Less than 24 hours after a sometimes contentious parents meeting, Rio Americano principal Brian Ginter this afternoon relieved football coach Christian Mahaffey of his duties and reinstated 11 players who had left the team in support of a fellow teammate.
The move has left Ginter searching for a new head coach, a hire he hopes to have in place by Wednesday. Rio Americano plays its Capital Athletic League opener on Friday at Cordova.
Ginter met Tuesday afternoon with the beleaguered coach and told Mahaffey that he was going to bring back the 11 players with a one-game suspension "for insubordination."
"He felt he couldn't be able to coach effectively if that happened, and that he would not do that," Ginter said. "So at that particular time I had to let him go."
The players had told the coach last Wednesday that they would no longer play unless he reinstated senior wide receiver-defensive end Guillermo Salazar.
Salazar was forced to quit the team Sept. 25 when he informed Mahaffey he would miss the Raiders' Oct. 13 home game against Whitney to attend a weekend baseball showcase in Peoria, Ariz. Salazar, a pitcher-infielder, is considered a college baseball prospect.
Mahaffey said Salazar couldn't remain on the team if he was going to miss the Saturday league game to attend an out-of-season event. (The Raiders' three-sport star also has been reinstated.)
Mahaffey, who has coached football at the school for 17 seasons, the last four as head coach, refused to resign.
"I felt I was painted into a corner," said Mahaffey, an off-campus coach who teaches special education in the San Juan Unified School District. "I tried to stand up for the right thing and still think I have....I couldn't coach a group of kids who bullied their way back on the football team."
Mahaffey's longtime assistants Jason Wallace and Kendell Hutchings also were relieved of their duties in supporting their leader.
"There wasn't a cross word," Mahaffey said of the meeting that included Raiders' athletic director Karen Hanks. "There is no animosity. Sometimes coaches get fired.
"Brian was put in a bad position, and he had to make a choice. I don't agree with the choice, but that's what a principal does."
Senior quarterback Mark Lyon, one of the 11 players who battled to get back on the team, said he supports Ginter's decision and agrees with the punishment of having to sit out Friday's game for walking out in the first place.
"It wasn't handled the best way on either side," Lyon said. "We understand the principal's decision to have us sit. We're a family at Rio, and we need to promote players doing other sports."
Ginter said that there was a "perception" of Mahaffey applying his out-of-season rule in a "contradictory" manner to other players earlier in the season who missed practices or games to attend other activities.
"Based on the fact that there weren't any rules, guidelines or expectations given to the players in a written format that they had signed off on, I felt like I didn't have anything that could support the decision he made," Ginter said.
While Ginter said that he didn't like how the players approached the situation, he also didn't feel that Mahaffey handled it properly, either.
"I thought it could have been handled differently, and we wouldn't need to be in this situation," he said.
Mahaffey and Ginter had met with parents and players at a meeting Monday night, closed to the media, that was highly charged and in which, according to several sources, Mahaffey remained steadfast in his opposition to the players' return.
"I left the meeting reeling," wrote Gabrielle Meindl, the parent of a player on the team, in an e-mail to Ginter that she shared with The Bee. "Coach Mahaffey showed no self reflection of his actions whatsoever.... This situation was handled abominably. Guillermo's opportunity should have been celebrated, not punished. And, I am proud for the seniors who stood up for the ill treatment of their teammate - to me, that shows character."
But Mahaffey felt it's he, his assistants and the 21 players who remained who showed character.
"I gave them a chance after they came to me as a united group and gave me and my staff an ultimatum," Mahaffey said. "We gave them 24 hours to make the right decision."