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Re: Coach Bierman

Category: General Discussion
Date: 30 Sep 2002
Time: 19:52:08 -0400
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Handling of Bierman situation not a positive thing for high school sports Posted on September 27, 2002

Dave Bierman is a man in search of some answers.

But apparently, the board of education of DeKalb School District 428 doesn't feel Bierman, or the people responsible for electing them, is owed any answers.

In a most bizarre and curious move for a school board to make, the DeKalb board last week "reassigned" Bierman, the school's head football coach.

Problem is, nobody has told Bierman why, or what his new duties are supposed to be.

And as of Wednesday Bierman, an Elgin High grad and a former assistant at Elgin as well as the former head coach at Burlington Central, was still left without any answers as to why his job was taken from him, or what he's supposed to be doing now.

First things first.

Any situation like this requires everyone involved be given an opportunity to speak. Messages left at the DeKalb superintendent's office this week went unreturned.

DeKalb athletic director Art Rohlman did return my call, but really couldn't say much.

"There was an administrative recommendation by our board for a reassignment of our head football coach," Rohlman said, which of course is the company line for school administrators on personnel issues.

I asked Rohlman, who is Bierman's direct boss, if he, Rohlman, had been told why.

"Nope," was his response.

Rohlman did add one very key part to this story, though.

"I can say it wasn't for unethical actions, to the best of my knowledge," he said. "Dave's a good person and I have to leave it at that."

A little background for those who don't know it. Bierman is an Elgin High grad. He played football for the Maroons in the program of current Bartlett coach Dick Stephens, who we hope is resting comfortably after his by-pass surgery.

Bierman went on to play at Northern Illinois University. He was a member of coach Bill Mallory's 1983 Huskie team that won the Mid-American Conference and California Bowl championships.

After a graduate assistant-ship under Mallory at Indiana University, and a stint of 5 years as an assistant coach at Elgin, Bierman took the job at Burlington. In six years there, he took the Rockets to the playoffs twice, including his last season at the helm, in 1996. Bierman's six-year record at Central was an even .500 and he rebuilt the program after going 0-9 in 1993.

When Tim Holt vacated the DeKalb job, Bierman was the logical choice for the job. He had played at NIU, his mom lived (and still does) in DeKalb and he not only had head coaching experience, but was very familiar with the Upstate Eight Conference.

In the spring of 2000, Bierman took the West Aurora job then gave it back six weeks later due to what, at the time, were some serious health concerns. He returned to what he had established at DeKalb and the school welcomed him back with open arms. Those health concerns are now also part of history.

But it hasn't been all rosy for Bierman and the Barbs. Through Week 3 of this season, Bierman's teams were 5-43 since he took over the program.

But if there were ever a story about too much emphasis being placed on winning in high school sports, this is it.

At least that seems to be the very wrong and sad message the DeKalb school board sent last week.

"No reason has been given," Bierman told me earlier this week from his office in the physical education department at DeKalb. "If I'd done something wrong, they would have fired me. I've sent a letter to the superintendent and the president of the board asking to sit down and have a meeting and get the why part answered, but they haven't responded."

Meanwhile, Bierman has been lost. His life is about teaching kids physical education during the day and then football in the evening. The latter, a very important part of his life, has been stripped from him and he has little direction as to what he's supposed to be doing.

"Nobody's told me what my reassignment even is," Bierman said. "It's frustrating."

And baffling.

NIU coach Joe Novak may have said it best when he told the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, "It's embarrassing to see ... This isn't the pro leagues. You don't do that in the middle of a season. What kind of message does that send to kids?"

Bierman spent last Friday night working the headsets in the press box at Huskie Stadium for DeKalb's sophomore game against St. Charles North. He worked the sophomore game because most of his staff had been "reassigned" to the sophomore squad while most of the sophomore coaches haven been moved up to the varsity, including Dan Jones, who has been named Bierman's successor.

Last Friday, Bierman and his girlfriend, who has shared the emotional rollercoaster with him for the last week, watched the varsity game from a private box.

"The hardest thing about last week was Friday night, watching the game," Bierman said. "I'm just trying to find some answers within all the confusion. It's hard. I want the kids to do well but the emotions right now are tremendous."

Anytime a personnel issue is dealt with by a school board, it's tough to get people to talk about why, on the record at least. But word from several very reliable sources around DeKalb is that with children of administrators, board members and influential park district board members on this year's DeKalb varsity team, Bierman's chances of keeping the job past this season were slim to begin with. He acknowledges there were "parameters" set last spring for the program in order for him to keep the job past the 2002 season and one of those parameters was to go 6-3 this season.

"I didn't tell the kids about that but I did tell the (coaching) staff," he said.

The support Bierman has received since last week's board action has been overwhelming. The Chronicle has been inundated with letters to the editor and phone calls to its call-in line. Sports editor Steve Nemeth said those letters and calls are overwhelmingly in support of the embattled coach.

Bierman's support group also includes a couple of his former bosses at Burlington Central.

"I think (the situation) was handled very poorly," said Burlington AD Dan Cliffe, a DeKalb High graduate and still a resident of DeKalb. "Dave's a very honest and good man. If his record warrants not coaching, then they should have waited until the end of the season and re-evaluated. It's sad.

"He's good for the kids. He's worked very, very hard. Shame on the school board for letting this happen. They've destroyed Dave's reputation and they've tarnished the image of DeKalb athletics."

That's a tough thing for a former Barb state wrestling champion to say, trust me.

And this from Central principal Dave Oleson: "From my dealings with Dave Bierman, there's nobody out there that's more honest, more ethical and more hard-working. I've never seen this happen at the high school level and I can't understand it. It's not a good message that they're sending."

Dave Smith, who took over the Central program from Bierman, had this to say:

"It was upsetting to me and it didn't happen to me. Dave's a good guy. You have to look at the big picture. He's teaching your boys to be men.

"Any coach would have to look at that and wonder if it couldn't happen to him. I don't like it when administrators allow politics to come into a decision. I don't know what that accomplishes."

Smith watched Bierman coach when Bierman was at Central and Smith was an assistant at Genoa and Smith knows how hard Bierman works at his trade.

"I see Dave Bierman at every clinic I go to and I go to a lot of clinics," Smith said. "He's a very positive and upbeat person and some school is going to get a jewel of a coach with him."

Smith and I then started talking about how the infiltration of administrative influence is sometimes (actually, I believe most times) not a good thing for high school athletics.

I told Smith the story of Chris Head, the boys basketball coach at Chicago Westinghouse who won the state title last year and how the Proviso school district took its long-time successful coach at West High and "reassigned" him so they could bring Head in to run a program that didn't appear to need change.

"It just doesn't leave a good feeling in my stomach that these kinds of things can happen in public education," Smith said.

Mine either, Dave. Mine either.

John Radtke can be reached at (847) 931-5734 or via e-mail at jradtke@dailyherald.com

Last changed: 09/30/02

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