Turchetta released

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Former Marshall County High School Football Coach Tom Turchetta, surveys his domain in this photo from the field.

From staff reports

The county schools' director last week told Marshall County High School's head football coach and two of his assistants that their employment ends on June 30, and a third assistant coach was transferred to Oak Grove Elementary School.

"Teachers who have no tenure can be renewed or not," according to Sam Jackson, the school system's attorney to whom Schools Director Jackie Abernathy referred questions because, she explained, "I'm not at liberty to comment at this point."

After being told their coaches were leaving, MCHS football players worked just as hard as they did the day before at early morning practice.

Driving home Friday to Columbia "with 39 years of files and footballs" in his car, Football Coach Tom Turchetta spoke by cell phone about the emotional investment in his work, how the team's 2009 record was 1-9, then in 2010 it was 4-7, and 9-4 at the end of this past season of 2011-12.

Turchetta was hired Aug. 2, 2010, school personnel records show. His salary was $41,716, including a $4,000 head coach supplement.

He had "a dull feeling" inside, Turchetta said during his departure drive.

Monday, several MCHS football players were circulating a petition to "help bring back coach T."

Under state law, Turchetta, Assistant Coach Alex Melton, and MCHS Assistant Principal Lance Evans, who volunteered time for the football program, had to be notified by June 15, or some two weeks before their employment ended with the system. Evans was paid $61,723 with a $1,000 supplement for being assistant principal. Elton was paid $47,834, including a $3,000 supplement.

Steven McClanahan, who'd been working as a special education teacher at MCHS, was being paid $41,317, including a $3,000 supplement for being an assistant football coach. McClanahan is being transferred to Oak Grove where he will continue to work as a special education teacher.

All were told by Abernathy that the changes were "for the good and efficient operation" of the school system.

Jackson declined to say why the changes were made.

"They weren't dismissed," the attorney said. "They had a one-year contract."

The contracts were "not renewed," Jackson said, acknowledging the public will perceive the change as a dismissal, "but it's not." They weren't fired.

Melton was hired March 1, 2011. Evans was hired July 1, 2011. McClanahan was hired Jan. 3, 2007.

Turchetta came to MCHS after coaching at Columbia Central High School.

"The first year," he said of the players, "they were in shock about the practice schedule and the commitment that was required."

But players coalesced as a team with a common goal, self-reliance, and commitment to each other.

"When you invest your whole being in what you do and they take it away from you... it..." he said with his voice trailing off and not finishing the sentence.

"This isn't the first time," Turchetta said. "But there is a dull feeling."

The MCHS athletic director and the faculty never questioned his commitment, he said, "but I can't say that about everybody..."

Parents and students went to the high school Thursday night when they'd found out what happened. Nearly 30 were at the school Friday morning.

"They're kids, but they're about as close to perfect as they could be," Turchetta said. "I want the people to know that our program turned the corner. It was to be something special."

Asked about the players' academic standing, he replied, "We had eight to qualify for scholarships; three last year and five this year." The team's overall grade point average was 2.9. "Since I've been there, there's been a tremendous emphasis on academics...

"I'll look for a place that appreciates hard work and accepts doing the job properly," he said.

Just before Turchetta was hired, "There were a couple of businessmen who I knew from the J.R. Moon Golf Tournament who called me to tell me that the job was open," he said. "I was at Lake Tansi" Village located in Crossville.

His telephone conversation resulted in his employment by the school system here.

MCHS Quarterback Club Vice President Roger Williams was present at a 15-minute 6 a.m. Monday meeting between Turchetta and the Tigers.

"It was pretty emotional," Williams said. "He told them how much he cared about them... that they did not do anything wrong and the truth will come out."

Turchetta then refocused the players on what they needed to do to accomplish their goals, Williams reported. He advised them to conduct themselves as they had, refrain from entering Internet chat rooms and avoid participating in rumors.

"After he was done talking," Williams said, "there was a lot of applause, so it was a very touching moment."

McClanahan told the players he "didn't have any magic words and just get back to work and come together as a team."

"They worked just as hard today as they did Thursday morning when Coach Turchetta was still here," Williams said of the Friday morning workout.

McClanahan did not give any indication of who was taking over, "but it seemed like he took control," Williams said.

How has the team come through the news that they lost their coach?

"It was a shock at first, like it was for everybody, but we are proud of them with the way they have conducted themselves after coming to practice Thursday morning with a leader and then Thursday evening their leader was gone. You can tell they have had good leadership, because they have handled the situation with class. Friday they had a team meeting here and the parents just stayed away from them and let them try to work it out."

The Quarterback Club remains committed to the players.

A number of the players went to the schools' central office Friday, waited more than an hour and then the schools director gave them the system's attorney's name and phone number. Some called and were told there was no comment.

Players recognize there's going to be change and that they should continue to do their best and move on, knowing the community supports them.

McClanahan said, "The coaching staff is finishing workouts up to the dead period and we will be directed after that."

Tribune staffers Anthony Puca and Clint Confehr collaborated on this story.