The Phoenixville Area High School athletics program has undergone a facelift in the last two years.
The surgery hasn’t been all voluntary for some of the coaches no longer guiding Phoenixville teams.
Boys basketball head coach Randy Reber, the winningest coach in Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball history after his 26 years at St. Pius X and four seasons at Phoenixville, was told two weeks ago he was not being retained by the school district.
With Reber’s departure, the head varsity coach changes at Phoenixville add up to double digits in the past two school years.
Entering the spring sports season, two other longtime coaches were not renewed after decades in charge.
Track and field head coach Jack Kraynak, who guided the programs for 35 years as head coach (39 years overall), was let go, as was softball head coach Joe Bogus, who was in charge of the Phantoms softball team for 24 years.
Previously, Bill Furlong resigned as head football coach in December 2013 after 11 seasons at the helm. Other sports that have or will be undergoing coaching changes include girls soccer, boys soccer, girls basketball, wrestling, and girls cross country.
Another significant change occurred on March 24, when Phoenixville athletic director Tony Palladino departed for the same position at Norristown High School. The hire ended Norristown’s six-month search after previous AD Chuck Knowles died last October. Palladino was at Phoenixville since 2009 after serving as athletic director at Boyertown (2005-09). Palladino held lifelong ties to Pioneer Athletic Conference schools as a graduate of St. Pius X.
Phoenixville High School principal, Dr. Craig Parkinson, is serving as interim athletic director until a new activities and athletics director is hired.
In an interview with The Mercury, Parkinson thanked the long-tenured outgoing coaches for their service, but affirmed the administration’s decision to make a number of coaching changes, some controversial.
“In every era there comes a time when things are going to change, where adjustments are going to be made. Some are going to be popular, some are not going to be popular. Anything I do is never personal,” Parkinson said. “Everything we do is something we take the time to think about, why a change needs to be made, why we need to go in a different direction.”
“I respect them all tremendously as coaches and individuals but at the end of the day every decision that’s made is with our students in mind.”
According to Parkinson, coaching decisions are determined by an administrative team.
“The athletic director has input, the other assistant principals will provide some input at times, the central office will potentially provide input from the HR level, our human resources director,” Parkinson said.
“Every decision we make is with a committee of individuals and we make these decisions together in concert. When we walk away from the decision that we made, we walk away knowing that we made the best decision for our students.”
The timing of Palladino’s resignation — his final day as Phoenixville athletic director was Friday, April 11 — raises questions over his role in coaching decisions. While Palladino declined comment for this story, sources close to the situation indicate that Palladino’s influence was diminished in the past year.
Parkinson was adamant in stating that none of the aforementioned coaches were fired. Phoenixville operates on a year-by-year contract basis, meaning all coaches must reapply to their position annually. Single-year contracts are not uncommon at the high school level.
“I understand when you coach it’s a year-to-year contract and I understand they can do whatever they like to do with their sports program,” Bogus said. “And I’m happy I had the opportunity to coach there all those years. Coaching is more than wins and losses, it’s relationships you build with your players. Seeing them progress not only athletically, but as a human being, as a person ... It’s a very rewarding experience. So I was privileged to have that experience at Phoenixville.
“It’s just a shame it had to end that way. I think most people who coach like to leave on their own terms. And that didn’t happen for me.”
For coaches such as Bogus and Kraynak, who graduated from Phoenixville and were in their coaching positions for more than two decades, renewing their contracts had previously been a formality.
“It was just an automatic thing,” Kraynak said. “Unless there were some real reasons, you knew once the AD said to come in and sign your forms for next year you were in. In all my years of coaching there I never had to interview, so when I was told I had to interview for a position that I had for 30-some years in three different sports, you knew your days were numbered, an indication that there was going to be a change.”
Bogus is a lifelong Phoenixville resident and was a teacher in the school district for 35 years while coaching for 41 total years, also coaching under longtime baseball coach John “Doc” Kennedy, before taking over the softball program.
He was informed of the administration’s decision in December, being told by then-athletic director Palladino that the program was being taken in a “new direction.” Jennie Moore, a Phoenixville graduate who played for Bogus and was an assistant coach for five years under him, was hired as head coach.
Kraynak interviewed for the track and field position in December and was informed he was being replaced in the new year. He led the Phantoms’ track and field program to 15 total PAC-10 championships — 10 boys, five girls — the last coming for the boys team in 2008. He also served as cross country and winter track coach. He retired from teaching at Phoenixville after the 2010-11 academic year. Previously, Kraynak had given up the head coaching reins on two occasions, but resumed head coaching duties when those coaches moved on.
Reber, who surpassed 400 career victories in his first season with the Phantoms (2010), was equally surprised when he learned he was not being renewed as basketball coach.
“I have a lot of years left in coaching. I’m 63 and people might think that’s old — there’s a lot of coaches that are still in a long time, and I really had no intent in getting out,” Reber said.
“(Prior to the end of the 2013-14 season) I had three years there and at the end of the season each year the athletic director (Palladino) had never said anything but positives, nothing that I needed to work on or change. We didn’t produce the record we wanted to down there (35-58 in four seasons), but we did a lot of other things that were very important. We instilled discipline, the importance of academics, and I thought we were making real headway in things that a program needs to have.”
As the most veteran basketball coach in the area, Reber questioned how his “old school” approach influenced the decision.
“I’m old school. And I guess times are changing,” Reber said. “It’s tough love. It’s not an easy thing being a coach. It shouldn’t be easy playing, either. It’s not intramurals, it’s not youth sports anymore. It’s high school.
“It’s a life lesson. Not everybody plays, not everybody plays the same amount of time. You earn it. You’re going to get yelled at and chastised … and I guess my philosophy and my approach didn’t work down there.”
Reber questioned how much influence parent complaints had on him not being renewed.
“As a longtime coach, I’m quite aware that you’re always going to have dissenters,” Reber said. “Being let go based on things that come from parents of players is very frustrating to me … There’s always that complaint but for it to get to that point where I was dismissed as coach, I was shocked.
“Athletic directors deal with complaints that come in. There was always a normal process – I thought, in all my years of coaching – that if the parent has a problem with me to contact me. I will certainly talk to you, talk to you face to face and we’ll discuss the problem.”
Parkinson asserted that parental concerns were not a “deciding factor in any decision.”
“Concerns are expressed and that’s not enough to make anyone or any group of people make any decision about anyone’s employment status or if we keep them or let them go. That alone isn’t enough,” Parkinson said.
Unlike basketball which only allows five players at a time, track and field allows nearly every athlete to compete. Kraynak does not believe parental concerns had any bearing on his situation, saying, “We had nothing but positive feedback from parents for years, decades.”
Instead, he believes the current Phoenixville administration sought to put its own stamp on the athletic program.
“It’s not uncommon for an administration, whether it is schools or business, I guess many times you want to surround yourselves with people you brought in. To me, it seems like that was what was happening,” Kraynak said.
“The administration seems to want to bring in new people and surround themselves with people that they have put in place. I guess that is change, and it’s just one of those things that we have to deal with. It’s difficult to deal with.”
Kraynak believes a sense of loyalty and community comes from programs with long-tenured coaches.
“I was so fortunate with the staffs that I’ve had. A lot of them have been kids that were on the team who came back to coach for us after going to college and competing in their events,” said Kraynak, who is currently working as a volunteer assistant with the Spring-Ford track and field team along with four of his former assistants.
“It impacts the kids who went through the program. All the assistant coaches I had through the years that came through the program and became a part of it as assistants and had an impact and affected the kids positively. Over the years, kids could always come back and see some of their old coaches and know that things were continuing.
“What maybe is lost in that desire to change for the sake of change is when you do have local people, the loyalty they have to the program they grew up in makes them go that extra mile for the kids, for the program. They were part of it, they want to give back to it. You get so many people feeling that way and doing that over a period of time that’s what creates all the positive things that make up that program. ... The loyalty that you have to a program that you grew up with, that can be underestimated.”
Longtime coaches Leo Scoda, the Phantoms’ boys tennis coach of 51 seasons, and Jack Sturgeon, the baseball head coach for the past 16 seasons, are presiding over their respective teams this spring.
Speaking on behalf of the administration, Parkinson hopes coaching changes can take the Phantoms athletic programs “to that next level.”
“Activities, sports, all those things are extremely important to us. As you will see, academically, Phoenixville has definitely thrived and has done well and it’s due to a very caring community and I think it’s due to the outstanding faculty, support from the community and tremendous students,” Parkinson said.
“All those things have been the formula to take us to the next level academically. And we’re still growing. Our goal is to get to that next level athletically. We want to grow. We’re constantly talking about wanting to be the best and I think in order to be the best is to provide students with the best opportunities. That’s what we’re about.”