Alfrico “Chico” Potts knows now that it is good to be wanted.
The decision Potts still has to make, though, is if he wants to be the Columbus High School boys’ basketball team’s next head coach.
On Friday, the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees attempted to settle the issue as part of a six-plus hour meeting that involved a decision to approve Potts to be a health teacher at Columbus High, as well as failed motions to bring back Luther Riley as the school’s boys’ basketball coach and to remove Potts’ name from the list of coaching supplements up for approval.
Ultimately, the board voted to hire Potts as head boys’ basketball coach and re-hire Riley as a teacher without a coaching supplement. The board previously voted to void Riley’s employment contract because he failed to sign it within 10 days of receiving it.
Potts, who led the Indianola Gentry High boys’ basketball team to a 26-6 record and a trip to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State quarterfinals this past season, said he received a call Friday afternoon informing him the board approved a teaching position slotted for $41,270 and a $9,400 supplement for him to be the new Columbus High boys’ basketball coach. Potts said he hadn’t seen the contract and that he was going to review it when he received it. Then, Potts said he would decide whether he would come to Columbus or remain at Gentry High.
‘Good to be wanted’
“I am just going to hold strong to the first of next week,” said Potts, who is from Indianola. “I am excited about it. It is always good to be wanted. This is a credit to not only myself but also to my kids for allowing me to coach them. The way I coached them allowed for some success that has become noticed.
“I am going to take this and pray hard about it and pray long about it and ask the good man upstairs to lead my way,” he said.
Potts said the finances are comparable between the positions. He said he hadn’t been following the happenings in Columbus since March, when Riley, who was in his first season as the school’s head boys’ basketball coach, led Columbus to a 37-33 victory against Starkville in the MHSAA Class 6A State title game. The victory helped the Columbus High boys’ basketball program win its first state championship.
Riley partially reinstated
Going into the summer, it appeared Riley would return as coach after receiving a contract. However, the dispute between Riley and CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman resulted in a hold-out of sorts, with Riley refusing to sign the contract and return it to the school board for approval.
On June 8, the board voted 3-2 to rescind the offer on the basis Riley hadn’t returned the signed contract within the 10-day period the board believed was required.
School board members Angela Verdell, Currie Fisher, and Jason Spears voted to do so. Board member Frederick Sparks voted against doing so. Board member Josie Shumake wasn’t in attendance.
On Friday, Spears, who led an effort to reinstate Riley, said the board had been misinformed.
“We acted on inaccurate information,” Spears said in making a motion to rescind the June 8 vote and to re-consider Riley’s contract. “The 10-day period is what is recommended by the (Mississippi Department of Education), but it is not a rule. There is no time period. That’s up to the discretion of the board.”
Board attorney David Dunn advised the board he didn’t believe the board could again consider Riley for employment without a recommendation from Hickman.
“It’s my legal opinion that this board does not have that authority,” Dunn said. “It is the superintendent’s responsibility to recommend people for positions. The board can approve or not approve those recommendations. That’s all. I believe if you do this, there’s a real question about whether this would stand up to a legal challenge.”
Dunn asked Hickman if he was willing to recommend Riley for the job.
Hickman said that because the district had chosen to eliminate all vacant positions to address an expected budget deficit, he couldn’t answer definitively until the budget situation was resolved.
‘The answer is no’
“My question to you is, at this moment, do you recommend Mr. Riley for this position?” Dunn asked.
“The answer is no,” Hickman said.
Riley could not be reached for comment on Friday or Saturday.
Spears said the board was rescinding a previous vote, and a vote on a previous recommendation for Riley to return wasn’t an instance of the board choosing its candidate for the job.
The board retired to executive session to discuss whether it had the authority to proceed on Spears’ motion. It emerged 45 minutes later and voted 3-2 to approve the teaching contract originally offered to Riley, but the matter of who would be the school’s boys’ basketball coach was still in dispute.
That issue was addressed when the board took up the matter of supplements for employees who perform extra duties such as coaching.
Spears made two motions designed to take Potts out of the equation and to open the door for Riley to return as coach.
After failing to have Potts’ name removed from the list, which would be voted on as a group, he then made a motion for the board not to approve any of the 46 supplements on the list.
Both motions failed. The board approved the supplements, including the supplement to Potts as boys’ basketball coach.
Riley made $54,930 during the 2015-16 school year. Approximately $9,400 of that was a coaching supplement, while the rest was salary. He received his contract for 2016-17 a little more than a month before the June 8 vote to rescind it. Riley told The Dispatch he was waiting to sign it until he could meet with Hickman and discuss the possibility of a pay raise, as well as incentives for him and three assistant coaches. Riley claimed Hickman wouldn’t meet with him.
Hickman told The Dispatch he informed Riley the appropriate chain of command was for the coach to meet first with his athletic director and principal. Hickman also said the three assistant coaches have signed their contracts.
On June 13, despite a movement among supporters to urge the CMSD Board of Trustees to re-examine Riley’s contract, no action was taken. Ward 2 Columbus City Councilman Joseph Mickens urged the board to reconsider its decision to void Riley’s employee contract, saying Riley was a “highlight for the community.”
Potts’ career background
With Riley’s status uncertain, the Columbus High boys’ basketball team apparently was left in limbo. Potts said Friday he worked last month as a “consultant” for six days in Columbus with potential members of the team. He said his work in Columbus didn’t present any conflicts with his responsibilities at Gentry High, so he decided to train the players because he said he was told they hadn’t gone through workouts since the state title game.
“I saw a lot of potential,” Potts said of his time in Columbus. “I saw where kids could flourish and have an opportunity to become better basketball players.”
Potts also said he met rising junior Robert Woodard II. He said seeing Woodard II from afar and seeing him in person didn’t compare, and that he believes he has the potential to be a “very, very great basketball player and make a lot of money doing it.”
He also acknowledged it was attractive to have an opportunity to coach at a Class 6A school, which is the largest classification in the state, and to have a chance to run a program with funding of that size. But he admitted it would be tough to leave his home and that there was “excellent” community and media support for him and the program at Gentry High. Potts also said he hadn’t realized one of his passions in leading the boys’ basketball program to a state title.
With so much to consider, Potts said “anything could happen” from the end of the CMSD or from his end between today and early this week, so he would think long and hard before taking his next step.
Potts played basketball at LSU and Delta State before becoming a graduate assistant coach at Delta State (2001-02). He worked as junior varsity coach and varsity boys’ basketball assistant at Greenville-Weston High (2002-03) and at Tupelo High (2003-06) before he took a job as an assistant coach at Delta State (2006-08). He worked as an assistant coach under Sean Woods at Mississippi Valley State from 2008-12.
Potts replaced Woods after he left to take the head coaching job at Morehead State. In July 2013, MVSU suspended Potts indefinitely after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge. The school reinstated Potts less than a week later after he was acquitted on domestic violence charges. In March 2014, MVSU re-assigned Potts prior to the team’s final regular-season game March 8. The Delta Devils went 9-23 and 5-13 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2013-14. Potts was 14-46 in two seasons at the school.
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