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2014-06-18 / Front Page

Coach under rapid fire

Petition circulates as parents seek ouster of James River High’s football coach
By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


The coach is on the hot seat, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for James River High, which defeated Monacan in mid-September 30-16. The Rapids finished the season 6-4. The coach is on the hot seat, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for James River High, which defeated Monacan in mid-September 30-16. The Rapids finished the season 6-4. The history of Texas high school football is replete with tales of disgruntled fans running coaches out of town for the commission of one particular cardinal sin – failing to win enough games on Friday nights.

Such activity is less common in Virginia, but a similar effort is underway at James River High, where a group of concerned parents has launched an online petition asking the school’s principal to remove Greg DeFrancesco as the Rapids’ head varsity football coach.

The petition, which was posted earlier this month on the website change.org, had 130 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

A James River parent, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, insisted that the petition isn’t “a witch hunt” or an attempt to humiliate DeFrancesco.

“I can see how, from the outside, it would look pretty ugly,” the parent said. “Nobody is happy about this, but for a lot of us it feels like the last resort. It’s a way to give people a voice and let the administration know that more than one or two families are unhappy.”

DeFrancesco, who has taught and coached at James River since 2000, told the Observer last week that he was aware of the petition, but declined to comment and referred all questions to the school’s principal, Jeff Ellick.

Ellick didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, and it’s unclear if any formal complaints have been filed with Ellick’s office. Tim Bullis, director of community relations for Chesterfield County Public Schools, said that nobody has expressed any concerns about DeFrancesco’s coaching to central office administrators. Bullis declined to comment further.

DeFrancesco has compiled a 53-77 record in 13 seasons as head coach at James River. The Rapids went 7-3 and made the playoffs in his first season, but lost 21-15 to Varina in the Central Region semifinals.

The football program’s lack of on-field success is one of the main grievances aired by those who have signed the online petition; several called the football team “the laughingstock of the community.”

Others allege that talented football players are opting not to attend James River because they simply don’t want to play for DeFrancesco.

County resident Deborah O’Toole commented on the website that she’s put her family’s home up for sale because “I refuse to allow my son to play another year” under DeFrancesco.

DeFrancesco’s peers in the local coaching community, however, paint a much different picture.

“The greatest compliment I can give him is this: If I had a son, I wouldn’t have any problem with him playing for Greg DeFrancesco,” said Manchester High football coach Tom Hall. “He has the respect of every coach in this area.”

Midlothian High football coach Kevin Thomas agreed with Hall’s assessment.

“He’s one of those guys who does it the right way,” Thomas added. “He’s molding his kids not to be just good football players, but strong young men.”

One of DeFrancesco’s former players posted a comment on the online petition last week, suggesting that the coach shouldn’t solely bear the blame for morale problems inside the James River football program.

“During my 4 years of playing varsity and JV football, I rarely saw kids that showed the attitude of a Division I athlete. I didn’t see any one who worked hard or pushed themselves in their spare time,” wrote Austin Jones, a 2013 James River graduate.

“In order to be the best, you have to work harder than the best. In my four years I can say that James River football players barely worked harder than George Wythe. Nobody truly cared. … That’s not Coach D’s fault.”

Calling it “unnecessary and immoral,” Jones expressed disappointment that adults have opted to “bash” DeFrancesco on the Internet.

“I highly doubt that most of you would say this in a forum where your face could be recognized, so just stop,” he added.

The James River parent who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that several parents already have addressed their concerns about DeFrancesco’s leadership in meetings with Ellick.

“People go and talk about it, and nothing happens,” the parent said.

While it would be a new phenomenon in Chesterfield, there’s precedent in the Richmond area for disgruntled parents forcing out their children’s high school football coach.

Rusty Curle, the winningest football coach in the history of Henrico County’s J.R. Tucker High, resigned after the 2001 season because the school’s administration wouldn’t support him against a group of disgruntled parents.

Several local high school football insiders claimed that a similar scenario prompted Francel Smith to step down as head football coach at Glen Allen High earlier this year.

Smith, who took Glen Allen’s upstart program to the regional playoffs in just three years, is expected to be a member of DeFrancesco’s coaching staff at James River during the 2014 season.

“I don’t think this is the norm,” said Thomas, the Midlothian coach. “I can’t imagine that anybody who knows Greg or has any clout at James River is taking this seriously.”

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