Hirings and firings are a part of every day life, with most happening outside the public eye.
However, those in the sports world — particularly in the coaching ranks at an level (high school through professional sports) — draw far more attention with all the moving parts associated with a team.
And, for the second time in three years the DuBois School District finds itself in what proves to be a very public dismissal of a coach in arguably its largest sports program — the football team.
It was revealed at Thursday night’s DuBois school board meeting that Justin Marshall was recently informed by school officials that his contract would not be renewed for the 2020 season, thus bringing an end to a brief three-year stint as varsity head coach at his alma mater.
The recommendation came from the school district’s athletic committee, which school board president Larry Salone said Thursday is comprised of himself (being board president), other board members, the superintendent and the athletic department.
Marshall was in attendance Thursday, along with a very large group of supporters ranging from players, coaches, family, friends and other people from the community.
Most were given an opportunity to speak and urged the board to reconsider the decision to basically fire him by not renewing his year-to-year contract. But, it appears those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Reached for comment Friday, Athletic Director Chuck Ferra said, “We are looking at going in a new direction and are considering all of our options.”
That appears to mean the coaching position is now officially open, much like it was three years ago when the school decided to not renew the contract of then head coach Frank Varischetti.
On face value, the two dismissals are for far different reasons — and in an ironic twist of fate — brings the position and school board full circle in what appears to be an identity crisis in what type of coach the school wants.
Varischetti led the Beavers for six seasons (2010-16), compiling a 41-24 record while the program was a member of District 10’s Region 5 division. DuBois won eight games three times during Varischetti’s tenure while having just one losing season (5-6 in 2015) and playing in the postseason all six years.
DuBois went 6-5 in Varischetti’s final season, with his final game being a 48-24 loss to Johnstown in the program’s first year in the current District 6-9 Class 4A subregional playoff format when the PIAA expanded to six classifications.
Prior to that, State College was a thorn in the side of the Beavers and Varischetti as the Little Lions beat DuBois four times in the playoffs from 2011-15.
Despite having just one losing season, and a winning percentage of 63.1, DuBois made the decision to part ways with Varischetti in the offseason following the 2016 season.
While the school board doesn’t discuss personnel issues, it was known in circles surrounding the program and Varischetti that the decision had less to do with his win-loss record and more to do with perceived off field issues and the culture of the program. None of those “rumors” were ever confirmed or denied by the school district.
Enter Marshall, one of the program’s all-time greats who to this day still holds the school’s career rushing record with 3,534 yards.
Marshall appeared to be the school’s main target when the decision was made to open the position and not renew Varischetti’s contract. A teacher at the high school, and a coach in other sports at DAHS, Marshall was taxed with changing those “cultural” issues surrounding the program.
He said as much during his speech before the board and that during his annual coach’s review following the season he was given a positive evaluation — the same evaluation he’s had for three years.
“I was commended for the way that I work with our student athletes,” he said. “I was told that what we needed in a coach three years ago when I was hired, I have brought that.”
That’s when Marshall said he was told the school was going to look for a new coach.
If the school felt there was a cultural problem with the program during Varischetti’s tenure and that’s why they made a change then — why pull the plug on Marshall after just three years if he has made the changes they wanted as he said in his speech Thursday night.
That makes it seem like wins and losses played more of a role than anything else in the school moving on from Marshall, whose record on the field the past three years wasn’t great at 7-24 — including 0-10 in 2019.
So, it appears wins and losses are more important than the culture — which begs the question ... If that is that is case, why run off Varischetti after 2016 without giving him at least another year to make changes as the school saw fit. Perhaps those talks happened behind closed doors, as personnel matters are not discussed publicly.
But, if the culture really is the top priority, why not give Marshall another year to continue building the program as it makes the transition to the District 9 Large School Division. Marshall made the push for the Beavers to make that switch, and now he won’t be around to coach them in a league where most people expect them to win more games than in years past.
While the size of a school doesn’t guarantee success — it obviously comes from performance on the field — DuBois will now be the big fish in the little pond in regards to the D-9 League.
Looking at the football enrollment numbers on the PIAA website for the current two-year cycle, DuBois (370 boys) will be by far the largest school in the league. Bradford (322) is the only other Class 4A school.
All the rest have enrollment numbers more than 100 less than DuBois, including Class 3A school St, Marys (264) and Punxsutawney (262), while the other Class 2A schools are largely 200 or less.
It’s been said by some that the move will put DuBois on a more level playing field — but that assertion has two sides and some of the smaller schools in the league most likely won’t see it that.
Others will say DuBois was already in a league where it was on a level playing field. A quick glance at classifications makes it appear DuBois was mainly playing larger schools in Region 7 in District 10.
But, a closer looks shows that wasn’t the case as the Beavers faced five D-10 schools who elected to play up to Class 5A to avoid Cathedral Prep in 4A.
Eight of the 10 schools the Beavers played in 2019 had smaller enrollment numbers than them with the exception of Erie High (1,119, Class 6A) and Hollidaysburg (449, Class 5A).
So, the pressure is already on whoever DuBois hires as it next coach to win as the program begins a new era in the new-look D-9 League. The precedent is now set that winning matters most — even if didn’t three years ago — and the Beavers’ new coach now knows that.
His two predecessors didn’t have that luxury. They both did what they thought was being asked of them, and we know where that got them.
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Chris Wechtenhiser is the sports editor of the Courier Express/Tri-County Sunday newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com