High School Sports

Paso football coach’s sudden exit comes amid questions over player transfers

Paso Robles High School announced Wednesday it has “mutually agreed to part ways” with first-year head football coach Larry Grant just days after the first game of the 2017 season.

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District’s release announcing Grant’s departure did not cite a reason for the sudden move, leaving the football team without a permanent head coach for the second time in less than a year.

But it comes amid questions surrounding two players related to Grant, a former Ohio State and NFL linebacker who previously served as the defensive assistant coach at Clovis North High. The players are reportedly now living with him and had joined the team this offseason.

Sincere Jackson and Fred Thompkins, who Grant said both joined the Paso Robles team as transfers, were profiled by The Tribune leading up to the 2017 season. Thompkins, who Grant said is his brother’s godson, is a safety and wide receiver who transferred from Kimball High in Tracy. Jackson, whose father Leon Jackson is Grant’s cousin, is a cornerback who transferred from Junipero Serra High in San Mateo.

Thompkins had been selected as a team captain.

At the time of the interview with The Tribune, neither player had submitted the proper transfer paperwork with the CIF-Southern Section, the governing body for California high school athletics, to be eligible to compete in the upcoming season.

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.

Guardianship request

Grant filed for temporary guardianship of Thompkins, 17, and Jackson, 16, on Aug. 25, the same day the players sat out Paso Robles’ first game of the season, according to San Luis Obispo Superior Court filings obtained by The Tribune.

Both players applied for a CIF Hardship Waiver Transfer, defined as an unforeseeable, uncorrectable condition or event that is severe and non-athletic in nature. Simmons called the use of hardship waiver exceptions “very limited.”

Students transferring without a hardship application typically have to sit out 30 days before playing, a much more common occurrence. Players who are approved for a hardship transfer — or who move with their family to a new area or move in with someone who has legal guardianship — can forgo the sit-out period and play right away. CIF rules state that if you move with your “immediate family,” it constitutes as a “Valid Change of Residence,” and eligibility becomes easier to obtain.

“If they applied for a hardship waiver, they probably don’t qualify for the sit-out period, but I can’t tell you what their outcome is going to be,” Simmons said last week.

According to the CIF-Southern Section website on Wednesday, both Thompkins’ and Jackson’s transfers are listed as “incomplete.” Simmons said prior to Grant’s departure that his office will now wait to hear back from each of the schools the two transferred from to make sure there are no academic or discipline problems before making a final decision.

It’s unclear if Grant’s departure will alter the players’ eligibility or whether they will even stay in Paso Robles.

“If we had got the paperwork sooner, we could have made a decision sooner,” Simmons said. “Maybe you should ask (Paso Robles) why it took so long.”

Paso Robles athletic director Anthony Morales didn’t answer that question directly last week when he spoke to The Tribune prior to Grant’s departure.

“Just like we follow the process for our whole entire student body, our transfer paperwork is in the process with CIF,” Morales said at the time. “Now it’s just a matter of waiting and let the outcome come from CIF.”

Paso Robles Joint Unified Athletic Director Rich Clayton declined to comment on any connection between the ongoing transfer issue and Grant’s departure.

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure we are doing the right thing for CIF,” Clayton said Wednesday. “Any information we are fully cooperating with them.”

Clayton added that he was not aware that Grant had filed for guardianship of Jackson or Thompkins.

CIF bylaws at issue

Transfer eligibility isn’t the only question surrounding the players. A quote from Jackson in The Tribune story could be construed as uncovering “undue influence” by Grant to lure a player to transfer.

“(Grant), he called me up and said, you know, ‘You can have a better opportunity out here, we can get you a (college) scholarship, you can play, so you know, just come out here and, you know, we will get you out there,” Jackson told The Tribune. “When I came out here, that’s exactly what he did.”

The CIF bylaw 510 covering this issue states that, “Undue influence is any act, gesture or communication (including accepting material or financial inducement to attend a CIF member school for the purposes of engaging in CIF competition regardless of the source) which is performed personally, or through another, which maybe be objectively seen as an inducement, or part of a process of inducing a student, or his or her parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver, by or on behalf of, a member school, to enroll in, transfer to, or remain in, a particular school for athletic purposes.”

Simmons wouldn’t comment on that potential violation. He did say it’s possible that both players could miss the entire season if they were found to violate the bylaw.

Simmons said he’s not at liberty to discuss the case and that the CIF-Southern Section doesn’t have an investigative branch to dig deeper in each transfer.

“We rely on schools to do their due diligence,” Simmons said.

Grant has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Although, an active social media user, he did issue a statement to his 30,000 followers on Twitter.

“I would like to sincerely thank the Paso Robles High School for the opportunity to serve as head coach for their prestigious school,” Grant wrote. “I’ve gained some amazing relationships with my players at the high school level and even many, many kids in the youth here in Paso Robles. I wish the team and their new coach all the best going forward for the rest of the season.”

From Clovis to Paso

Grant joined a program in desperate need of some stability. In the middle of the 2016 season, longtime head coach Rich Schimke was fired after he poured syrup into a player’s belly button during an impromptu post-game locker room celebration, an incident that was captured on video.

But Grant didn’t exactly arrive with a clean slate.

In 2013, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Last year, Grant was fired from his job as an assistant at Clovis North following a midseason loss to Paso Robles.

Clovis North athletic director Coby Lindsey was evasive at the time of Grant’s hiring at Paso Robles when asked about the circumstances of his departure saying, “I don’t want to get trapped into something.”

“It just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right fit,” Grant said in February of his departure from Clovis North. “It didn’t hurt me as a coach or in any kind of way. Fifteen people I sat in front of (when interviewing for the job at Paso Robles), they saw something in me that can be a benefit to the future of this program. And it was exactly what they are looking for.”

Now, two days before Paso Robles travels to Bakersfield to play Frontier, the team is in a familiar spot, trying to find a coach who can return the North County team to glory.

J.R. Reynolds, who has been named interim head coach, was serving at the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator this season and previously led the junior varsity team to undefeated records the past two seasons.

“This is a great opportunity to move forward with J.R. as our interim head coach,” Paso Robles superintendent Chris Williams said in the release announcing the move. “He’s had great success in Paso Robles both as a student athlete and as a coach. We will continue to focus on our organizational values and belief in success for all students.”

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