To put Tuesday’s termination hearing for Eldon High School coach Jimmy Lincoln in basketball terms, both sides put on a full-court press.
Back and forth, for nearly nine hours, witnesses for the school district and the coach testified under oath and were cross-examined by opposing counsel. Testimony from Eldon School Superintendent Matt Davis received the most scrutiny. He was questioned for three hours.
In the end, the outcome was a jump ball.
It was revealed before the hearing that no announcement would be made of the school board’s decision regarding the coach’s future.
But by today, the Eldon High School coach should learn of his fate.
According to district procedure, the school board, which will decide whether to accept Superintendent Davis’ recommendation to fire Lincoln for unsportsmanlike conduct – use of profanity and allegedly elbowing an opposing player – was required to notify the coach of its decision within three days. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, which wrapped up shortly before 10 p.m., the board went into closed session to discuss the coach’s status. Reportedly, the board met behind closed doors until 1 a.m.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the seven-member school board acted as both judge and jury, with board President Chris Hart put in the position of ruling on objections from attorneys on both sides.
“I don’t think anyone here tonight would dispute you have a hard job,” said attorney Natalie Hoernschemeyer, representing the school district. “This is one of the hardest jobs of a board of education, but that is your duty. … We’ve provided you with evidence of every single one of these charges. … It’s the recommendation of your administration that you should terminate Mr. Lincoln as your head basketball coach.”
The hearing, held at the coach’s request, was open to the public.
“Jimmy Lincoln is not going to back away from a fight when he’s not in the wrong,” the coach’s attorney, Michael McDorman, said.
The hearing was held at the Eldon Middle School gym to accommodate the anticipated crowd. Between 150 and 200 people attended, including past and present EHS basketball players, parents of players and community leaders. Afterward, former and current players as well as community members and supporters hugged and shook hands with the coach.
In closing remarks at Tuesday’s hearing, school district Hoernschemeyer told the board that, based on the evidence, it had “good cause” to fire Lincoln.
“You have admission by Mr. Lincoln that there’s no doubt that he engaged in profanity multiple times. … He admitted violating the profanity policy,” Hoernschemeyer said. “He admitted to engaging in conduct that is clearly inappropriate.”
The use of profanity violated school district policy as well as Lincoln’s own coaching philosophy, as stated in a document called Mustang Pride, which the coach provided at his job interview in 2009, the attorney for the school district said at Tuesday’s hearing. In a letter to the coach, the school district outlined six allegations against the boys’ basketball coach.
Page 2 of 5 - “There’s no legal requirement that … if you take out one of these charges, if it’s found not to be true, it doesn’t mean that there’s not good cause,” Hoernschemeyer said. “Each charge should stand independently.”
While Lincoln admitted to using profanity on three occasions – twice during a summer shootout in June at the School of the Osage and once during a post-game radio interview last season – he denied elbowing an opposing player as the two teams shook hands after a game at the Osage shootout. Witnesses for the coach, including one of the Eldon players and two sideline assistants, testified they did not see the coach elbow an opposing player. Lincoln testified the player on the opposing team shoved him.
That contradicted a statement from Caleb Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore from Wichita, who was a member of a Texas summer team that played Eldon at the Osage shootout June 8 and 9. In a written statement provided to Superintendent Davis, Smith said Lincoln elbowed him in the line as players and coaches from both teams shook hands after the game, which was described as “chippy,” or rough and aggressive play.
“Do you think it’s fair that Matt Davis conducted this investigation and he didn’t bother to interview one player, one parent, one individual (besides Smith) who observed this (alleged elbowing incident)?” Lincoln’s attorney McDorman said.
“Do you think it’s fair that he (Davis) took a statement from a young man and knew that his coach (Lincoln) had denied it five or six days before that,” McDorman said. “Didn’t get a statement from the coach of the other team. Didn’t get a statement from the player on the other team that was right behind him (Caleb Smith). You would assume that if there’s something bad to say, he’s not going to show allegiance to Jimmy Lincoln. But did we hear from any of them, the people not involved in the incident that certainly could have hung him (Lincoln) out to dry? No.
“Why? Is it because we’re in search of the truth?” McDorman said. “Or is it because we’re on a Salem witch hunt.”
Attorneys for both sides had witnesses watch a security video from the school that was replayed countless times during questioning at Tuesday’s hearing. Superintendent Davis claimed the video showed Lincoln elbowing the opposing player.
“I believe hitting a student crosses the line,” Davis said of his decision to recommend to the board that Lincoln be fired as Eldon’s boys’ basketball coach.
After investigating the incidents at Osage, Davis asked Lincoln to resign and encouraged him “to find employment elsewhere.”
Yet even after the alleged Osage elbowing incident and after asking Lincoln to resign, Davis had recommended Lincoln for a job at Summersville and praised his coaching abilities.
Page 3 of 5 - Lincoln, who only a month earlier had signed a new one-year contract to coach at Eldon, told Davis he wouldn’t resign.
Prior to the Osage shootout and before Lincoln had signed a new contract, Davis had accused Russellville of trying “to steal” Eldon’s coach. Davis testified he had asked Lincoln to stay, including calling the coach when he was on his way to meet with school officials in Russellville and asking Lincoln not to accept a coaching position there.
“I think it clearly shows I give people a second chance,” Davis said.
The organizer of Just Play Hard Shootouts, Andrew Almany, testified during a videotaped deposition at Tuesday’s hearing that Lincoln confronted him in the commons area during the Osage shootout and used profanity when there were students present. Lincoln denied the allegation.
However, Lincoln admitted to telling an official, “… you shut the f… up,” during a game at the Osage tournament, for which he was given a technical foul.
Lincoln also admitted that during the Osage shootout he told the coach of the Texas team that the stalling, run-out-the-clock offense he was using in the game against Eldon “was bull…t.”
After the Osage tournament, Almany called the Eldon School District and told Davis about the alleged incidents at the Just Play Hard Shootout and said Lincoln and the Eldon team would be banned from playing at future Just Play Hard Shootouts.
The first instance of profanity by Lincoln occurred during the most recent basketball season. O a post-game radio interview after a hotly contested game at Eugene, which Eldon lost, Lincoln told the fans at Eugene “to quit bitching.”
During a post-game interview after a subsequent game, Lincoln issued an on-air apology for his remarks about Eugene. Davis, when told of Lincoln’s apology by his mother, who had heard it on the radio, called Lincoln while he was on the team bus and thanked him for apologizing. Davis testified he had not asked the coach to make a public apology.
Fallout from the coach’s remarks on the radio contributed to Eldon pulling out of future Eugene tournaments – at Lincoln’s suggestion and with Davis’ approval – because of concern the Eldon players and fans would be subjected to a “hostile environment.”
Subsequently, Eugene notified Superintendent Davis it would not compete against Eldon in any sport.
While Lincoln admitted using profanity on three occasions as outlined in the list of allegations against him, witnesses for Lincoln, as well as the coach himself, testified Tuesday the video from the Osage shootout did not show the coach elbowing a player.
“We’ve obviously had a lot of discussion about the allegation that he elbowed Caleb Smith … you have testimony on both sides (as far as whether Lincoln elbowed the opposing player,” Hoernschemeyer said. “Ultimately, that’s for you to decide. We have Caleb Smith, who swore under oath – he has no stake in this – that this is what happened to him. But even if you do not believe that Caleb Smith was elbowed, you have more than sufficient evidence to terminate Mr. Lincoln’s extra-duty contract for good cause.”
Page 4 of 5 - Lincoln’s attorney disagreed.
“Caleb Smith’s statement is at best inconsistent, or else it's a lie. It’s one of the other,” McDorman said. “You (the school district) spent a lot of money on this case. So has he (Lincoln). In search of what? The truth? Or to prosecute this man and to fire him.”
Hoernschemeyer said the school board, by deciding to fire Lincoln, could send a message that unsportsmanlike behavior from coaches, who are role models and representatives of the school district, would not be tolerated.
“If you condone this kind of conduct you will be sending a message to the parents, to your students that this is OK,” Hoernschemeyer said.
Lincoln’s attorney, McDorman, said the coach had lived up to the terms of his contract
“The contract presented to this man did not provide him a job description or job targets or anything else like that,” McDorman said. “What it’s really about is what is fundamentally fair to a person in this position? On the one hand, you call him a teacher (based on the terminology of Lincoln’s contract, though he only coaches and has no classroom teaching duties). You refer to him in every aspect (as a teacher). He’s expected to hold up to the conduct of teachers. … But on the same token, he’s just an employee. He’s just a coach.
“This man has taken this position and he’s fulfilled it for the entire time he’s been employed,” McDorman said. “What we have here are three exceptions. He’s not perfect. His players realize that. His (players’) parents realize that. He realizes that. You realize that.
“But when we talk about a contract, is there anything that he’s done that would prevent him from fulfilling his obligation as a coach for the Eldon School District in the coming year? No.
“Your obligation as a board is to have a job description (for Lincoln’s coaching position), which isn’t done. It’s not part of the contract. It’s your responsibility as a board to provide those,” McDorman said. “There’s not one job target, not one written reprimand in his personnel file.”
Lincoln’s attorney said firing the coach would send the wrong message to other school district personnel.
“This is not about sending a message,” McDorman said. “It’s a human being. It’s about someone who cares about your kids, who cares about this community, who took this job because he wants to coach here, and I think he’s done a pretty darn good job. … His players love him. … You haven’t had one player come up here and say they don’t like to play for him.
“I’m not in any way condoning the use of (foul) language,” McDorman said. “It’s inappropriate.”
Page 5 of 5 - Lincoln, who has other business interests, including a sports apparel business and Good and Perfect Gifts, a retail gift shop with locations in Eldon and Jefferson City, is paid $4,000 for coaching the Eldon boys’ basketball program. The coach’s youngest son, Sam, who will be a junior, has played basketball for Eldon the past two seasons. Lincoln guided the Mustangs to a 21-6 record last season and the Tri-County Conference championship. During his time here, Lincoln has also been credited with restoring the stature of the annual Eldon basketball tournament.
“This has never been about money (for Lincoln),” the coach’s attorney McDorman said told the board in his closing remarks. “We all know that. Coaching is what he does best. He deserves this chance. ... That’s what we’re asking you to do. Listen to the evidence and do what’s right.”