Tolton will not renew basketball coach's contract

Monday, April 7, 2014 | 5:46 p.m. CDT; updated 6:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

COLUMBIA — It was supposed to be a normal meeting.

Every year after the season ends, the head basketball coach meets with the athletics director. And when coach Tyler Clark walked in to director Chad Masters' office Friday afternoon at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, nothing seemed out of place. Clark brought a list of things he wanted to talk about.

Roughly 60 seconds into the meeting, Masters informed Clark that he would not be returning as the basketball coach for the Trailblazers next season. Clark was speechless. He never got to his list.

Clark coached Tolton to a 20-8 record and an appearance in the Class 2 state quarterfinals in the school's second year of varsity basketball.

Despite Clark's success on the court, Masters and Tolton principal Kristie Wolfe were unhappy with the overall development of the basketball program, they said in an email to the Missourian. And while Clark was "shocked" by the decision, Wolfe said that concerns gradually built up throughout the season, leading to Friday's decision.

"This consumed much of the season for us," Wolfe  wrote. "Frequently, we had situations that were not handled the way we expected them to be, matters were not resolved in the manner we thought they should be."

Asked for specifics about the details, Wolfe said she could not elaborate.

"I know the media would like an answer to that question, but I really can't provide specific answers without being unprofessional in my treatment of Tyler," Wolfe said.

Clark says he was unaware of any problems that could be cause for his release and he was given no clear reason why he wasn't retained. In an email Clark sent to multiple media outlets, he wrote, "I was caught off-guard and completely unaware this was a possible outcome after this season until the meeting Friday after school."

Wolfe said Clark's confusion is part of the problem.

"I do understand that Tyler was and is confused," Wolfe said. "That's really what brought us to our decision. Tyler Clark does not see things the same way our school sees things. The ultimate factor was that we lost all confidence that Tyler would or could eventually see things the way we expected him to."

Led by superstar freshman Michael Porter Jr., who averaged 28 points per game, the Trailblazers notched the first district title of any sport in school history and won four playoff games to reach the state quarterfinals. All this while playing without any seniors.

But despite the success, there was still unrest.

Wolfe said there had been multiple meetings between Clark and Masters throughout the season to discuss issues the administration saw within the program.

Clark saw these meetings as nothing more than small problems that occur during the course of any season. He certainly didn't expect anything was severe enough to lose his job.

Clark said he is bothered by the way Tolton has handled the situation. Clark wanted to talk to his players after he was let go, but by the time he made it home after the fateful meeting, his school email had already been deactivated. Masters also took his keys to the school.

"I got treated like I was a criminal," Clark said. "But I didn't do anything wrong. I was really disrespected."

Wolfe said the school followed standard procedure for the release of an employee and Clark was given a chance to pass a message to the basketball players through Masters.

"This is standard procedure. Yes, we took his keys and deactivated his email. Again, this is standard procedure," Wolfe said. "It's not like a coach retiring after a long career in one place, who takes his time and says goodbye to everyone. When an employee is let go, there are certain protocols, and we followed those."

Several of Clark's former players declined to comment on the situation, but Clark said he has been contacted by a few members of the team since his release.

Clark is not sure what he will do next. In his three years at Tolton, Clark recorded a 31-22 mark with Trailblazers. He would like to coach again but said he would not make any rash decisions. Right now his priority is his family and his job as a teacher at Jefferson City High School.

Wolfe said there has already been a strong interest shown for the coaching position at Tolton, but that the school would "let the dust settle" from recent events before moving forward.

"We do need to move quickly, but we are not going to rush," Wolfe said.

Wolfe reiterated that whomever Tolton hires next will be chosen based on their ability to align with the school's values and mission.

"We do not measure success by wins and losses, " Wolfe said. "That's how the world measures success, and that's why this decision is so baffling to everyone. This team won games. But, we measure success differently, and that's hard to understand."

Wolfe was vague about how the school measures success.

"In terms of community, culture, and expectations, the boys basketball program was not developing in the directions we expected," she said. "It was not developing in sync with the rest of our school."

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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