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Fired coach, parents ask for answers

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/JIM MACLEAN

Billy Murphy hosted a town hall meeting Monday night to discuss his firing.

 

SCARSDALE SPORTS — Billy Murphy put himself on trial Monday night.

While Murphy spends most of his time on a basketball court, this time he found himself pleading his case in the court of public opinion during a self-run Q&A session at Willow Ridge Country Club Feb. 5. The town-hall style event was open to the public, particularly the Scarsdale boys basketball community, and came four days after Murphy was thought to have resigned as coach.

“If there was something to hide, I wouldn’t be here,” Murphy told the crowd, which consisted mostly of parents and players from this
JON THALER PHOTO

Interim coaches Justin Washington, center, and Tommy Proudian, right, lead Scarsdale to a win over White Plains on senior night Tuesday.

 
year’s team and supporters he brought in for the occasion. “I think this is how it goes down in Scarsdale. You get a disgruntled parent, one that lies to himself and says it’s something different than it really is and they make believe that it’s not about playing time.”

Murphy met with Scarsdale athletic director Ray Pappalardi Feb. 2. At the close of the meeting, Pappalardi believed Murphy had resigned.

“That was my understanding on Friday,” Pappalardi said this week, adding, after Groundhog Day he had no further contact with Murphy.

On Feb. 3, Murphy said he had not resigned and on Monday called Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leader Development Andrew Patrick to let him know his previous resignation was conditional to the district showing him an email he requested.

No email, no resignation, he told Patrick.

“With that said, the next thing available to us was termination,” Patrick said. “Clearly the relationship had ended.”

Patrick said he could not discuss the reason for the firing, but Murphy said at his town hall it was for insubordination. He had been told not to contact the team or parents, but he did so at least once in order to alert them of his forum.

Pappalardi knew about the public meeting, which was announced Saturday.

“I think people have the right to say whatever they need to say or hold meetings if they need to hold meetings,” Pappalardi said.

Not long after the hourlong town hall ended, Patrick read a statement at the board of education meeting regarding the administration’s recommendation to terminate Murphy during executive session.

“Clearly severing a coach-athlete relationship in the midst of a season is a very serious step to take,” Patrick said. “We do not make this recommendation lightly … this decision is about the conduct of one individual and the safety and well-being of all our student-athletes.”

Patrick was scheduled to meet with Murphy again Feb. 8, but noted it wouldn’t change anything.

“We stand by our decision,” he said. “We came to a point where we didn’t think we could continue with [Murphy] in the position.”

Murphy did not respond to requests Feb. 8 to clarify details.

Patrick said the decision to fire any employee is made collaboratively. It’s not just the athletic director in the case of a coach, and Patrick said Coach Murphy’s fate was being discussed for a period of time.

According to Murphy on Friday, the public accusations consisted of ostracizing and issues from team trips to Florida the last two Decembers in which Murphy had at least one beer while in charge of the team, might have driven after having that beer and allowing non-Scarsdale certified people with the team.

Click the pinned link on Twitter at @sportwritertodd or visit scarsdalenews.com for the original story.

Murphy publicly called out the Katz family — dad Mitch and senior captain Leo — as having perpetrated his demise in Scarsdale. At his town hall meeting, no names were mentioned, but Murphy and attendees made insinuations.

Murphy called the administration a bully. He prided himself on the fact he was there to “talk truth” and “face the fire,” also boasting having quick success as a coach at New Rochelle in Greenwich and Scarsdale.

Much of the conversation drifted toward organizing against Pappalardi, who is due for tenure this year. Attendees discussed putting together a committee to have Pappalardi ousted.

For their part, the basketball players did not speak up at the meeting, but one football player did.

“It really seems [Pappalardi] doesn’t care about the athletes,” the player said. “He really is in his own world. I can tell you 100 percent he has sent emails and he has threatened my head coach and threatened to fire him for insubordination.”

Several parents wanted to push for Murphy to at least finish out the season with the team with three games left plus sectionals.

“Let us finish as a team,” Murphy said to the crowd. “Let us finish instead of cutting the kids’ season with two weeks left.”

When someone asked Murphy if he had ever been on a disciplinary program or was spoken to he said, “Zero,” though soon contradicted himself when he said a few weeks ago he was forced to sign a document stating he would not drink when in charge of the team.

“If I didn’t sign that I wasn’t going to be allowed to coach,” Murphy said. “I knew this was the start of the end. I know how it went with the other coaches who were dismissed.”

After the four days of questions and no answers in the minds of parents, administrators Patrick, Pappalardi and Principal Ken Bonamo held a pregame meeting for varsity parents and players on Tuesday, which was senior night against White Plains.

“We knew that the families wanted information and we felt like they deserved time face-to-face with us …” Pappalardi said.

Parents and players learned Murphy had been the subject of inquiry going back two years, according to parents who attended the meeting. Patrick would not confirm the length of time, but said, “We have a protocol for when administration makes a decision or a judgment that an employee’s behavior needs to change and we follow that protocol. What we discussed with parents is [the] process didn’t start four weeks ago and it’s not about a single issue.”

The admins listened to some of the concerns the basketball parents had, and Pappalardi followed up with an email to parents with some of the highlights, such as perceived referee bias against Scarsdale; lack of communication from the district that “has allowed others to fill the void and has caused division within the community”; turnover of coaches preventing Scarsdale from being a place coaches want to work; and a lack of “effective methods for communicating, especially in emergent and stressful situations.”

Pappalardi vowed to work on all of those points, noting confidentiality will remain an issue when it comes to information sharing.

“I know we have acted in the best interests of our students,” he said.

Murphy is the sixth head varsity coach in less than two years to be cut by Pappalardi.

In 2016, Dave Scagnelli, softball; Doc Scholl, baseball, and Jim Mancuso, ice hockey, were not retained for their yearly coaching appointments and Brendan Curran, boys lacrosse, resigned prior to suffering the same fate. On Feb. 2 of this year, with preseason about to begin in a month, girls lacrosse coach Genette Zonghetti was let go, along with her assistant coach sister Gail. Due in part to losing the Zonghettis for field hockey, Sharon Rosenthal resigned Tuesday, about a year earlier than she expected to retire after 18 seasons on the job.

See story in sports.


Going forward

Scarsdale practiced for the first time Monday with a set coaching staff and had its first game post-Murphy the next day. The Raiders had played their game Wednesday, Jan. 31, without Murphy there and lost 51-49 to New Rochelle with a makeshift staff.

At that point they didn’t know what was going on or why their coach wasn’t there.

Friday the bomb dropped and for most of the players, who, as a team on Tuesday, declined to comment on their game, part of their worlds came apart.

Starting Monday, the Raiders had to pick up the pieces with interim head coach Justin Washington, a first-year assistant, and junior varsity A coach Tommy Proudian as the new head assistant.

Pappalardi said he is waiting to hear if Yusef Yizar, the JV B coach, will be able to help out as well.

“For us it’s trying to keep some semblance of normalcy I guess, just try to keep things consistent,” Washington said. “That’s a tough task when every conversation you have is about the coaching situation.”

Washington is a “football guy” who, until this season, spent his entire career at Mamaroneck, his alma mater, where he is a special education teaching assistant. He moved to Mamaroneck from the Bronx in 1994 as a fourth-grader.

“I’ve just been a part of that community ever since,” he said.

Proudian and Yizar were brought to Scarsdale by Murphy and Yizar brought Washington in this season. Though Washington knew of Murphy, not personally, they developed a strong bond over this season, and it’s been a difficult time for Washington, too.

“Justin is going to take over as the head because he is available, he understands the system and, from what I understand from him — I haven’t spoken with the kids yet — they wanted him to be there because he knows them and they know him,” Pappalardi said.

Pappalardi said he had no concerns about the coaches’ loyalty to Murphy getting in the way of their duties; Washington and Proudian know how important it is for them to stay and give the kids some sense of continuity for at least the remainder of the season.

“All reports back on Tommy Proudian have been positive,” Pappalardi said. “Every interaction I’ve had with Justin or that I’ve seen Justin have with kids has been positive. Yusef same thing.”

The first order of business was a smooth transition and helping the players resolve any conflicts from within. It was unclear if Leo Katz would remain with the team, but he was there on Tuesday helping the Raiders make a comeback against White Plains. Scarsdale trailed 39-30 and went on to win 65-60.

“Like we saw tonight, especially in the first half, you’ve got young kids struggling to deal with what’s going on outside the court,” Washington said. “It’s not easy to then forget about that all of a sudden and just play. It took us a while to get it together.”

Then the magic happened on Thursday.

At Mount Vernon, Scarsdale won 84-74, the team’s first win over Mount Vernon since the 1997 Section 1 finals. It was the third straight competitive game the Raiders played against the Knights going back to the Section 1 finals last winter — a 67-61 overtime loss after trailing 44-18 — and including the first meeting this season, a 72-68 loss at home.

“If we ever put it together, the section should watch out,” Washington said.


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.

 

February 9, 2018