Dave Steele — who constructed a Kingsburg High football program so powerful in seven years the Vikings were progressively elevated from Division IV to D-II while competing against opposition double their enrollment — has been fired by the district’s Board of Trustees.
“Coaching football at Kingsburg has been my lifelong dream and I was planning to coach here for many more years,” the 44-year-old said, “but, unfortunately, that has come to an end.”
Steele, 73-16 (.820) with three Central Section titles after inheriting a program that had gone 41-66 (.390) in the previous 10 years, said a problem suddenly developed with “the school board’s unprecedented decision to appoint their own coaches that (would) ultimately undermine my ability to run a successful program.”
Never, Steele said, had the board so much as suggested who should assist him since he took over after going 20-0 in two years with the program’s junior varsity.
And Steele, who informed 70 players of the news at noon Tuesday in his classroom, added: “I notified the board that this action will jeopardize the integrity of our football teams and is unacceptable. I’ve always taken great pride in running a program that is not influenced by outside people, groups or organizations, but this has now changed.”
Kingsburg athletic director Doug Davis, while confirming through Kingsburg District Superintendent Randy Morris that Steele will be replaced, said the Board of Trustees — who “hire and fire” all coaches — did not vote on any personnel matters in its monthly meeting Monday night.
“There was a personnel discussion in closed session, though I don’t know what was discussed,” he said. “But they reported ‘no action’ on personnel, and that’s public record.”
But Davis did say Morris told him Tuesday morning that Steele had been removed as coach. And that came after the superintendent had told Steele the same.
Said Steele: “The superintendent came to my classroom before school started and said the board had decided to go in a different direction. Technically, they didn’t vote? OK. But, to me, that pretty much means I was fired.”
Steele remains a teacher at the school and its business department head.
Steele, per his annual routine, said he forwarded a list of 18 assistants he wanted on staff for the entire program to the board before its March meeting. He said the board — without disapproving any — responded with “four or five” names of its own, which Steele found unacceptable in principle more than anything. So he declined the recommendations.
“The key to our success is we’ve had chemistry and continuity on our staff all the way down to Pop Warner,” he said. “Naming my assistants undermines my authority to run the program as it needs to be run. And I wasn’t going to compromise how I do things. I told my players sometimes that can cost you a job, standing on your principles and not to waivering. I told them consider it a good life lesson.”
Neither Morris nor board president Rick Jackson could be reached for comment.
Former Washington coach and current athletic director Jeff Freitas said he was baffled: “Dave has done an incredibly good job at Kingsburg and they’re going to be hard-pressed to replace him. It’s a shame they couldn’t work it out. The kids in the program are going to suffer.
“This completely catches me off guard; I didn’t even hear rumblings. We has some great battles over the years and Dave has always been a first-class guy, whether it was at pre-game breakfast, exchanging game film or the kind words he had to say about our kids and program after the games.
“This will sting for a while but I know Dave will bounce back and land on his feet; he’s too great of a guy not to.”
Steele, who played at Sacramento State, said he had planned on coaching at Kingsburg for “seven to 10” more years, allowing him the chance to also coach his sons, Noah and Isaiah, who are in sixth and fourth grades.
He said he will pursue another coaching job.
“I feel I have a lot to offer,” he said. “The wins and championships are great but I’m most proud of the 25 kids who went on and played past high school, living out their dream. To me, that’s been my biggest impact.”