The tendency is to make the hold-my-beer joke.
Anaconda made some really bad coaching moves. Boulder saw those unbelievably dumb moves and said, “Here, hold my beer.”
Seeing Jefferson High football coach Clint Layng become a victim of this latest trend of school boards over reaching, though, is anything but a laughing matter. Actually, it is just plain wrong, and it is really, really sad.
No matter how you look at it, there is absolutely no good side to the story of yet another cowardice move by school board members who hide behind the veil of “personnel decision” as they conduct their misguided business in secrecy.
Two weeks ago, it was Rochi Estes and Andy Saltenberger in Anaconda. Before that it was the football staff at Frenchtown. Now, it is Layng in Boulder.
Like in Anaconda, Layng had the full support of his administrators, Butte Central graduates Mike Moodry and Tim Norbeck. Both were floored when the school board voted 4-1 to not renew Layng’s coaching contract.
Coaches around the state were also baffled by the removal of a coach who is highly respected by his peers.
“Talking with a few coaches, we’re all kind of blindsided by this,” said Bigfork head coach Jim Benn. “I don’t see anything other than a parent who might have been upset with playing time.”
Benn reached out to go on the record because he is concerned about the growing trend to get rid of good coaches for all the wrong reasons.
“A lot of times with small schools, there’s agenda-driven politics that drives people to run for the school board,” he said. “They don’t understand the damage that they do.”
This time, the damage is real. Layng’s career, reputation and livelihood have all potentially been compromised by the sudden and surprising move.
The damage is also completely unfounded. The administration vouched for Layng both as a person and as a coach. They support the popular teacher 100 percent.
On the field, Layng’s success speaks for itself.
Boulder has advanced to the Class B semifinals twice in school history. Both times the Panthers were led by Layng, who has been selected to coach in multiple Class B All-Star Games and the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
The 2021 Panthers won two playoff games to reach the final four of the Class B, even though they lost their quarterback to an injury late in the season.
Eventual champion Florence-Carlton ended Boulder’s season in the semifinals. The next week, the Falcons beat Benn’s team in the championship game.
“I would argue that Florence team was the best Class B team in 30 years,” Benn said. “No one was going to beat them.”
When Boulder played at Bigfork, the Vikings won 20-19. Layng and the Panthers went for a 2-point conversion and the win. Bigfork stopped it.
Benn and Layng were both looking forward to the rematch early in the 2022 season.
Unless some school board members bet heavily on the semifinal game, wins and losses clearly had nothing to do with firing Layng.
“It really just shows a lack of understanding what it means to be a high school coach,” Benn said. “I think a lot of us are getting tired of it.”
Firing a high school coach is not like the Raiders letting go yet another coach. A high school coach generally makes somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 extra to coach the team.
That stipend covers more than just the couple hours of practice after school from late August into early November. Coaching high school football these days is a year-round job, and that stipend adds up to nowhere near minimum wage.
Moves like the one in Boulder are a threat to high school coaches everywhere. They are also an assault on the teaching profession.
Why would anyone want to go into education when politicians are burning books and school boards are getting involved in playing time?
“It takes two parents to ruin your coaching career,” Benn said. “It’s kind of where our society is. If you don’t like something, you burn it down.
“Right now, they’re sending the message to their kids that if you don’t like it, ruin it.”
Layng coached basketball and football before he and his wife Sarah, a hugely successful basketball coach, moved to Boulder.
Norbeck is the superintendent, and he once coached on Layng’s football staff in Boulder. He raves about Clint and Sarah. He says the most popular courses in the high school are Clint’s weightlifting classes.
“If you don’t agree with Tim Norbeck on how to do things, you’re probably wrong,” Benn added.
Outside of school and off the field, Clint Layng is a quiet guy. Perhaps that hurt the coach in the eyes of overstepping school board members.
Because of that, the coach might not be the easiest guy to approach.
But while Layng might not be the first guy you would invite to join your bowling team; it is easy to see why you want him in your football program.
His eyes light up and passion flows when he talks about his Boulder Panthers — or his Pittsburgh Steelers. It is clear that Layng is a coach who cares so much that it hurts.
That just might be the most important thing a coach can do, too.
“Football is supposed to be a fun extra thing for kids to do after school,” Benn said. “It’s not life and death. Their lives are not going to be ruined because they didn’t play all the time in a high school football game.”
Benn says, among other many lessons, football teaches students how to “fail safely.” The lessons learned on the gridiron so often lead to success in real life.
“Clint is one of those guys who teaches those lessons,” Benn said. “I’ve never heard him complain about one of his kids, and a lot of coaches do that. He’s always positive with the kids he’s coaching. I’ve seen him interact with them. There’s a lot of connectiveness there with his kids.”
Like in Anaconda, the community has shown tremendous support for a coach who was so coldly shown the door.
Football observers around the state are dumbfounded, and coaches have to wonder if their head will be the next to roll.
“I know there’s a lot of other coaches who feel this way. We’re kind of getting pushed to the edge,” Benn said. “They’re going to lose good people that are working hard for their kids. Some of his stuff needs to change.”
As of now, there is no meeting set for the school board to discuss the decision that blindsided so many. Coaches around the state, though, are writing letters. Some are planning to make the trip to Boulder to speak for Layng if that chance is offered.
“Maybe give Clint an apology,” Benn suggested. “That would be the smart thing to do instead of tarnishing his reputation. Do what’s best for everybody involved.”
Boulder did not one up Anaconda with this bad move. It could, however, if it did the right thing and reversed course.
Here’s hoping that the board members do just that.
Until then, we will all be on pins and needles to see which school board is the next to say, “Hold my beer.”
— Bill Foley, who you do not want on your bowling team, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.1 comment