Football coaches say late-game protocol varies; Huron-Pioneer brawl leaves a 'black eye' regardless
While the investigations by Ann Arbor Public Schools and the Ann Arbor Police Department may reveal what laws and school policies were broken during the post-football game brawl at Huron High School, the protocol for how to approach the in-game situation that led to tensions rising isn’t as clear-cut.
Huron head football coach Cory Gildersleeve took exception to how Pioneer head coach Paul Test handled the final minute of play during Pioneer’s 35-6 win on Friday night. Pioneer recovered a fumble with just over a minute remaining in the game and instead of taking a knee to run the clock down, Test’s team ran two pass plays, including one into the end zone, with a timeout in between before going into the victory formation.
An argument over the game eventually erupted into a full scale brawl involving players and coaches.
While taking a knee and running out the clock at the end of a lopsided football game has certainly become the norm at every level of football, there is nothing in the rulebook that requires it and there isn’t universal agreement on when it should happen.
“I’m not even sure anymore,” said longtime Chelsea coach Brad Bush. “I can’t speak to (the Huron vs. Pioneer) situation, but I know every situation is different and I’m not sure there is a formula really in any sport. It’s tough sometimes there’s different guys you want to get in the game late, but you also have to consider the feel of the game.
“I really don’t know that there is a right answer.”
First-year Skyline head coach Lee Arthur, who was a head coach at Saginaw High School for several years before coming to Ann Arbor, said he favors taking a knee if the game is in hand no matter what.
“My perspective is coaches know when the game is put away and there are certain times you have to take a knee for the best interest of the kids,” Arthur said, referencing Skyline’s blowout win over Huron last year, when he was offensive coordinator. Skyline took a knee on the 1-yard line rather than trying to score at the end.
“On one hand, you have lots of kids that have never run the ball and will probably never score a touchdown and you want to give them that feeling, that experience, but there’s a fine line in getting kids playing time at the end of the game and running up scores,” Arthur said. “That’s just me, I realize not everyone’s like that.”
A possible reason why Test may have wanted to play out every down regardless of the score and continue passing, is that backup quarterback Brandon Bertoia was making his first start in place of injured starter Aedan York. A reason it may have been a good idea to take a knee, regardless, is the volume of personal fouls during the game, which had grown increasingly chippy near the end.
“There’s really no protocol in taking a knee during a game you’ve got to look at each game and each situation,” said Saline athletic director Rob White, who oversees football for the Southeastern Conference.
White said communication between opposite sidelines is key to preventing situations from spiraling out of control.
White used Saline’s blowout win over Adrian earlier this season as an example. Comfortably ahead in the second half, Saline had its backup kicker and reserve kickoff team in the game after a score. Saline's kicker mishit the kickoff short and it appeared Saline was going for an onside kick despite its large lead, which is generally frowned upon.
White communicated with Adrian’s athletic director that the kick was a mishit via text message and cooler heads prevailed.
“In that situation I was able to be the messenger and we could attempt to de-escalate a situation I realized could have been taken the wrong way before it got out of control,” White said. “That’s just one example, but in my opinion it boils down to relationships and mutual respect between schools and program.”
The fact that it was a dispute between coaches that sparked the brawl on Friday was particularly upsetting to some.
“Ultimately it was adult coaches who were at the center of this and that’s disgraceful,” said a parent of a player who did not wish to be identified. “Regardless of what happened, adults caused it.”
“It’s unfortunate because I think both (Gildersleeve and Test) are good people coaching to help kids for the right reasons,” Bush said. “In my opinion we have good coaches in our league and good rapport among coaches.”
Both Test and Gildersleeve have been suspended by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for at least one game for their respective roles in Friday’s brawl. Ann Arbor Public Schools could still discipline them further along with assistant coaches and players, but officials said that determination has yet to be made and that the information would not be made public.
There will be a meeting between the SEC's football coaches next Wednesday to determine all-conference teams and White said a discussion about sportsmanship and end of game situations has been added to the meeting's agenda.
“I’m hoping we’re able to sort through this as a conference,” White said. “It’s a sad day and it’s definitely a black eye for our conference and our sport.”