updated: Dexter High School hires Brian Baird as its new football coach, Tom Barbieri still wants the job back
This story has been updated to correct information related to Brian Baird's status with the Dexter football program in 2010.
Dexter High School has hired Brian Baird as its new varsity football coach, but that hasn’t stopped former coach Tom Barbieri’s fight to get the job back.
Barbieri has taken steps toward arbitration in a case that began with him filing a wrongful termination grievance, with the backing of the Dexter Education Association, shortly after he was fired in November.
The initial grievance and and a follow-up written protest were both denied by then-athletic director Scott Lucas, who has since been fired by the school district. Union representatives arranged a meeting with Dexter Schools Superintendent Mary Marshall in mid-February and the administration denied the grievance again earlier this month.
The arbitration process can take longer than a year to complete, according to DEA president Joe Romeo. He said it could take up to six months to simply choose an arbitrator. By that time, the Dreadnaughts will be well into their 2011 season.
“We’ll deal with that when it comes. What happens in the future will happen in the future,” Baird said. “For right now, we’re focused on the kids and getting them ready for next season. For seniors, no matter what happens, it’s their only senior season.”
Barbieri said Lucas’ own firing in early February is an indication the then-athletic
director wasn’t properly performing his job.
In Lucas’s letter of dismissal, dated Feb. 9, 2011, obtained by AnnArbor.com through a Freedom of Information Act request, Marshall referenced six specific incidents in which Lucas did not follow through with directives. The earliest incident was Jan. 13, 2011, five days after Lucas had sent an email to Marshall and school board president Larry Cobler stating a desire to resign following a disagreement over compensation.
Barbieri claims proper protocol was not followed when he was fired by Lucas. His personnel records, obtained through the same FOIA request, contain an evaluation dated Nov. 5, 2010, in which Lucas deemed Barbieri “not acceptable” in nine of 15 categories, including planning and organization, enforcing individual and team discipline, involving assistant coaches in planning, and communicating with the athletic director.
Barbieri disputed all nine “not acceptable” ratings in a letter dated 10 days after his dismissal. He claims, among other things, that “Scott Lucas did not see any material related to my planning or organization” during the evaluation process.
Lucas disputes Barbieri’s claim.
“I understand documentation and the importance of it, the relevance of it and I documented pretty specifically coach Barbieri’s deficiencies,” Lucas said. “It’s illustrated by in his 10 years he only had two winning seasons. I think that’s pretty telling.”
Barbieri compiled a 30-60 record in 10 years as Dexter's coach. The Dreadnaughts were 5-4 last season, one win shy of the school's first state playoff berth.
Barbieri also claimed in his response that not only did he and his staff enforce team discipline when appropriate, but that it was done despite the administration’s lack of communication about some student athletes’ eligibility.
“Without any notification from the Dexter Athletic Office, players were held out of games due to academic probation or ineligibility,” Barbieri wrote. This was done so the team wouldn’t forfeit games in which the alleged ineligible players played. Barbieri claims the athletic office never notified him of two players’ ineligibility.
Lucas said it is standard practice for all coaches to check with the athletic office about the eligibility status of players.
A particular point of contention for Barbieri was the claim that he did not communicate effectively with assistant coaches. He claims none of his assistants were interviewed by Lucas.
“Every one of my staff, from my eighth grade all the way to the high school, wrote a letter stating that I had communicated with them,” Barbieri said.
The letter Barbieri referenced was not included in his personnel file, but his response letter indicated that he did submit it, along with his response to the evaluation.
Lucas said assistant coaches were not interviewed and that his evaluation was based on his own observations.
Lucas said his critique of the communication with assistant coaches and discipline enforcement was more rooted in an incident involving a volunteer assistant coach. Parent complaints surfaced after that coach allegedly told a joke about pedophilia during the first week of practice.
When Lucas decided to remove the volunteer assistant from his position, he discovered that he had not filled out the proper paperwork and background check to become a volunteer with the district.
Lucas said his relationship with Barbieri was strained from that point forward.
“Barbieri never supported that decision. As a matter of fact he was antagonistic and contrary and repeatedly requested (the assistant coach) be brought back into the program,” Lucas said. “Every time we had a conversation it literally started, ended or had some kind of reference to that coach coming back.”
The personnel files also included a list of expectations drafted by Barbieri and former athletic director John Robinson following the 2009 season. In Barbieri’s letter of dismissal, also dated Nov. 5, Lucas states that Barbieri “continued to fail to meet those expectations.”
In the document, dated Feb. 16, 2010, Robinson said Barbieri needed to:
1. Upgrade and make adjustments to the coaching staff. Barbieri said this was done by hiring Rick Applin as defensive backs/offensive line coach and Dave Teddy as defensive line/split ends coach. Applin has 36 years of coaching experience, Teddy has 12. Lucas said the non-satisfactory mark in this area was based on the situation involving the dismissal of a volunteer assistant alleged to have been acting inappropriately around players. Lucas agreed that Applin was tremendous addition to the program, but said he was under-utilized by Barbieri.
2. Take over duties as defensive coordinator. Barbieri was defensive coordinator in 2010.
3. Field a minimum of 25 players at the freshman and junior varsity levels. The 2010 freshman team had 33 members and JV had 27.
4. Field a minimum of 45 players at the varsity level. The 2010 varsity team had 48 players.
5. Not have a running clock (used according to the MHSAA mercy rule when a team trails by 35 or more points in the second half) in eight of nine regular season games. A running clock was used in losses to Pioneer and Monroe and Dexter trailed Adrian by 30 points for the entire fourth quarter of a 44-14 loss.
6. Reduce costs to players and parents in excess of the athletic participation fee by $150. Team costs were reduced from $385 in 2009 to $215 in 2010.
Barbieri said there was a lack of communication during the evaluation process. The last formal evaluation he received -- not including the steps laid out by Robinson following the 2009 season -- was in 2007, when he was given top marks in all 15 categories evaluated.
“Nothing was communicated,” Barbieri said. “It was basically ‘You’re fired,’ with no narration.”
Lucas denies this and said that he did, in fact, communicate with Barbieri throughout the season.
“The only reason (our) communication was lacking was his insistence to bring back the volunteer assistant,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he offered Barbieri a position as director of football operations after his dismissal, claiming Barbieri demonstrated a superb ability to manage the football program in the community -- such as creating a youth football league.
Why would Barbieri fit this position but not that of coach?
“The same reason they replace NFL coaches and make them general managers,” Lucas said. “They have abilities and capabilities and networking that are above the daily coaching.
“(Barbieri) had an opportunity to stay in the football program, help direct the football program, to be an integral part of the football program, but not be on a daily basis running it because of deficiencies he has daily (coaching)."
Dexter athletics and facilities coordinator Greg Wagner deferred comment on the Barbieri situation to Marshall, who is the designated spokesperson for the district on issues of arbitration. Marshall, on vacation until April 7, was unavailable for comment.
In his 11 years as DEA president, Romeo said he’s had grievances reach this point, but that a compromise has been reached every time before the beginning of the arbitration process.
“It’s not unusual for a grievance case to be settled a day before an arbitration process. As it stands right now, they haven’t offered something that’s different,” Romeo said. “Right now, it seems like it is going to be hard to reach an agreement with them.”
In the meantime, the program has been turned over to Baird, a math teacher at Dexter High School since 2002. He worked with the football program in various capacities from 2002-09, but did not coach in 2010 after what Barbieri called "differences in opinion of how the program should be run." Baird declined comment on the 2010 situation.
Prior to coming to Dexter, Baird coached at Milford High School and also for 10 years in Illinois. This is Baird’s first varsity head coaching position.
“Brian Baird’s commitment to the student-athletes in his charge is evident simply from talking to him, which is a highly positive trait for any coach to possess,” Wagner said in a press release.
Dexter and Lincoln are the only two football-playing high schools in Washtenaw County to have never participated in the postseason.
Barbieri has coached for 34 years, with stints in Gaylord, Boyne City and Hartland preceding his time in Dexter. He was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on March 26.
Barbieri is also a physical education teacher at Dexter High School. His teaching job is not in jeopardy.