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Chris Murphy, Published May 21 2013

Minnesota bill intended to protect coaches from parent complaints

FARGO – It’s just one simple sentence, but for Minnesota high school coaches, it could be the difference between remaining on the bench and sitting in the stands.

Added to an existing statute on coaching contract renewal will be the following: “The existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract.”

Passed 78-56 in the Minnesota House of Representatives and 41-26 in the Senate on Sunday, Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill today. It’s a demand that is the first of its kind in the country and packs a punch in one sentence.

“It protects coaches from out-of-control parents, who are on a vendetta to have a coach removed based solely for their reasons, whether it be a child was cut, didn’t receive playing time or the team did not play as well as they deemed it should have,” Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Executive Director John Erickson said. “It leaves those responsibilities for those kind of evaluations for the school administration.”

Erickson said he receives 15 to 25 requests a year from coaches looking for help regarding an issue with a parent that could determine their coaching position.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, who co-authored the bill, led the New London-Spicer girls cross country team to three straight state championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Urdahl had little run-ins with noisy parents. He let the finish line do the talking.

“Usually the stop watch determined what my team was,” Urdahl said. “I didn’t have many personal experiences, but I received a call from (John Erickson) saying more needed to be done, and there was an increase in parental involvement with coaches being dismissed. Parental complaints are an important part of the process, but there should be other factors that decide if a coach should be removed or not.”

Rep. Paul Marquart, a Fargo North graduate and former Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton wrestling coach, co-authored the omnibus education bill featuring the new coaching legislation.

“Coaching is a tough job,” Marquart said. “This gives coaches some comfort language to know that every single decision they make isn’t going to cost them their job. A school board has to consider more than just a parental complaint before they dismiss a coach.”

Marquart feels the legislation is in place because of the new culture of high school sports.

“You have a lot more of the traveling teams, in which the parents have a lot of control,” Marquart said. “They are paying for the coaches and probably have a lot more direct impact with the decisions. When it gets to high school, I think there’s a little bit of conflict moving from traveling teams to high school athletic programs. This provides time and space between parents and coaches.”

Moorhead boys hockey coach Peter Cullen had to interview for the Spuds job once before the season and again after leading the Spuds to a fifth-place finish at state. He certainly feels the security of the new legislation and is happy his job will come down to what the school administration thinks.

“It’s a nice security blanket,” Cullen said. “As a coach, it gives a little bit more backing and distance from parents to do our jobs, which we’re doing because we love it, not for the paycheck. When administrators aren’t influenced by parents, it gives us a sense of security that we’re doing all these things for the betterment of the school and sport rather than just to stop a few howling parents. The majority of parents get it, but, once in a while, there’s one or two who don’t get their role.”

Marquart and Urdahl were adamant that the security blanket the legislation provides certainly does not cover everything.

“I want to make one thing clear,” Urdahl said. “If a coach breaks a law or a school policy, he’s not protected. If a parent complains about seeing a coach do something that’s illegal, that certainly needs to be taken care of.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548