Even if an independent investigation confirms that former boys' basketball coach Joseph McLoughlin was , those findings would be insufficient to overturn his dismissal, Superintendent Scott Oswald told Patch today.
The Collingswood superintendent was steadfast in his insistence that McLoughlin had been informed of the reasons for his nonrenewal , and that none of them was related to any suspicion of administrative or racial bias.
“The decision about the coaching position is a separate issue,” Oswald said. “I’m the guy who knows all the reasons the decisions were made. There was not one notion that has anything to do with the players on the court.”
Oswald told Patch Tuesday that just because board policy has tied his hands in the very public tete-a-tete doesn’t mean the decision to retain or release McLoughlin as the CHS basketball coach could have been made by anyone else.
“In any school district, if you’re not going to renew a teacher, a coach, the superintendent is the only person by law who makes that recommendation,” he said. “The only way to get a job, to lose a job, comes through me.”
‘Check your paranoia at the door’
at the June 2012 Board of Education meeting as to why McLoughlin would have been dismissed from his coaching position was the speculation that he was improperly recruiting players.
Last week, Patch received copies of correspondence from Oswald to Haddon Heights Athletic Director Joseph Cramp dated May 12, 2011. In the letter, Oswald clears McLoughlin of any allegedly improper recruitment.
Patch also received copies of an email exchange between Oswald and McLoughlin dated Jan. 20, 2012. The messages reference a basketball game between Collingswood and Audubon, during which senior Malik Clark received two technical fouls for hanging on the rim.
In the first email, McLoughlin explains to Oswald that Clark incurred one technical in an effort not to land on a player beneath him, and the other because he “is very inexperienced as a basketball player, not fully aware of all the rules.”
McLoughlin adds that he reprimanded Clark “loudly in front of the other players and coaches to make sure he understood what he did wrong.”
From there, Oswald’s response explores an apparently long-running conversation the two shared about the coach’s belief that CHS principal Ed Hill and athletic director Ronald Hamrick were systematically attempting to undermine his management of the team.
In his reply, Oswald advises McLoughlin “to monitor the behavior” of players on the court and “check this Hamrick/Hill paranoia at the door.”
“As I told you a dozen times last year, neither Ed [Hill] nor Ron [Hamrick] has ever not supported you in discussions with me,” Oswald wrote. “Never has the topic of changing basketball coaches come up in discussion.
“Your reaction last week to Ed in front of student athletes combined with hearing from a board member that parents in his own community are telling him that both Ed and Ron are out to get you brings back flashes of our discussions of last year,” Oswald wrote.
“It all causes unnecessary drama and diverts my attention from focusing on the academic achievement of our students.”
In closing, Oswald calls himself McLoughlin’s “number 1 supporter,” but admits that he is “considering asking” the coach “to take a year off” in 2013.
“I just can’t keep dealing with the ‘everyone is out to get me’ mentality,” Oswald wrote. “Perhaps we all need some time to reassess. Your talents are being overshadowed by your paranoia.”
‘We are in the dark’
Tuesday, Oswald attacked the idea that McLoughlin believed himself to be the victim of an administrative witch hunt.
“We’re in a school district,” Oswald said. “Nobody here is out to get anybody else. The district, the curriculum all run better when people just get along. If I’m telling you that [it] hasn’t happened, the stuff you are fearful of hasn’t happened.”
Oswald said that even in Clark’s two-technical game he didn’t hold McLoughlin responsible because students can be expected to make mistakes.
“That’s why we have teachers and coaches and stuff,” Oswald said. “I do hold the coach responsible for his reaction to that behavior.”
But Dennis G. Young, McLoughlin’s attorney, says that line of thinking wasn’t a part of any notification his client received on the matter; moreover, he says McLoughlin was never notified of his impending dismissal as coach.
“We are in the dark as to why Joe wasn’t renewed,” Young said. “Even after the June meeting when the issue was tabled, there was absolutely no contact that was done spearheaded by Dr. Oswald’s office as related to his nonrenewal.”
Young further maintains that his client was not renewed for failing to follow a directive “by his athletic director and his principal to play more white players over black players.
“When you don’t have a reason for nonrenewing the most successful basketball coach in Collingswood history and then you attempt to come up with certain reasons that don’t exist, you shouldn’t get away with this,” Young said.
Any investigation supplemental to the June meeting at which McLoughlin was not renewed, Young says, should have been conducted prior to the decision to remove the coach.
“It may or may not be a paranoia,” Young said, “but if I am the superintendent and I am literally considering recommending to my board that this coach take a year off because of a paranoia, then I damn well better look into these allegations before I recommend that to my board. I better be 100 percent sure that what I’m claiming is someone’s delusion is in fact a delusion.”
‘A full, thorough and fair investigation’
The one person right now who’s actually getting paid to sift through the facts is former Camden County prosecutor and Haddonfield Commissioner Ed Borden.
Borden underscored that he is still seeking input from anyone with first-hand knowledge of the case, including “administrators, employees of the district, people associated with Joe McLoughlin’s camp and family members” of Collingswood students and players.
He said he expects such individuals “would welcome” the opportunity to weigh in on the case.
“I certainly expect to do a full, thorough and fair investigation,” Borden said.
The timeline on the case accelerated somewhat earlier this month, however, when the NAACP filed a formal complaint on McLoughlin’s behalf with the Office of Civil Rights of the New Jersey Attorney General.
Within the next few weeks, Young said, McLoughlin and the Clark family also will file corresponding briefs.
“We absolutely want the attorney general’s office to look into this,” he said.
Borden said the request doesn’t alter his investigation, however.
“Anybody has a right to ask the attorney general’s office to intervene,” he said. “I would expect they would be supportive of the kind of work the Collingswood Board of Education took in getting an investigation done."
Oswald said that whatever the findings of Borden’s commission or the outcome of any state-led inquiry, he’s disappointed that things didn’t go differently with McLoughlin, and wearied by the back-and-forth.
“I respect the man’s talent,” Oswald said, “and the good things he’s done for kids? One-hundred percent respect. But there are other people in the school district whose contributions are minimized because of this.”