What’s the next step?

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A public forum was held Monday evening to discuss high school football program

By Gerard Flanagan

“What direction is this team heading in?”

That was the question posed by Marion County Football Boosters President John Reed to Marion County High School Principal Thad Elmore at a public forum Monday evening in the high school cafeteria.

Approximately 60 people attended the forum to voice their concerns about the football program, which has gone 4-36 over the past four seasons. That record includes a 4-26 record under Head Coach Allen Harmon, who attended the forum along with Assistant Coaches Myles Durbin, Tom Sullivan, Brian Pirkle, Buck Robinson, Matt Hicks, Michael Holt (who is also the athletic director) and Joe Crepps.

Superintendent Taylora Schlosser was also in attendance, as well as Tom Brown, who was the interim principal at MCHS for the 2016-17 school year and is also Coach Harmon’s uncle.

Elmore began the forum by clarifying the focus of the forum.

“There’s nobody who desires more to be successful than myself,” Elmore said. “A couple things that stand out with everybody I’ve talked to is this - a passion for a successful football program at MCHS. I can assure you that myself and the coaches feel the same way. Second thing is commitment. I feel very strongly that sometimes you have to refocus and recommit to things. Recommit ourselves to supporting the MCHS football program and the final thing is, your parents are here, the boosters are here, Schlosser is here, coaches are here, for you, the student-athletes.”

A signup sheet was provided to allow people the chance to speak for a maximum of three minutes, though several people spoke longer than that.

“My roots run deep in Marion County,” Minor Harmon, Coach Harmon’s father, said. “I’m here to support [Coach Harmon] but my roots run deep and I care about Marion County.”

Minor Harmon pointed out two games that stand out to him since his son began coaching at Marion County - Marion County’s victories over Washington County in 2016 and 2018.

“First year he was here, they’re playing Washington County and down 21-0,” Harmon said. “If you got coaches or players who give up, they wouldn’t come back and win 41-40 and that’s what they did. There was a passion there to win. There was a determination to win. This year, we played Washington County. What a big crowd. What an emotional crowd. You had a bunch of kids and coaches wanting to win. Whatever you did that night, bottle it. Bottle that.”

Just before Harmon spoke, William Dougherty spoke and said Harmon should talk to the players and hear their concerns.

“Right now, they feel left out and lost, like they’re not going anywhere,” Dougherty said. “This coaching staff needs to get with these boys with an open mind and say, ‘Guys, what do you all want?’ I’m not here to say they (the coaches) need to be here or don’t need to be here. The reason I’m here, I’ve got a grandson coming to high school next year.”

Eric King, a former football coach, also spoke and said he had a lengthy conversation with Coach Harmon after Marion County’s 48-6 loss to Union County on Aug. 24.

“You came to me after the Union County game and said, ‘Eric, what have I got to do?’” King said, speaking to Harmon. “We met for three hours that Sunday. Your defensive coordinator walked in and said, ‘I want to do this and I want to do that,’ and in less than five minutes, it went from a 5-2 to some kind of four front that hasn’t worked for three years. At that point, I got up and walked out of the building because you wasted three hours of my time to put in a defense that has proven itself to be a failure for three years.”

Coach Harmon responded after King’s remarks.

“I came in with a 50 scheme based out of the 3-4 defense,” Harmon said. “Tried that for two years. We didn’t like the direction it was going. We switched to a 4-2-5. The next game against Bardstown, the defense Eric is referring to, was one of our better defensive performances. We constantly make adjustments not only on defense. We change entire schemes on offense as well. We do a lot of things to try to make these boys successful. It’s not the same old plays over and over. I wanted that to be made clear.”

Trinity Gribbins, a former football player who graduated in 2018, said he reached out to Harmon for verification he was an adult for college purposes. Gribbins said Harmon didn’t help him.

“When I was going through school and college, getting it paid for, I called Coach Harmon and asked, ‘I need you to verify I’m an adult for these college people,’ thinking he’d be the one to say yes. But he said, ‘Call your mom’ and hung up the phone. That hit me wrong.”

Harmon replied to Gribbins’ statement later in the meeting, saying there was a misunderstanding in what Gribbins was needing.

“Trinity, when you called me, I thought it was a student loan you were wanting,” Harmon said. “I didn’t know if it was a student loan or what so that’s why I told you to call your mother. I was in the locker room dealing with helmets or something when you called. I remember the conversation. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be there for you. I wasn’t going to put my name on a loan.”

Mark Bell, an assistant boys basketball coach, gave a 14-minute speech mostly to the players in attendance.

“He’s doing his best. They’re doing their best,” Bell said, speaking of Harmon and the coaching staff. “The coaching staff cares and you care. We might have to make some adjustments. It takes a community. Let’s come together as one. We can turn this thing around. I’m a Knight for life. All of you players, keep working. It can happen. Just believe. You got to love it.”

Coach Robinson also spoke at the meeting’s end.

“This saddens me,” he said. “This is tough up here. What hurts the most is hearing you don’t think the players care about you. We’re going to have a winning program. Just ride it out. This man (Coach Harmon) can lead us to great things in the future. If we all buy in together, great things can happen.”

At the end of the meeting, Reed asked Elmore what direction the team was heading in, and then asked when a decision might be made.

“I’m not going to talk about personnel at a public meeting,” Elmore said. “The objective of today was a football forum to hear your concerns. We took notes about those concerns. At no point did we say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ We’re making a decision about that direction and we’ll move in that direction. It will be made and it will be communicated to you all. Coach Harmon and I are going to go over and discuss this stuff."