Coach is fired at Rio Americano

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 - 11:18 am

Less than 24 hours after a contentious meeting with parents, Rio Americano High School principal Brian Ginter on Tuesday relieved football coach Christian Mahaffey of his duties and reinstated 11 players who left the team in support of a teammate.

The move left Ginter searching for a head coach, a hire he hopes to have in place today. Rio Americano plays its Capital Athletic League opener Friday at Cordova.

Ginter met Tuesday with the coach and told Mahaffey he was bringing 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 told the coach last Wednesday they no longer would play unless he reinstated senior receiver-defensive end Guillermo Salazar.

Salazar was forced to quit the team Sept. 25 when he informed Mahaffey he would miss the Raiders' home game against Whitney on Oct. 13 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 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 Kendall Hutchings, also were relieved of their duties in supporting their leader.

"There wasn't a cross word," Mahaffey, 44, said of the meeting that included 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.

"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 there was a "perception" of Mahaffey applying his no out-of-season sports rule in a "contradictory" manner to other players for missing practices or games. Mahaffey said that claim was "ridiculous."

"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.

Mahaffey and Ginter on Monday night held a meeting with parents and players that was emotional and contentious and during which, according to several sources, Mahaffey remained steadfast in his opposition to the players' return. The meeting was closed to the media.

"I left the meeting reeling," Gabrielle Meindl, the parent of a player on the team, wrote 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 was he, his assistants and the 21 players who remained who showed character, not those who departed.

"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."

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