Judging the fairness of Paul Wheeler's exit as Lafayette High's football coach is impossible.
But judging Williamsburg-James City County Schools is not.
Administrators and/or their lawyers are dodging, an understandable but frustrating stance to nosy keyboard jockeys.
Unless Wheeler is fibbing to Daily Press reporter Marty O'Brien, his troubles began with an early-October practice encounter that caused a parent to complain to Lafayette Principal Anita Swinton and athletic director Dan Barner. Swinton and Barner found no merit in the complaint and instructed Wheeler to continue coaching football and teaching history.
Not satisfied, the parent went to W-JCC Schools officials, Wheeler said. Soon thereafter, Barner told Wheeler that Dianna Lindsay, the assistant superintendent for academic services, was going to fire Wheeler as coach, effective immediately.
Loathe to become a distraction, Wheeler offered his resignation, effective at season's end. Lindsay accepted the compromise.
But after a paperwork snafu caused the Rams to forfeit two victories and cost them a playoff spot, Wheeler asked to return. Last week, Lindsay said no, without granting Wheeler the courtesy of a meeting.
First things first. Unless W-JCC suits are more unreasonable than Southeastern Conference fans, this isn't about wins and losses. Lafayette was 82-31 under Wheeler with three Bay Rivers District titles, two region championships and one state title.
Second, if Wheeler's treatment of the young man crossed the line separating stern and abusive, he should have been terminated immediately.
Allowing Wheeler to complete the season despite what you considered a credible accusation of physical and verbal mistreatment? That borders on negligent.
Predictably, Lafayette and W-JCC officials refuse to comment because this is a "personnel matter."
Who are they protecting? Wheeler? Please. He wants an explanation of how a matter that Swinton and Barner excused became grounds for dismissal.
No doubt at the urging of counsel, administrators are protecting themselves. They fear any verbal hiccup could be legal ammunition for Wheeler.
Wheeler's public remarks don't "give us carte blanche to turn around and talk about it," W-JCC Schools spokesman Greg Davy said Tuesday.
But an explanation would be precisely what I'd want were I the parent of a Lafayette student, especially a student-athlete.
No dice, Davy said. The school system would continue "to respect the privacy" of the employee in question.
But we're talking about a coach here. He's a public employee, as are his supervisors, paid by tax dollars. Neither he nor they hold information that, if revealed, would threaten national security.
Consider William and Mary, Old Dominion, Virginia, Virginia Tech or any other public university. They don't fire coaches without explaining their rationale. Athletic directors and occasionally presidents — gasp! — even deign to answer questions.
If only life and the law were that simple.
Alan Gernhardt of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council said that while personnel documents are exempt from FOI requests, the law does permit government agencies to release those documents and/or discuss personnel at their discretion.
But, Gernhardt stressed, going public risks libel and/or slander. And he's right.
In 2001, Hampton City Schools not only suspended Hampton High football coach Mike Smith for insubordination, but also discussed the matter with a reporter. Smith filed a defamation suit, and five years later a jury awarded him $2.2 million.
Here's guessing that history muzzled the folks running Williamsburg-James City County Schools.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP