As many of you know, Andy Bitto ‘resigned’ (was fired) as Carmel Catholic head football coach last month.
Of course, reasonable people know this was a forced resignation. He was fired.
I’m not writing this to sing the praises or laud the accomplishments of Coach Bitto.
What I’m writing about is how the Carmel of 2010 (the season I spent with the team) is far removed from the Carmel of 2017. In some ways, that’s a good thing. It’s a more diverse school than it was in 2010. It’s increased its foundation to allow for a more cultural and socio-economically diverse enrollment. It remains an outstanding academic and athletic institution that not only spiritually enriches its students, but gives them the tools necessary to succeed at four-year colleges and universities. For parents outlaying the $11,650 per year for tuition, college preparedness and spiritual enhancement are at the top of the list of desires.
Here’s what I believe is not on the top of the list of desires—leadership that is making decisions out of incompetence or vanity. Not sure which is worse but I do know neither are characteristics coveted in the powerful.
I’m going to share in this post what I know about the ‘resignation’ (firing) of Coach Bitto. You can draw your own conclusions. I hope one interpretation leads to the questioning of the people in charge.
When I was researching “The Boys in Brown” in 2010, there was an innocence about the place that was unmistakable. People that had been there for a long time—and there were quite a few ‘lifers’ still around then—would wax eloquently about the smell of the place, a scent both nostalgic and spiritual.
If a visitor walked the halls, they may not inhale the scent the lifers detected, but it was impossible to not absorb on some level, real or visceral, of a collective unity, mission and purpose. This is true regardless of your religious affiliation.
But even as far back as 2010, under the surface, there was tension.
Andy rarely spoke to the school president at the time, Judith Mucheck. The corporate-like, monochromatic management style of Mucheck made many staffers uneasy.
The collective strain came to a head at the end of the 2013 football season when Mucheck attempted to fire Andy (as well as a few other long time teachers and coaches). She was unsuccessful. Stripped of her powers, Mucheck packed up and left. There were few tears shed.
By the start of the 2015-16 school year, Carmel had hired a new president from Ohio, Bradley Bonham, Ph.D.
Almost all I was told about Bonham was positive. He brought in new ideas, shepherded fundraising (which took a significant hit during Mucheck’s tenure) and help lay out a long term vision for the school.
Specifically for athletics, a new turf field was put in at Baker Stadium. An extremely high tech, innovative scoreboard was added. All of these items cost money. Someone had to raise the money and approve the spending. In our conversations, Andy told me Bonham was all in. They appeared to have an amicable, cooperative working relationship (and partnership). I know this was important to Andy when put in the context of the previous president. He had an especially strong relationship with Fr. Bob Carroll, the school principal from 1994-2008.
It was Andy who nominated Fr. Bob for the East Suburban Catholic Conference Hall of Fame earlier this year. When he was selected and enshrined in April, this is what Andy told the Chicago Tribune about Fr. Bob:
“He put an emphasis on increasing the participation of the students and the number of coaches,” Bitto said. “He devoted resources and the stipends to hiring good coaches.”
Campus minister and former head football coach Mike Fitzgibbons on Fr. Bob:
“He was always so supportive of me as a person. It is good to see a person who is responsible for you give you the freedom to be the best you can be.”
Andy and Fitz always said how important it was to have all stakeholders within an organization pulling together towards a common goal. This is not unique to Carmel—this concept is taught I’m sure on day one at most business/management graduate schools. Under Fr. Bob, the support system was evident and verbalized on a regular basis. It wasn’t just the Robe; knowing Fr. Bob myself, having many chats with him over the years, he’d have been a terrific leader in any industry he chose. He values people over policy.
In conversations with many individuals around Carmel over the years, there has been an erosion in the value of people since the departure of Fr. Bob. That was in 2008, although his influence effectively ended with the hiring of Mucheck in 2006. It’s now a decade later.
Here’s what I know about the circumstances around Andy’s firing.
Around mid-season this year, Bonham held a meeting. I don’t know for sure who was in that meeting (I have an educated guess as to attendees) but I know the future of Andy’s employment was discussed. I believe a decision was made to let him go. Communication between Andy and Bonham came to all but a halt. Andy knew about the meeting and who was in attendance. I believe he knew he was going to be fired at this point.
During the season, and previous to this school year, Bonham had been having conversations with individuals who were unhappy with the direction of the program. As most you reading this know, the football program made some drastic changes in 2017. They scrapped the triple option scheme and went with a more spread-based offense, widely used in today’s high school football. A freshman quarterback—Athan Kaliakmanis—started all nine games this season. The decision to bring in Kaliakmanis (who from what I’ve heard is a nice kid and loves being a student at Carmel) came with baggage. His personal quarterbacks coach, Ryan Healy, was hired to run the offense. There were concerns about the fit with Healy leading up to the Sept. 22 St. Viator game.
At the game, a 24-3 loss, Healy was overheard using swear words directed towards players on the sidelines. He was fired after the game.
(there is more backstory to Healy’s firing. It was not the result of one incident but a series of incidents)
The team played better over the final four games, going 1-3 (including a heartbreaking 16-15 loss to Marian Central on homecoming Oct. 6) and finishing the season 1-8.
On October 24, four days after the final game, Andy is called into meeting with Bonham. In that meeting, he is told he is finished as coach. He has two options—either resign or be fired. He is given 24 hours to decide. He chooses to ‘resign’ (fired) and on Oct, 25, an email is sent out announcing his ‘resignation’ (firing). In the email, it states Carmel will begin a “search to fill the position of head varsity football coach”. I’ll get to that later in this email.
But first, let’s back track to events that predate Andy’s ‘resignation’ (firing).
All employees that work for any company in any industry are given a handbook. This typically is given the day someone is hired and is policy-driven, boiler plate stuff. Carmel has one.
On Friday, October 20, those in charge at Carmel distributed a new handbook.
Close to the end of the school day Oct. 20, employees received an email about the new handbook (no one I’ve spoken to who works at Carmel said they were expecting the school to distribute a new handbook). In the email, those in charge said employees had until Tuesday, Oct. 24 to read and sign the new handbook (one for contracted and one for non-contracted employees).
I was sent a copy of both. It’s pretty standard. What’s curious, according to employees, is the timing––the day of Carmel’s final football game of 2017 and four days before Andy’s ‘resignation’ (firing)––and a few specific changes in relation to Andy’s ‘resignation’ (firing).
On an ‘info sheet’ that was sent as a summary of the lengthier handbook, there are 19 line items the reflect changes to previous handbook. Multiple employees told me new policies on personal cell phone and social media use, speaking to the media and communicating with the Board of Directors are particularly dubious.
Here is section on BOD communication at the top of Pg. 32:
“Employees may not solicit alumni, colleagues, current parents, students, or associates to write letters, emails, conduct phone calls or seek other forms of communication to the media, Board of Directors or Corporate Board with the intent to modify or change school policy or personnel matters. In no way should the Board of Directors or the Corporate Board be directly contacted over employee disputes. Complaints regarding these types of issues should follow proper communication as outlined above…”
Hmm. Why is this policy necessary? And why was it necessary to enact such policy four days before Bonham told Andy he had to resign or be fired?
There is also a section, Page 31, titled “Vacant Positions”. It states:
“When there is a vacant position, it may be posted internally, externally, or both, as determined by the Administration based on the needs of the position.”
A quick check of Carmel’s website under employee opportunities (search done on the morning of Dec. 4) shows three positions posted, that of for Chief Advancement Officer, PT Parking Lot Monitor and PT Security Monitor. Nothing listed for “Head Varsity Football Coach”.
This circumstance would fit under the new handbook policy. The Administration may not believe the needs of the position are worth posting the job under the external job board. In their defense—the job of varsity football coach at Carmel Catholic is a high profile position and is not without interest. I know several coaches who hope to interview. No one needs to check a job board to know the position is open.
But the fact the job is not posted externally gets to a larger point as we circle back to questions about Andy’s firing and the shoehorning of the new employee handbook:
*Why was the handbook distributed five days before Andy’s ‘resignation’ (firing)?
*Why were changes made to handbook in relation to contact with media/Board of Directors/cellphone/social media use?
*Why did those in charge ask that handbook be signed the day of meeting when Andy was told he was no longer football coach (fired)?
*Is it possible that Bonham had already made his decision about Andy before Oct. 24 and was attempting to avoid any potential blowback?
(For anyone of you reading have even tangential knowledge of Mucheck’s attempt to fire Andy in 2013, it’s fair to say Bonham may not have wanted a sequel to that Titanic-like series of events)
These are all questions worth asking.
The president of a Catholic high school has a difficult job in 2017-18. He or she must balance fundraising with the management of a team of dedicated teachers and faculty members. This person must be a dynamic leader and values the importance of people in executing school directives.
Multiple people I’ve spoken to about Bonham say he possesses strong skills as a strategic thinker and in long range planning.
Where he struggles is in the management of employees.
“(Bonham) is a reactor and doesn’t like conflict,” said one long time donor. “There’s animosity and fear amongst faculty right now.”
One donor points to a circumstance this year where long time Dean of Students Jim Nolan switched jobs with Kevin Nylen, the previous Assistant Athletic Director. I don’t know the details around this but the donor I spoke to said it was poorly handled.
“There is no HR (human resources) department,” he said.
Here’s what I know about the football coaching search.
Thursday, Dec.7, at 4:30 p.m., there is a Board of Directors meeting at the school. This is a scheduled meeting. On the docket is a special session. This special session could be about anything. Most likely, the special session is a forum for Bonham to discuss his plan for the football opening.
*Bonham has already made his choice and will announce hiring.
“That would be political suicide,” the donor told me.
*Bonham will announce he is forming a search committee and will ask board members for advice on whom should be named to the committee. Members will vet candidates and make a recommendation to Bonham, who has final say (along with the principal, Mrs. Susan Crook and the board) on the hiring of new football coach.
There is certainly a chance there is another outcome that could come out of Thursday’s special session but some form of the latter is likely.
Throughout this article, I’ve reported what I know. I’ve avoided making too many subjective pronouncements as I trust those of you reading can draw your own conclusions.
In these final few paragraphs I’m flipping the script.
Here’s what I’m calling for—demand transparency. Demand that school president Brad Bonham explains what he is doing in relation to the hiring of the football coach. Demand that he communicate his process. Don’t accept murky and opaque behavior from your leadership. Instead, demand clarity and openness.
Here is his contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone number 847-388-3340. To take it one step farther, show up to the board of directors meeting Thursday. Wait for an audience with Bonham and demand accountability.
The board meeting is this Thursday, Dec. 7 at 4:30 p.m. at Carmel.
I don’t know Bonham. I’m sure he’s a wonderful father, husband and has plans for great initiatives for Carmel Catholic in the future. But he badly bungled the Andy resignation (firing) and the “Open Door Policy” listed on Pg. 10 of the employee handbook appears to be selectively applied.
One faculty member I spoke to recently said this about making a career in Catholic education:
“It truly is a vocation, not a job. It’s a calling for people,” he said. “Everyone has to have each other’s backs.”
We know the vocation motivation is unchanged. Those who work there truly are called to do so.
On Carmel’s website, it’s mission is written: …”empowers students to be reflective thinkers, grateful stewards, and responsible leaders as an expression of faith.”
Is the leadership acting in such a manner?
It’s a fair question.
I hope to continue to keep everyone informed as best I can. Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com with questions/comments/insights.
If requested, any information provided can be made confidential.
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Merry Christmas to everyone.