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Ex-hoops coach feels vindicated after seeing Katz emails to A.D.

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/JIM MACLEAN

Coach Billy Murphy embraces Max Bosco after Bosco and the Raiders made a valiant comeback attempt against Mount Vernon in the Section 1 finals last winter.

 

Boys basketball parent Mitch Katz felt vindicated on Feb. 6 when three Scarsdale High School administrators met with parents and players and told them recently fired coach Billy Murphy had been under investigation for a large part of his nearly three years as basketball coach.

Parents said athletic director Ray Pappalardi, principal Ken Bonamo and assistant superintendent for human resources and leadership development Drew Patrick told them — in vague terms — the firing had nothing to do with one parent or one complaint, that it had been an ongoing saga that just didn’t add up to keeping Murphy for the remainder of the season.

Prior to that meeting, a majority of parents were pushing for concrete answers about the firing and wanted Murphy, who led the team to overtime in the Section 1 finals against Mount Vernon the previous season, to finish out the current season. Between what the administration told them and Katz having a chance to address the parents that night, that majority shifted toward a more even split.

“The administration told us exactly what happened, that the guy was investigated for two years and there were a variety of violations,” Katz said in late February.

The parents and players moved on with the reality Scarsdale and Murphy had an irreconcilable relationship.

“Everyone would like to move forward is the bottom line,” parent Steve Shulman said later that month.

Now, after receiving a 324-page PDF of emails between Katz and Pappalardi he obtained under the Freedom of Information Law, Murphy said he feels vindicated his assertion all along that Katz was responsible for his Feb. 5 firing is correct.

Though it seemed Murphy had resigned following a Feb. 2 meeting with Pappalardi, Murphy said the next day he did not resign and would not do so without seeing copies of damning emails he was told about.

“I want these people that have put me through the mud with lies, I want the Scarsdale people, if they have any integrity, to call these guys out on the carpet about lying,” Murphy said. “I think it’s the right thing for the other coaches. I would think other coaches down the road might not have to go through this.”

On March 20, assistant superintendent for business Stuart Mattey responded to a pair of Freedom of Information Law requests Murphy submitted to the district on Feb. 12 and March 1. Murphy was particularly interested in emails from this year, some of which were completely or partially redacted by school officials.

As Katz had said when this was all breaking in early February, he had sent Pappalardi emails on Jan. 2 and 8 about negative behaviors by Murphy he felt were of note. Most of the details were gone over on the phone, but some concerns were voiced via email.

Murphy denied shoplifting, being fired from other jobs, being abusive and destroying kids, which were claims Katz made in his many emails to Pappalardi.

“Ray said this had nothing to do with Mitch and you can see in the emails it did,” Murphy said.

Murphy had 30 days from receipt of the emails to appeal anything that was denied or redacted, which he said he is doing.

“There’s going to be a serious lawsuit,” Murphy said. “Not that I even want any of his money.”

In addition to the emails, Murphy requested any evaluations of himself as a coach and financial dealings between Katz and the athletic department. According to the cover letter by Mattey, in regards to coach evaluations, “There are no records responsive” to Murphy’s request, and the only financial receipts between Katz and the athletic department included are receipts for the team’s Florida trips, which ended up being a source of some of Murphy’s downfall.

“Never had any evaluations, never had any transparency, never had anything negative about me the whole time I was there and then I get fired in the middle of the season,” Murphy said. “We could have won the states this year without a question. We had that kind of talent. Without a question.”

Katz said he had no further contact with Pappalardi after Jan. 8 prior to getting two emails that were sent to the parents of the entire team on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. The first stated Murphy would not be coaching that night against New Rochelle, the second saying he had resigned.

Katz had, in fact, been emailing Pappalardi daily from Jan. 28 and beyond pushing for Murphy’s removal. This followed his son’s two-game suspension for yelling at a coach during a game.

While Katz has maintained the firing had nothing to do with him or his son, the emails he sent that week told Murphy a different story. When confronted with this Monday, Katz said, “My emails with Ray after Jan. 8 were strictly about the bullying and verbal abuse of Leo that worsened throughout the month.”

This bullying of his senior captain son was a topic Katz had been unwilling to go on record with prior to now, and he said he’s still not comfortable doing so, adding he’s tired of the events leading to Murphy’s dismissal playing out in the newspaper and didn’t want to drag Murphy’s alleged behaviors against his son into the public eye.

Katz also noted others complained to the administration about Murphy. “The guy was fired for things that had nothing to do with us,” Katz said in late February. “I don’t know if the administration did the right thing or not, but they gave the guy plenty of chances and they had no choice but to fire him.”

Katz said he found it ironic those pointing fingers at him were the ones he said who weren’t concerned about the well-being of the student-athletes.

“The parents on this team, we fell victim to that last year when we didn’t report [Murphy] had been drinking and driving with the kids the prior year,” Katz said. “That doesn’t make it right.”

Katz has had three sons go through the program and serve as starting captains senior year, so any time he’s gone to the administration he said it’s never been about playing time, but how kids are treated by coaches.

“I’m not afraid to do what I think is right,” Katz said. “I had an issue when [Jon] Feld was coach, but my kids were captains and they played every minute of every game. It had nothing to do with my kids. I’m a basketball player, I’m a coach. I have a high standard of the way I think coaches should treat kids and I’m not afraid to stick my neck out and get involved if I think the coach is doing something inappropriate.”

Murphy said he felt he got another piece of Katz-related smoking gun information from Patrick during a Feb. 8 meeting, in which he brought Sue Bosco, the parent of a former player, and Lenny Boccia, who has a son in the lower levels of the program. Murphy said Patrick made Bosco and Boccia leave the room and then told him about a phone call by parent Brian Goldman to Katz the day of the New Rochelle game.

“That’s when Ray called me and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be able to coach today,’” Murphy said. “I felt guilty and I was like, ‘What did I do?’ I didn’t put talking to my friend Brian Goldman together with that. And Mitch was my friend for two and a half years until he didn’t get what he wanted.”

It was in hindsight that Murphy said he realized his request to Goldman may have gotten him in trouble.

Goldman would not comment about the alleged phone call, and Katz said such a call never happened; he and Goldman are best friends who “talk 10 times a week.”

Murphy said he called Goldman to see if he could talk Katz into dropping the whole thing and letting Murphy coach out the season.

Goldman declined to comment further than, “Their season is over and I’m really proud of how my son handled himself during all this stuff.”

The early evidence when Murphy was let go revolved around two issues: First, he was accused of drinking and driving with the team on its 2016 trip to Florida and, second, he drank on the 2017 trip and had unsanctioned personnel around the team and driving the team that year.

Murphy denied drinking and driving, but admitted to having a beer given to him by Katz on the past trip. Murphy said Katz then threatened to tell Pappalardi about the beer, so Murphy called Pappalardi to tell him about the situation Dec. 30, 2017.

On Jan. 26, Murphy said he was forced to sign a document saying he would not drink around the team or have unapproved personnel around the team. In the contract, Pappalardi noted “concerns I have over your professional judgment.”

The letter states Murphy admitted to having “two, no more than three, drinks prior to dinner” on Dec. 29, and that Jerome Jeffers, who was not approved to be with the team, drove the students.

Pappalardi was satisfied Murphy did not and had not planned to drive the team. According to Pappalardi’s contract for Murphy, this was not the first time Murphy had unauthorized adults around the team.

In addition, Pappalardi placed assistant athletic director Joe DeCrescenzo at all basketball team practices and games “to ensure [Murphy’s] compliance with these directives.”

Parent Shulman was on both Florida trips.

“I did not see him drinking and then getting in a van,” he said. “No, I did not see that.”

Shulman said he had no knowledge of anything going on behind the scenes until the day Murphy didn’t coach at New Ro. The next thing Shulman said he knew, he got an email Murphy had resigned two days later.

“We were not aware there were issues with him,” Shulman said. “At the parents’ meeting, Ray and the principal had indicated to us there had been issues for the last two years and we were unaware of that. Of course, any parent found it troubling we were not made aware of this.”

After taking time to think about it and absorb the limited information, Shulman said he put his faith in the administration.

“Bottom line, I don’t think they would fire someone — or maybe it’s naïve of me — or let them go without reasonable cause,” he said. “From that perspective, it seems like they made the right decisions, but again no information was really provided that justified the decision.”

What really concerns Shulman, he said, is the lack of communication and timely communication from the administration.

What Murphy said he found following the administration’s meeting with parents and players was what appeared to him to be the community turning its back on him, with the exception of the Boscos and Boccias. Bosco would not comment for this story, Boccia said he was not available this week.

“They were the only ones who backed me up and came to support me in dealing with the fake-astration,” Murphy said.

Where have the parents of players from this year’s team been since early February? Most were keeping to themselves and trying to move forward knowing they could no longer benefit from a relationship with Murphy.

“I saw no loyalty when I got fired from this job,” Murphy said. “None. All I heard was crickets as my loyalty. I thought the parents loved me. Nobody said, ‘I’ll do whatever you need, Coach Murphy.’ That’s what I thought they were going to say.”

The players didn’t speak at Murphy’s Feb. 5 town hall meeting and have remained mostly tight-lipped on the subject overall since. After the season ended, Trevor Nossel said he didn’t think the team took much away from the meeting with administration. In the end, the kids were caught in the middle.

“Nothing really helped it,” Nossel said. “We just had to get over it. We had to stop worrying about it and realize we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Instead the seniors rallied the team together with the help of the new coaching staff led by assistant coach Justin Washington.

“It was really the seniors who had to show our leadership and being responsible for picking our team up and keeping them focused,” Nossel said. “We didn’t really let it get to us. I thought we handled it great.”

Without Murphy, following a loss to New Rochelle, the Raiders had three comeback wins to end the regular season, topping White Plains, Mount Vernon and Tappan Zee.

The Mount Vernon win was historic.

Scarsdale hadn’t beaten Mount Vernon since 1997, and they did it on the road, an even tougher task. The team won its first playoff game before falling 87-79 at Mount Vernon in an exciting Section 1 quarterfinal game.

“For them to come together and play tough and really fight to the end as a team I think all the parents were really happy,” Shulman said. “And all the kids were getting along. Everybody came together and they’ve continued to get along.”

In the summer of 2016, four Scarsdale head varsity coaches were dismissed out-of-season by Pappalardi, then wrapping up his first year since coming from Edgemont to Scarsdale. On the same day Murphy was let go this year, so was girls lacrosse coach Genette Zonghetti, just a month before spring preseason. That led to the resignation of field hockey coach Sharon Rosenthal, who felt she could not effectively do her job without assistant Zonghetti and her sister, Gail, the junior varsity coach.

The Murphy firing was the first in-season, which led to a lot of discussion about why it happened with three regular season games plus the playoffs left in the season.

“At least everybody else lost their jobs after the season,” Murphy said. “Mine is in the middle of the season because somebody had a strong lawyer, but still nobody has brought that up to me yet.”

Murphy said, had he been fired after the season, he “would not be as upset. No way.”

“I wish they had something so I could feel I did something wrong and it would make sense,” he said.

Murphy, who expects to be back coaching soon, possibly against Scarsdale, said he has been fighting not to get his job back, but to show he was innocent of any wrongdoing and to salvage his reputation.

“This is dead wrong,” he said. “How can they drag somebody’s name through the mud, fire me in the middle of the season like I’m a dog, tell the kids I was a danger, lie to the kids I’ve been around for three years and built relationships with from nothing and get away with it? That’s what other coaches have allowed these guys to do. I’ve got too much pride.”


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

April 6, 2018

Katz-Pappalardi emails at a glance

January 2:
Parent Mitch Katz emailed athletic director Ray Pappalardi to set up a call regarding “very serious and confidential things related to Coach [Billy] Murphy.” Via email, they agreed to speak at 1 p.m. that day.

January 8:
Katz emailed Pappalardi, saying, “the Coach Murphy situation has gotten worse” and requested time to talk the next day. They set up to speak the morning of Jan. 9, with Katz noting in his email, “I have tried to talk to Billy about his drinking, shoplifting and other incredibly irresponsible behavior [in front of kids]. He doesn’t want to or is incapable of listening. Very bad situation.”

January 29:
An eight-line email from Katz to Pappalardi was fully redacted by school officials.

January 30:
Katz sent Pappalardi another email that was partially redacted. Among the parts that were visible: “Coach Murphy’s child endangerment issues are facts that can easily be proven. He is not stable, reliable or fit to be with kids… I know you see Murphy just as unfit as I do, and I’m sure you don’t want to take the risk of having him coach another season after this one. He has been fired multiple times before and he will be fired again.” Pappalardi’s response to that email was fully redacted.

January 31:
A partially redacted email from Katz to Pappalardi included a partial phrase “this is abuse and” and continued, “His actions require immediate decisive action” and ended with “let me know what the plan is to end this coaching behavior.” In that email thread, Pappalardi’s previous response to Katz was not fully redacted. One line was included, with one word redacted: “I will work as quickly as I can to verify the facts that [redacted] shared with me.”

That morning, Pappalardi sent Katz an email that was redacted. In a partially redacted reply from Katz, he wrote, “This is not the decisive action that protects our kids. He is a menace and he is endangering [redacted]. He needs to be stopped and replaced before it gets worse. His actions are all fireable offenses and he is a tremendous liability to the school and the kids.”

Later that afternoon, Katz emailed Pappalardi saying, “I know that Murphy isn’t coaching and I hope that is a permanent decision,” among other redacted lines. Katz sent a follow-up email minutes later; the one line was redacted. Pappalardi replied he was unable to meet with the players that day, but would do so the next day.

February 1:
All five lines of an email from Katz to Pappalardi were redacted. Pappalardi responded thanking Katz “for the update” and saying he would meet with the seniors and “get back to you after that meeting.”

February 2:
Following Murphy’s resignation/firing, Katz emailed Pappalardi and opened with “Ray, no winners here.” Four lines were redacted from the email. Pappalardi’s short response was redacted.

February 3:
Katz replied to that email with “OK, thanks Ray. Also, so you know, Billy Murphy has gone to The Scarsdale Inquirer and accused me of getting him fired. I’m not concerned about my name being brought into this, but I would assume he is violating whatever separation agreement you have with him.” Later that day, Katz forwarded Pappalardi Murphy’s email letter to the basketball community.

February 4-6:
There were more short emails from Katz to Pappalardi, including one that was complimentary of Pappalardi’s final decision on cutting ties with Murphy and pledging his support to the athletic director.