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Questions surround the non-renewal of Rothsay football coach

Rothsay football coach Andrew Oland is questioning why he was let go as the Tigers football coach in a scene that got so hostile, he left his teaching position at the school after 12 years. David Samson/Forum News Service

For five years, former Rothsay High School football coach and English teacher Andrew Oland would receive his coaching evaluation in mid-November. High school coaches generally get paid after looking at their coaching evaluation.

Not one category of the evaluation had "needs improvement" marked. Everything was either marked "exceeds expectations" or "meets expectations" by athletic director Jessica Holland.

Had he been able to attend the Dec. 14 school board meeting where he lost his coaching job, he wouldn't have had his evaluation to use to defend himself.

This season, he saw his evaluation for the first time on Jan. 8, about a month after he was let go as the Rothsay head football coach at a school board meeting, one he could not attend because he was sent to a teaching conference in Minneapolis by the school. He had sent a letter to the school board asking to postpone the agenda item about his contract, so he could be there, but that didn't happen.

"Personally, this has affected me a lot," Oland said. "I made it pretty known that our superintendent had never attended an athletic event ever, never talked to me in person and he was making all these recommendations. He started coming after me in the classroom, making accusations and I had to leave my 12-year teaching job."

Currently, with about six weeks until the football season begins, the Rothsay varsity coach listed on the Minnesota State High School League website is Aaron Schindler, who has resigned from the Rothsay position for a job in Barnesville. The Tigers seemingly do not have a football coach, despite Oland saying his assistant coaches applied. Holland did not respond to calls for comment.

Oland, who paid for the first scoreboard and raised money to put in lights at the Rothsay football field, wouldn't take the job back if offered at this point. And he's the only coach the team has had since it split with its Barnesville co-op six seasons ago.

He said after former superintendent Warren Schmidt began talking to his union representative, making accusations about him in the classroom, he could take no more and left the school, pulling his three children out of Rothsay Elementary School as well.

"He had two wins," Schmidt said. "One of those wasn't even against a high school team. It was just a bunch of juniors. Defense never improved. Offense never improved. The statistics were against him every year."

The two wins this season — the most the Tigers have ever had — were against Laporte and Moorhead Park Christian, both of which are high schools. Rothsay's enrollment of 62 was at least 40 less than every team in its district except Laporte's 49. Six of the nine teams in Rothsay's district had double the enrollment of the Tigers.

According to Oland, Schmidt had a fall sports committee set up for the last few years that did not have to adhere to open meeting laws, which led to no discussion at the school board meeting in which he was not renewed. Schmidt claimed they were open to the public.

Oland was able to state his case at the following January school board meeting, but the members were instructed by an attorney not to respond to anything he said. There was a re-vote, which resulted in a tie, which meant the original vote held up.

Oland said his first instinct was to talk to a lawyer, but he decided the fight was not worth the bill.

"I reach out to lawyers and people in the community and I knew what the answer was going to be. It was too expensive," Oland said. "You're protecting a $4,000 check and spending 40 grand to do it."

Oland was given six reasons in January as to why his contract wasn't renewed:

• Your coaching contract expired.

• Failure to improve player skill development over the six seasons that you have been the head coach.

• Failure to improve or increase student participation over the six seasons that you have been the head coach.

• Failure to improve on the football team's record over the six seasons that you have been the head coach.

• Failure to satisfactorily improve the team both offensively and defensively over the six seasons that you have been the head coach.

• Failure to gain and establish community support.

Waubun football coach Paul Clark, who took the Bombers to the state semifinals last season, wrote a letter on behalf of Oland.

"Athlete for athlete, I feel we have a huge advantage," Clark wrote. "But when we play the Tigers, we never seem to play to our ability and they seem to always give us fits. Looking at scores, you may not agree. But I can honestly say that Coach Oland's team is always prepared and play their hearts out. High school teams are an extension of their coach. I have never had, nor have I seen an instance on film, anything but positive sportsmanship and good clean play by Coach Oland's Tigers. It is obvious that they respect the game, respect each other, and respect their opponents. Lessons that go far beyond the football field and scoreboard are being taught in the Rothsay program."

On the other end of the spectrum was Norman County West coach Nathan McCraven, who is 6-30 at NCW. He also wrote a letter on behalf of Oland.

"We are two of the smallest schools in the state and much of our competition nearly doubles our enrollment," McCraven wrote. "Both programs have to dig into their sophomore and often times freshmen classes in order to participate on Friday nights while playing against schools who field mostly seniors and juniors. (My win-loss record is) nothing to brag about for sure. But what is to brag about is I have the respect and confidence of my football players. I can't speak for the Rothsay parents and community, but from my perspective on the field, Coach Oland has the respect of his players and he has the ability to motivate them and get them to play to their highest potential."

To defend the accusation that play hasn't improved, Oland said four former players are now playing football in college, and the team is coming off a season with its most wins. To defend the accusation of lack of student participation, Oland said 26 of the 43 boys at Rothsay played football.

He provided the board his evaluation from Holland and a letter from Rep. Paul Marquart that stated a coach cannot be let go because of parent complaints. Oland read the improvement plan list he was given before the season that Holland said he accomplished. Those were:

• Mr. Oland will develop a skill chart for grades 3-12. The chart will outline what students should know and master at each grade level.

• Mr. Oland will turn into the athletic director a detailed agenda of what will take place each practice for the week by Monday morning. This process will take place beginning with the first day of practice for the 2015-2016 school year.

• Mr. Oland will meet regularly with coaches (all levels) and go over what they hope to accomplish that week.

• Mr. Oland will attend three coaching clinics approved by the athletic director.

• Program has to demonstrate substantial improvement.

• Athletic director will meet with Mr. Oland prior to the start of the season and again review what is expected. Another meeting will take place in the middle of the season followed by additional meeting at the conclusion of the season.

Oland's claims that the line "the program has to demonstrate substantial improvement" is vague and subjective and it set him up for failure regardless of what he did.

Schmidt said nothing Oland presented was enough to overcome his inefficiency. Schmidt also said he did not recall how many football games he attended and the parts of coaching outside of wins and losses is subjective.

"I want to see steady improvement," Schmidt said. "You give up less yards, you gain more yards, you rush for more yards, you pass for more yards, you give up less passing yards, you win more."

Schmidt did not hesitate when asked if there was a double-standard for football, seeing as none of the programs at Rothsay are seeing "steady improvement" in the wins department.

"It's a major sport," Schmidt said.

The next action on the agenda at the school board meeting after Oland's non-renewal was the acceptance of the resignation of Schmidt.

"I don't know what it was," Oland said. "I think when you stick your neck out for something extra it's just too risky these days."

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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