January 10. 2014 12:27AM

Londonderry School Board mum on firing of football coach

Union Leader Correspondent

LONDONDERRY — Weeks after school officials decided not to renew the contract of a popular Londonderry High School football coach, parents and students are still demanding answers from the School Board.

During Tuesday night's board meeting, a crowd of concerned parents and students confronted the board on the matter, with several voicing their support for longtime health and physical education teacher Jon Rich, who has been the head varsity football coach for the past several years.

Rich's teaching contract isn't affected by the recent decision, and he remains in good standing. He did not comment on the matter at this week's meeting.But in a written statement released late last month, shortly after the football season ended with a loss to Pinkerton Academy in the Division I South Conference title game, Rich said he was taken aback by the decision.

"It was a complete surprise for me," he said. "I do think I had the support of the principal and athletic director."A graduate of Londonderry High School and Plymouth State University, Rich was named assistant football coach in 2006. Two years later he was named the head coach.Board member John Robinson said Rich did not file an appeal, and the decision is considered final.

Board Chairman Nancy Hendricks reminded audience members that "personnel issues" couldn't be discussed in specific detail during a public meeting due to employee privacy laws.

But following several angry outbursts from audience members demanding to speak on the matter, Hendricks reluctantly allowed them to approach the podium.

"This is just wrong," resident Paul Hennessey told Hendricks. "I am disappointed in every single one of you to sit up there and not want to discuss this with taxpayers."

Resident Ken Sharkey, who has been involved with the Londonderry Wildcats civic football program from many years, questioned the process of renewing coaches' contracts.

"The perception is that a parent or a person in our town, someone who maybe has their own agenda, could have a coach removed," Sharkey said.Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said all district coaches work under a one-year contract and contracts are renewed based on staff recommendations.

After reviewing those recommendations, Greenberg said he presents his final recommendation to the School Board.

"The responsibility for making recommendations really falls on my shoulders and I'm the one that does that," the superintendent said. "If there are complaints, we follow through, do a review and make recommendations based on that."

Greenberg added that in some cases "not everyone is in agreement," but noted he has over three decades of experience working with high school athletic programs.

"In the case of coaches, the board doesn't get to act on anything unless I bring forward a name," he said.

"Generally speaking, I'm swayed by evaluations we've done and conversations with other staff members," he said. "All of these factors can lead to a decision in any given year."Sharky told the board that Rich was asked by the superintendent to put together a 90-page document several years ago documenting highlights of his years on the job but that presentation was never shown publicly.

"I think it was handled appropriately," Greenberg responded, again declining to discuss specifics.

Retired Londonderry school district teacher and coach Tom Sawyer said that over the past 15 years, he could recall several occasions where "the interference of some people who have the ability to get involved has resulted in decisions being made."

"Let's not let this happen again," Sawyer told the board. "If my son could have ever played football, I would have loved for him to have played for John Rich."

LHS graduate Zach Capobianco said Rich has affected many young lives in a positive matter.

Capobianco, now a linebacker at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, said "Coach Rich is the reason I'm playing football."

"What he's done for these young men is more important than any score on any scoreboard," he said. "Coach Rich has done an impeccable job molding the young men in this town. He's an incredible mentor."

Dan Kinnon, who also played for Rich, echoed those sentiments.

"He made me a better man," Kinnon said of his coach. "I was not a well-put-together kid my freshman year, and I truly have Coach Rich to thank for the person I've become."

"It will break a lot of hearts to see him leave," he added. "You're never going to find a better man."8aguilmet@newstote.com