Local coaches, TSSAA react as Marion football moves forward - WSMV Channel 4

Local coaches, TSSAA react to Marion scandal

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Photo Courtesy: Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press Photo Courtesy: Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press

JASPER, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Marion County will board a bus and play at second-ranked Trousdale County this Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state playoffs.

That much hasn't changed.

Just about everything else has around one of the state's most decorated high school football programs.

Second-year head coach Mac McCurry resigned Wednesday morning amidst a Chattanooga Times Free Press report that detailed his possible knowledge of a vandalism incident at the team's field house. Two assistant coaches, Michael Schmitt and Joe Dan Gudger, have since been arrested for the crime.

"We got two schools with a bunch of students that have been accused, and we've got grown adults that made some bad decisions," said Marion County Sheriff Ronnie Burnett.

Added Marion County director of schools Mark Griffith added: "This absolutely feels like a slap in the face."

Longtime assistant Larry Richards, who has coached the middle school program the past two years, was named interim coach. He led the Warriors through practice Wednesday night, five hours after McCurry stepped down.

"He's a teacher at the school with experience and he's an alumni of the school," said Marion County principal Larry Ziegler. "He loves the school and loves the kids, so it was a natural person to step in and help our kids through this tough situation.

A third assistant, Tim Starkey, was relieved of his duties Tuesday after being linked to breaking into the South Pittsburg field house to steal game plans, as well as paying a former college player to practice with the team.

Text messages pulled from Schmitt's phone via a search warrant and obtained by the Times Free Press and Channel 3 detail those actions, as well as Schmitt's plan to work with Gudger to vandalize the field house in South Pittsburg colors in hopes of placing blame on the school's arch rival and motivating the Warriors for the district championship game.

The Times Free Press also obtained a surveillance photo of Schmitt purchasing the paint.

In those same text messages, Starkey also discusses breaking into the South Pittsburg field house to steal game plans, adding that Schmitt did the same in Dunlap before the Warriors played Sequatchie County earlier this year.

Starkey also details bringing in former South Pittsburg star and Bethel College running back Raquis Hale to practice with the Warriors ahead of their rivalry game with South Pittsburg. Using non-team members, aside from coaches, during practice is against TSSAA bylaws.

"As of this moment, the allegations regarding practice use of a college player is all that falls under our jurisdiction," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said by phone Wednesday. "Marion County administrators self-reported the violation as soon as they became aware of it, and they're working with us on it.

"However, we want to let the criminal investigations play out first."

Childress was clear the TSSAA had no part in the conversation about McCurry's resignation, and had no thoughts about pulling Marion County from the playoffs ahead of Friday's game.

"We'd have to find some serious violations of the TSSAA bylaws that we could document and prove factually that they happened," Childress said of the TSSAA getting involved in the forfeiture of games or altering of the playoff schedule. "Right now we don't have that and it would be pure speculation on our part to think we'd get something like that and tell Marion County it can't participate."

Many local coaches were left speechless by Wednesday's developments, but voiced their approval for the Warriors to continue in the postseason.

"I feel like the kids deserve the chance to play the game," said Boyd-Buchanan head coach Grant Reynolds, whose Bucs lost to Marion County 28-7 last week in the second round. "I feel like they've done the right thing in regards to those coaches, and now those kids deserve to play the game.

"Any time you get to play in the playoffs, it's a reward for the kids. I just feel like that's the right thing to do."

Like Reynolds, Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford said it's every coach's responsibility to "do the right thing" at all times. He's known McCurry for several years as a coaching colleague, and was stunned to see him lose track of that mindset.

"It's a wake up call for us to understand again why we're here. We're here for the kids," Crawford said. "Yes, there is pressure on us to win football games, but I feel there is also pressure on me to treat the kids right and give them every opportunity to be successful and have a good experience in sport.

"That makes me feel better and better about the kind of men I have on my staff and how much they care about our kids. I'd rather lose with integrity than try to do anything to get an edge.  Competitive advantage has to come through working hard."

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