Carl Brown rallied his players for the final time last Thursday. The football coach at Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis called an informal meeting off school grounds, not to go over defensive schemes or run conditioning drills.
Rather, Brown was there to explain – or at least try to – why he was suddenly no longer their coach after only one year on the job.
“I told y'all when I first met you when I came here last year I would never lie to you,” Brown began, as 12 or so players huddled around him, some with cellphone cameras rolling.
Days earlier Brown was informed that he and his coaching staff's contracts were not being renewed. School officials attributed the firing to his lack of administrative and coaching skills, Brown says, although he suspects ulterior motives. While Brown and five other African American coaches are out, assistant coach Dave Salzer, who is white, was allowed to stay.
“I really do believe that it was racially motivated,” Brown says, noting his white predecessor won only five games in eight years. Brown won two in his one and only season.
Although Brown hired Salzer when he arrived at Edison last year, the two had a falling out after Salzer was demoted to co-defensive coordinator. Brown alleges that Salzer colluded with the administration to oust him so he could lead the team. On June 27, Brown tried to fire Salzer – the only football coach who also teaches at the school – during a coaches meeting Salzer did not attend. The following Monday, Brown met with Edison officials and district athletic director Trent Tucker, where he was informed he was being let go.
Salzer and principal Carla Steinbach deferred comment to the Minneapolis Public Schools staff. Citing privacy rules, a district spokeswoman wouldn't comment on why Brown was shown the door, but says Salzer's contract was also not renewed. Salzer is still helping out with the team until a new head coach is named, though Brown's successor will have control over football staff decisions.
When asked why officials at a school where 49 percent of the student body is African American – higher than the 37 percent district average – would not want a black football coach, Brown says “I think a lot of them have visions of old, the way this area used to be. They feel like the people that are left in this community, maybe a white coach would be more acceptable to the people in the community over here.”
As of last fall, 17 percent of Edison students were white, nearly half the district average.
A former Texas high school coach, Brown complained that the team didn't have the school's support. While their field was being renovated, the team practiced in a nearby ditch or walked to another field a mile away, Brown says.
After instituting an off-season workout program between January and May, Brown says he heard rumors that he would be reported to the Minnesota State High School League. An anonymous call warned him that he was being “set up,” though Brown insists his program was above board.
“That kind of talk, we hear it all winter long – 'What they're doing is illegal. We're going to call the Minnesota State High School League on 'em and report 'em,'” Brown says. “It's only because they were jealous because the previous administration didn't have the wherewithal to do what we were trying to do.”
Glenn Pierson, 16, was among the players gathered at a park near Edison High School wondering why Coach Brown was relieved of his duties. The players were resoundingly supportive of their outgoing coach, as he encouraged them to keep playing for each other and disparaged Salzer and school administrators.
While Pierson, who is black, wishes he was playing for Brown next year, the upperclassman stopped short of calling his dismissal discrimination and said he's never witnessed racist behavior at the school.
Whoever his coach is next year, Pierson says he'll be on the field. But his pigskin love doesn't seem to be making the transition any easier.
“It's stressful,” he says, clasping his hands in front of his face and tilting his head back. “This is stressful.”
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