HS Coach Became Fall Guy Over Perceived Tanking

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Copyright 2017 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


Darran Powell sensed this would happen. Coaches are like that. They envision things before they happen. It's what they learn to do. And they're good at it.

It was March. Mark Baker, in his first school year as the Dayton Public Schools director of athletics, had been approved for a two-year contract extension by the DPS school board.

"When Mark got approved, I said it might mean trouble for me, because somebody has to take that fall and they want me to be that guy," Powell said.

That's essentially what happened to Powell, Dunbar's football coach the past four seasons, during last week's school board meeting. Longtime board member Joe Lacey requested a separate vote on Powell rather than lumping his renewal with 96 other DPS fall personnel items. A majority of four yes votes would be needed for Powell to retain his coaching position.

What followed was a head-scratching DPS board moment. The vote was 3-2 in favor of retaining Powell. Lacey and Sheila Taylor voted against. Ron Lee abstained. Former board president Adil Baguirov was absent. The circumstances meant Powell did not get the four votes he needed; he was out as coach.

Out of control

This was the latest in a continuing drama that reached a low point when the Ohio High School Athletic Association saddled the school district's athletic programs - boys and girls - with an unprecedented three-year probation and fined the district $10,000 in April.

The OHSAA didn't name anyone, yet cited DPS in violation of Bylaw 3: administrative and institutional control.

The root cause: two bizarre plays in a regular-season football finale Oct. 28 vs. Belmont. Dunbar appeared to be trying to lose. A video sequence of the plays became an internet sensation.

But Powell said he did not tell his team to lose.

"I never told my team to let Belmont win," Powell said. "I told my team, guys, we were told if we want to go to the playoffs Belmont has to win this game. I'm not going to tell you to lose the game. I don't know what to tell you. Just go out there."

Powell has insisted that Baker told Dunbar coaches to lose the game so both teams would qualify for the playoffs and an academically ineligible Dunbar player wouldn't have to be reported to the OHSAA. Instead, Dunbar forfeited Weeks 9-10 games and missed the playoffs.

Separate investigations by DPS and the OHSAA resulted in different findings. Superintendent Rhonda Corr focused on the ineligible player. Pete Pullen resigned as Dunbar's AD soon after. The OHSAA tackled the greater issue of a lack of institutional control and tied the punishment mainly to the allegation of throwing a game.

Powell says he was unfairly targeted. "I think that's an understatement," he said. "If (the OHSAA) said (Baker) was to blame, what's the issue with me?"

Collateral damage

And it's not over. Powell huddled with parents and players in Dunbar's cafeteria the day after being ousted. It was emotional.

A support group proposed an online petition to have the school board reconsider Powell as coach. In 24 hours more than 1,000 supporters had signed. Many added blistering opinions.

Former Dunbar head coach James Lacking has been given that role for now, but no new coach has been approved by the board.

This is essentially a final countdown for the preseason, which begins July 31. Any administration will tell you it's not the time to begin a search for a new coach. DPS said it would reconsider the No. 2 candidate – Lacking — or repost the position.

Darran Powell's father and uncle are twins Albert and Alfred Powell, both Roth graduates. The twins have been coaching Roth and Dunbar football, basketball and track the past 38 years as assistants. They have been assistants on Darran's staff. Darran bristles at the mention the Powells must go for the betterment of Dunbar.

"I don't understand," he said. "What is the issue of having positive influence?"

The events have taken a toll in other ways for the people involved. Pullen, 62, said he recently had his heart shocked back into proper rhythm, something he also had done in 2010. Albert Powell, Dar-ran's father, was hospitalized with a faulty heart.

"It's tough on me and it's tough on his dad," said Pullen, who has led Dunbar to four boys basketball state titles.

"His dad and me, we're at the end of our stage. We've got a great young man (Darran) who's coming back to support his school and do what he can who had that pedigree of Dunbar and knows to get the kids to do the right thing and get the right attitude. I feel bad for him. He's struggling right now."

Baker hasn't responded to repeated requests for comment since that October game. Powell is also a full-time paraprofessional at Dunbar. He hopes to retain that position.

As Darren Powell's backers feared, there have been other consequences.

"A lot of people are trying to get at our kids now and trying to tell them to transfer," Powell said. "They've all made the choice to stay and they're going to work this thing out. We took on the slogan it's 'Dunbar vs. everybody' last year, and it really turned out to be true."

That figures. Coaches sense things like that.

Contact this reporter at 937-225-2381 or email [email protected]

Twitter: @MarcPendleton

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June 25, 2017


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