Brad Butler has been around football long enough to understand the importance of wins and losses.
He just didn’t think the hunger for wins that drives coaching carousels in college and in the NFL had become so pervasive that it had woven its way into high school athletics.
But Butler learned Dec. 20 that his inability to lead the Heritage Academy football team to more victories cost him and offensive coordinator/junior high football coach Steve Morgan their jobs.
“They told me a five-member committee had been formed and that they wanted me gone,” Butler said. “The headmaster (Mr. Tommy Gunn) obliged them and me and coach Morgan were fired.
“When I asked Mr. Gunn when he fired me can you tell me why, he said it was for not winning enough football games.”
Gunn confirmed Thursday that Butler and Morgan no longer were football coaches at the school, and said they would remain on staff as teachers at the school until the end of the school year. He declined to comment about whether a five-person committee was involved in the decision to change coaches. He referred that question to Tim Upton, the president of the school’s board of directors.
Heritage Academy went 5-5 this season in Butler’s third year as head coach. The Patriots went 3-8 in 2009 and 4-8 in 2010, which is why Butler felt the program was “heading in the right direction.” With 14 starters expected to return for 2012, Butler felt things were “kind of looking up,” but he said people who make decisions apparently wanted bigger and better things to have already happened.
Butler said he no one from the five-person committee talked to him to discuss concerns about the direction of the program. He said he and Morgan were evaluated and asked to fill out a questionnaire that included “10 or so” questions he felt required “quick-answer” responses. He said he is sure there are other people behind the committee, but that he was told the five people who formed the committee recommended that he be fired are the ones who were behind the move to make a coaching change. He added he was “disappointed” Gunn reacted the way that he did and fired him and Morgan.
Butler said he heard rumors late in November that people weren’t satisfied with the program’s success. He said he also discovered coaches from other schools had contacted Heritage Academy about jobs coaching football at the school. He said athletic director Gary Clark, who resigned in September from his position effective at the end of the school year, and Gunn knew nothing about the inquiries. He said no one from the committee or the school administration approached him from that point to examine any issues with the football program or to offer suggestions they had to help move the program forward at a faster clip.
“Anytime a five-member committee can come together and form its own committee and get you fired that is something,” Butler said. “I have never heard of anything like that, but apparently you can do that.”
Butler will continue to teach seventh-grade Life Science and eighth-grade Earth Science at Heritage Academy. He said he would like to continue to be a coach because he feels he has plenty of offer student-athletes.
Eight men have coached football at Heritage Academy in the past 17 seasons. Butler is one of three men to have lasted at least three seasons as head coach. Herbert Davis coached at the school from 2002-03 and returned in 2005 to lead the program to the Class AAA state title game. The Patriots, who also were state runners-up in 1999 and 2003, have had seven winning seasons in that time.
Butler served as offensive line coach in 2008 for Lee Davis, who was 5-17 in two years as the coach of the Patriots. Prior to becoming the offensive line coach at Heritage Academy, Butler was the strength coach of the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League from February to July of 2008. He was a graduate assistant at Mississippi State from 2006-07.
Butler was defensive coordinator on the 2005 Heritage Academy team that played for the state title. He coached the offensive and defensive lines at his alma mater, Starkville Academy, from 1998-2004.
Butler said he was aware of the amount of coaching turnover at the school when he took the job. He said the last coach to last more than three years was Ray Wooten, and that it is difficult to work in an environment that causes you to worry about your job security if you don’t win.
“It is one of those deals where you know going in you better get it done and get it done pretty quick because they’re not going to let you coach football if you’re not getting done what they think should be getting done,” Butler said.
Butler said he informed his players Tuesday that he and Morgan no longer were coaching the team. Some of the players apparently already knew a decision had been made, though. Senior Brandon Bell, who didn’t attend the meeting, found out Butler and Morgan had been fired “through the grapevine.” He said he enjoyed his two seasons playing for Butler after transferring from Caledonia High School.
“I don’t think it was a good decision,” Bell said. “I think he was a good coach who knew what he was doing. I think he was a great coach.”
Bell said Butler worked well with the players and made it fun. He said he liked playing for a coach he could trust and play for and win for.
“I don’t think you fire somebody for not winning enough games,” Bell said. “He knows how to coach.”
Junior Cade Lott was at the meeting Butler held with the players. He said his father told him during Christmas break that Butler no longer was the school’s football coach.
“I hate it for him because I liked him as a coach,” Lott said. “I enjoyed him coaching us, and it’s a situation where I hope he finds a good job.”
Lott agreed with Bell that Butler was a “great coach,” a good motivator, a good trainer in the weight room, and that he didn’t know the five people who were on the committee who were involved with the decision to make the changes to the football staff.
“I don’t know how they came to that decision,” Lott said. “I wish they would have come to us and asked the players. We’re going to have to get a new coach and learn a whole new offense and a whole new defense. It is going to be tough for us.”
Butler said his work with the players is why he would like to stay involved with coaching. He said he still “loves” coaching and is looking forward to finding a good situation he can move into. He also said he has other avenues he will explore.
“I am just as disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs as anybody,” Butler said. “We had a couple of games where we turned the ball over and that hurt us. I guarantee I want to win them all and I am going to do everything I can do to win them.
“They have got to allow somebody to coach without worrying if they lose a game they’re going to get fired. You have to allow somebody to come in and have some assurance that, hey if we lose this game I still have a job. There has got to be a system of checks and balances so people can’t get together and fire somebody. You have to let a coach spend some years trying to build each year rather than a quick fix. Things sometimes don’t happen overnight .
“I never quit on those kids and tried to prepare them the best I knew how and the best I could each week to win ballgames. They don’t realize what I do and the hours I spend with my classes (four classes, two preps), the weight room, with football, the time I spend with the film, and the love I have for the boys, so it is almost like how can somebody outside looking in make these decision when they don’t know the time and the effort I have put into this.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.