Coach: Frazier case wasn't distraction to Manatee High football team

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 1, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The Rod Frazier case has come to a close.

But according to Steve Gulash, the off-field drama surrounding Frazier, formerly a parent liaison and assistant football coach at Manatee, didn't weigh down the Hurricanes' 2013 season.

"I don't think it was a distraction. The kids are resilient, and Manatee is a great program that has great athletes," said Gulash, who worked with Frazier as a parent liaison and on the Canes' coaching staff. "Joe (Kinnan, Manatee's head coach) is the only one who would be greatly missed. Kids have always done very well with things, always been resilient and always responded. Part of it has to do with the presence Joe carries.

"It was frustrating at times, but it wasn't a distraction."

Frazier pleaded no contest Wednesday to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three counts of interfering with school attendance. He will not serve any jail time for charges he inappropriately touched students staff and faculty at Manatee, but will serve six months house arrest and three years probation along with 90 days in an offender work program within the first year.

Frazier is also prohibited from having any willful contact with the victims, and had to voluntarily relinquish his teaching and coaching certificates.

Frazier was not on the staff last season, when Manatee went 11-1, won the Class 8A-District 7 title and advanced to the second round of the Region 2 playoffs. The running backs Frazier used to coach thrived behind a senior-laden offensive line: Trevon Walters rushed for 1,704 yards and accepted a scholarship from Missouri; back-up Johnnie Lang, averaged more than 9 yards per carry on 84 carries.

The frustrating part, Gulash said, stemmed from the community's belief members of the coaching staff helped cover up Frazier's improprieties to protect the school's tradition-rich football program. Manatee was ranked No. 1 in the nation in three separate polls when the Frazier investigation began in 2012.

"People want to blame football, and who knew and who didn't know," said Gulash, who coached Manatee's defensive line and was a witness in the Frazier case. "But they didn't know the truth. I wouldn't have stood out there and coached on that field if I didn't believe in what was going on out there."

Kinnan, on medical leave since December, will not coach this spring. He did not respond to a call seeking comment after Frazier's plea deal was reached.

Jason Montgomery, Manatee athletic director, was hired in February and didn't comment specifically on the Frazier case. But he did say the school and the department is trying to move forward.

"We want the focus to be back on where it should be, and that's the kids," Montgomery said, "and helping to mold and shape young people."

Gulash said he ran into Frazier on Wednesday at the court house. Frazier, according to Gulash, said: "Steve, so you're not coaching?...Then I win."

"I said, 'Rod, nobody wins,'" Gulash said. "This morning, I was thinking about how sad it was that it had come to this. Now, after what he said, I don't think what he got was punishment enough. But I'm not the judge or jury, and I wasn't there to say whether he was innocent or guilty. I just answered questions.

"I had nothing against Rod Frazier."

Gulash still works as a parent liaison at Manatee, but said he may be reassigned to another school because of realignment.

Consequently, he is unsure about helping coach the Hurricanes again.

"I wanted to get this behind me, and it may be behind me," Gulash said. "But I'm not sure how it's going to play out with the realignment and redistricting. ... Nothing personal against me that I'm aware of."

Frazier's comments Wednesday morning have given Gulash more motivation to get back on a field.

"My job is to work with people's kids and coach football," Gulash said. "Football is very much like life -- you win, you lose, you have good days and hard days."

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057.

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