Coaching conundrum

Published 11:29 am Friday, May 20, 2016

We continuously hear about how Southampton County — and subsequently its school district — have to manage with fewer federal, state and local funds each year. The issue of raising taxes to offset or supplement the shortfall gets shot down by concerned citizens, yet bills and salaries must still be paid.

Last week, the Southampton County School Board made a wise budgetary decision in cutting a position that few outside the district may have even known existed or what it entailed. In removing the academic success specialist position, which “involves helping seniors graduate,” the district will save $52,000 moving forward. It will be easier to retain teachers of core subjects and quite possibly even allow some to get a much-deserved, long-overdue raise.

I’m sure we can all agree that the teachers at Southampton County Public Schools — like local police and firefighters — could never be paid enough for the work that they do.

As unfortunate as it is that one person must lose their job, it is a position that is easily expendable if the school board is serious about climbing out of the financial hole in which it finds itself. When money is scarce, tough decisions have to be made. Even if the academic success specialist position is held by head football coach Willie Gillus, whose $7,800 coaching stipend is also no longer on the books.

Southampton placed itself in quite the conundrum three years ago when it hired Gillus. He had a proven track record as the head coach at Surry County, winning numerous district and regional coach of the year awards and a state title in 1998. This, in addition to his time as a professional quarterback and assistant college coach, placed high expectations upon his shoulders.

Never mind the fact that that the Indians had not had a winning season in nearly a decade, he was the man to get the Big Red Machine rolling again. And, that’s why he was placed — with no prior academic advisory experience (he was the physical education teacher while at Surry County Public Schools) — into a role that paid more than most teachers.

With the budget continuing to shrink, it was only a matter of time before the district looked at the hire and wondered why it was made it the first place. Prior to Gillus’ arrival, the position remained vacant; some question whether or not it was created specifically to help pay for the (somewhat) prestigious coach’s salary.

As for his on-field record, it is hard to justify paying someone who has gone 10-23 in three seasons the same or more than head coaches at nationally recognized Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach) and Oscar Smith (Chesapeake) high schools. If moving on from Gillus — and rehiring Littleton Parker III — happened because all coaches are given annually renewed contracts, then the school board was once again correct in making a performance-based decision. Neither school officials nor the former coach will likely ever share the full details about his departure, however.

There’s no question that the school board is in a seemingly hopeless situation, and the district is continuously fighting to keep its core curriculum intact with a shrinking budget. Gillus’ contract is just the first of many cuts to come if state and local revenues are not increased. Athletics will only continue to bear the brunt of the shortfall, making it only a matter of time before the district threatens to decrease the number of athletic programs available to its students.

By reading the comments on our social media pages, it seems as if the public only sees the hire of Littleton Parker as a way of getting Southampton football back to its glory days. But digging deep into the issue, you’ll see that it may only be a matter of time before Southampton’s glory days were when it had a football team to begin with.

ANDREW LIND is the sports editor and staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187, or at @AndrewMLind.