High School Sports

Commentary | We may never know the reason Phelan was fired at Manatee; McKnight steps down as Southeast coordinator

BRADENTON

Life is about choices. You make them and reap the rewards or suffer the consequences.

John Booth made his biggest decision as Manatee High's football coach this week when he fired defensive coordinator Jim Phelan.

It was sure to stir up controversy, which it did. The offshoot of the decision likely won't be known for years.

In many circles, Phelan was revered as a coaching genius and well-respected as a person. Not everyone thought that way, but it was the general opinion.

We don't know exactly what caused this decision by Booth, who just finished his first year as Canes head coach after replacing retired hall of famer Joe Kinnan.

Talk to enough people in the local football community, and you can get a diverse set of opinions. Some have vilified Booth; others say it's his right as a head coach to mold his own staff.

The most perplexing part is that we are left to speculate. Booth has given us coachspeak about a difference in philosophies without going into detail, and Phelan says he is in the dark.

You can't blame Booth. Details could stoke the fires of controversy even more, and that does no one any good.

Booth and Phelan are good people who love football and kids. It's a shame they couldn't work it out.

Change at Southeast, too

One thing certain is that change is inevitable.

Brian McKnight recently resigned as defensive coordinator at Southeast. He held the position from 2006 through last season, has been on the Noles coaching staff since 1992 and played there.

Southeast head coach John Warren said McKnight wanted to spend more time with his family and will remain on staff as the defensive line coach.

Cody Montgomery, who has been the defensive coordinator at Chiefland High for the past six years, will replace McKnight and serve as strength and conditioning coach.

Both Phelan and McKnight applied for the head coaching jobs at their respective schools.

Familiar feeling

The only thing Booth and Phelan agree on publicly is that they didn't talk to each other for the last half of the season, a clear sign there were problems.

Without taking sides, it seems fair to say as head coach it was up to Booth to initiate a dialogue and whether he did or not is unclear.

He wants to move forward, and that's his right. However, we can't help but look back at 2001 when Howie DeCristofaro was hired to replace Kinnan, who stepped down the first time because of health.

In a bizarre set of cir

cumstances, DeCristofaro was fired twice as Canes head football coach.

He was fired by then-principal Linda Boyer after his second season, but then Superintendent Dan Nolan overruled the principal.

When he was eventually fired for good two years later, DeCristofaro said he never should've taken the job. His reign was a never-ending soap opera of alleged misdeeds and differences with many coaches on his staff.

Nobody wants a repeat of the DeCristofaro era, and it doesn't seem likely.

For one, Booth doesn't display any of the characteristics that destroyed DeCristofaro, and he is a Manatee graduate.

Because we are left nothing to do but speculate, we can't help wondering if Phelan's closeness to Kinnan played a role in his dismissal.

Maybe Booth felt threatened or maybe he wanted to change course with a different philosophical approach, which is his prerogative.

Right now, the most important thing is to remember the players, who after all are just kids. Whatever differences might exist on the coaching staff, they should be tempered to do the right thing for the players. There is certain to be sadness among some of the defensive players on the staff because Phelan is gone. Their feelings should be respected.

Alan Dell, Herald prep sports columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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