upon resignation (with Grant). This has just been a transition for us, a fast transition. Obviously, a little disappointment for the community. My heart goes out to our kids.”
Grant, who had never held a head coaching position, was fired when from his previous position as an assistant coach at Clovis North High School following a preseason loss Sept. 23, 2016 — against Paso Robles. He also served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy while playing with the San Francisco 49ers.
Paso Robles is now on its fourth head football coach in the span of less than a year. Matt Carroll, who took over for Schimke for the remainder of the 2016 season on an interim basis, was not retained.
Williams on Grant’s departure
Williams played linebacker at Fresno State in the early 1990s and was heavily involved in bringing Grant to Paso from the Central Valley.
Williams said Grant was selected out of seven applicants and went through a rigorous group interview process.
Citing personnel issues, Williams declined to discuss Grant’s departure, saying only that he wishes the best for Grant and his family.
Williams also said he has full confidence in the administration, including district athletic director Rich Clayton and Paso Robles High School athletic director Anthony Morales. Both also used to be administrators in the Central Unified School District in Fresno.
“Obviously, there are some learning opportunities for us together as a team,” Williams said. “I solely and wholeheartedly want to take responsibility for everything as an organizational leader.”
Williams has the backing of one school board member who spoke to The Tribune.
“I have 100 percent faith in our athletic director and Chris Williams that things are heading in the right direction,” board member Joel Peterson said last week.
As for Grant, Peterson said he wasn’t aware of all the details but added he supported Grant’s initial hire and wasn’t deterred by the fact that he was fired from his last job.
Williams also responded to criticism from the community about hiring from outside the area instead of local candidates.
“If I wanted to come and keep it the same, I wouldn’t have come,” Williams said, adding that he aims to have a balance of new blood and those who are part of the “Bearcat tradition.”
School board president Field Gibson also addressed community criticism of hires from the Central Valley.
“We hire the best people we can. I don’t care where they come from,” Gibson said. “But statistically, most of them don’t come from the valley. But to call people derogatory names and be cowardly on social media and run people down because of where they might have been... They came here to be Bearcats, and we should welcome them.”
Gibson said Grant’s departure wouldn’t have caused such a stir if he’d been a less high-profile employee. “It just happens to be that this football coach position is something more visible,” he said.
Board trustee Chris Bausch declined to comment on the record when reached by The Tribune. Efforts to reach trustees Tim Gearhart, Kathleen Hall and Dave Lambert (who resigned Monday) were unsuccessful.
While Schimke criticized district leadership, he defended Grant.
“Although I have never personally met him, I don’t feel it is right to run him through the media concerning his godson and nephew,” Schimke said, referring to Sincere Jackson and Fred Thompkins, the two players at the center of the controversy surrounding Grant and his departure.
Both players are still going through the transfer process and their status was listed as “under review” on the CIF-Southern Section website Wednesday.
CIF-Southern Section Assistant Commissioner Thom Simmons said his office did not receive transfer applications for Jackson until Aug. 22. Thompkins’ paperwork, Simmons said, didn’t arrive until Aug. 23.
“We have a full-time (athletic director) at the high school. We have a full-time district athletic director. We have a varsity football coach (Lambert), who was a school board member. ... We have a district police officer on varsity staff, and we have a superintendent who all knew these boys were at Paso Robles High School as far back as March or April,” Schimke said. “When I was coaching before this regime, that would have never happened. At the least they should have known if they were going to be eligible, not eligible, etc.
“Coach Grant has never been a head coach before and should have been guided better on that account.”
Schimke spoke to The Tribune following his public comments but declined to elaborate on his accusations, citing an ongoing grievance with the school concerning his dismissal, which he said is in the final stages.
Williams on Tuesday declined to comment directly about Schimke or Grant.
Gibson on Wednesday said Schimke’s comments continue to put the board in a difficult position with community members, who remain polarized by his ousting. Some still support Schimke, while others think the state should revoke his teaching license, Gibson said.
“There’s no win in that situation,” Gibson said.
Players’ future uncertain
Grant attended Paso Robles’ game Friday night, a loss under interim head coach J.R. Reynolds to Oakland’s McClymonds, and afterward stood outside a perimeter fence at War Memorial Stadium greeting and shaking hands with a few players and parents.
Grant declined to comment on the circumstances of his departure.
“I am just here to watch the boys play,” he said. “I am excited for what is going to happen in the future.”
According to documents obtained by The Tribune, Grant was awarded temporary guardianship of Jackson and Thompkins on Sept. 7 by San Luis Obispo Superior Court until Dec. 1. Both teenagers are living with Grant in his Paso Robles home, according to court documents. But whether this paves the way for CIF-Southern Section approval and a return to the playing field remains to be seen.
Transfer eligibility isn’t the only question surrounding the players. A quote from Jackson in The Tribune story in August could be construed as uncovering “undue influence” by Grant to lure a player to transfer, which could affect CIF’s ruling on their transfer.
Tribune reporter Lindsey Holden contributed to this report.