No decision made on firing legendary Eaton coach

Posted at 6:45 PM, Sep 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-15 20:45:57-04

The embattled, iconic coach of Eaton High School’s baseball team will keep his job. At least for now. During a packed, sweltering hot board meeting in Eaton Monday night, the board opted to hold off on a decision regarding the legendary coach’s future.

Eaton High School baseball coach Jim Danley is not your typical coach. He has the all-time winningest record of any high school baseball coach in the state of Colorado. He's arguably the most successful high school baseball coach in American history.

It's a 44-year coaching career that includes 11 state titles in the past 21 years. And even a national title this year.

The controversy started a few weeks ago when the school board presented Danley with a 13-point improvement plan. Chief among those improvements, the board calling for Danley to remove his son, Kirk, a long-time volunteer of the program.

"Kirk is the traveling secretary," said Danley. "He handles all the day-to-day stuff that I can't get to."

The controversy boiled over Monday night.

“We have a culture, and we try to do things right,” said Danley. 

But some parents of the current senior class of players argue Danley, and his philosophy on winning, are perhaps too tough.

“Their spirits are broken,” said parent Melody Brown. “And I don’t necessarily think by Jim, but by his son.”

“We’re here because we need a culture that promotes confidence building skills, baseball skills and other life skills,” said Eaton High School senior Matt Burkart.

"Our kids are in tears," said a parent Monday night. "The things he says to these boys, you can't even (hear) because you would just start crying."

But other student athletes expressing more loyalty to the coach, and little concern over the coach's tough tactics and no-nonsense approach.

“You get rid of Jim Danley, I won’t play for any other high school or any other coach,” said EHS junior Sean Carson. “I won’t play baseball for the rest of my life.”

Parents told 7NEWS Danley’s son, Kirk, who runs aspects of the program, micro-manages player lives, including dictating other sports they can compete in and summer baseball programs they can be involved in.

“He sent out a contract,” said Sara Mondragon, whose son is a senior. “He wanted to make sure he got to them before the Greeley team did.”

The coach defends his son’s involvement.

"Kirk is terse," said Danley. "But being terse is just who he is." Danley said Kirk did nothing wrong, despite some implications. He said Kirk is nothing more than a concise and curt communicator when it comes to what Danley expects from his players. "What these parents don't realize is everything coming from Kirk is actually coming from me."

And Danley insists there’s simply no truth to him fostering an environment that doesn’t support multi-sport athletes.

“We support other sports,” said Danley. “We have lots of kids who play basketball, play football. In fact, of the 19 man roster last spring, 17 of them played another sport."

Danley had a lot of support in the room Monday night. Of the 17 speakers, ten spoke in favor of him and his program, including two former standout players, Mike Anderson and Mike McKay, both of whom flew in for the meeting from Oklahoma and Texas respectively.

“He’s looking for an improvement plan. The right improvement plan,” said Anderson. “He will be fine. This community will heal.”

"The 'E' is for Eaton, not entitlement," said former player, Matt Anderson. "The generation of kids we, unfortunately, are raising today and the sigma out there - suggests that we are entitled to a position solely before we showed up."

Anderson went on, "I was once, too, a spoiled, little punk kid out there."

The issue has deeply divided the town of Eaton, with Danley supporters and detractors, most of whom seem to be affiliated with the current senior class.

There's also a secondary issue - an e-mail controversy surfaced last week suggesting the school board conspired, behind closed doors for months, to fire Danley. The e-mail conversations between several board members appear to violate the Sunshine Law, which requires publicly-elected boards to conduct the public’s business - in public. The e-mails were sent privately and were only released to the press after an open-records request filed by the Greeley Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act.

In one e-mail uncovered by the Greeley Tribune, Eaton School Board President Tim Croissant says, “One of (the) goals I would like to achieve in this matter is to try to protect the Eaton community from being on the front page of the Tribune with a ‘big negative story.’”

Jeff Roberts is the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. Roberts told 7NEWS reporter Russell Haythorn that the Eaton school board appears to have broken the law.

“Their actions appear to be contrary to what the law allows,” said Roberts.

Roberts said a board can discuss personnel matters in private in executive session, put only after announcing to the public what they plan to discuss in executive session. The board must also vote before going into executive session.

“A public body must have conversations in public,” said Roberts. “Electronic conversations are not exempt.”

“Do you feel duped by this board,” Haythorn asked Danley.

“Well, I do because they’re not dealing with me in a straight-forward manner,” said Danley.

Late Monday night, there was still no decision from the board on the coach or his dynasty.

“It’s a good and honorable program, and I think a lot of people want to keep it,” said Danley.

“I think that (Kirk) needs to back off, let his dad run the team, because right now the only person who is ruining his legacy, is Kirk Danley,” said Mondragon.

Danley indicated he has no plans to sign the 13-point improvement plan.

“It’s vague, it’s immeasurable, it’s confusing,” said Danley. “I don’t know any coach that would sign that.”