Tahlequah Daily Press

May 15, 2013

Hulbert sacks football coach

Mitchell Crittenden not retained as the Riders' head football coach.

By BEN JOHNSON
Sports Editor

— HULBERT — Mitchell Crittenden was enjoying a simple morning with his wife, Tisha, on Tuesday. With school getting out for the summer last week in Hulbert, the Crittenden family had little on its agenda.

That all changed shortly after the sun crept over the horizon in the east. All of a sudden, both Mitchell and Tisha were in search of new jobs. That’s because the Hulbert school board, during its monthly meeting Monday night, opted not to rehire either one of them.

Tisha is out as a middle school math teacher, and Mitchell is no longer the head football coach at Hulbert High School.

“It’s kind of tough right now,” Mitchell Crittenden said. “I’m still a little in shock right now.”

During his two-year reign as the Riders’ head coach, Crittenden, 52, went 7-12 overall and 4-8 in district play. He also led the Riders to the playoffs in 2011, where the team lost in the first round to the eventual state runner-up, Woodland.

When asked why Crittenden was not retained as the football coach, Marilyn Dewoody, superintendent of Hulbert Public Schools, said it was a matter of trimming the district’s budget.

“We spent more money last year than we had income,” she said. “...We have to make sure we’re spending less. We have been cutting positions at school to make sure we’re within our budget.”

With the federal government in the midst of the sequestration — national spending cuts across the board — it was only a matter of time before some positions were eliminated, Dewoody said.

“There are a lot of teachers on temporary contracts that we have not been able to renew because of finances,” she said.

Crittenden wasn’t necessarily buying that excuse.

“I was not given a good reason in the meeting,” he said. “They blame it on money, and it’s all good.”

Others who were not rehired for the 2013-2014 school year were notified in March, Crittenden said. He, however, was not one of those.

“I’m just now finding out about it,” Crittenden said. “Others found out months ago.”

The timing of Crittenden’s departure is also less than ideal. The Riders were already a week into spring practice, and they were out on the field only a few hours before Crittenden’s fate was determined on Monday night.

“We were right in the middle of spring practice,” Crittenden said. “Then I had to cancel it because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Dewoody agreed that relieving the coach of his duties in the middle of spring ball was not the best scenario.

“The timing was not a good time,” she said. “But our assistant coaches will continue spring football, and [the athletic director and high school principal] Mr. [Brad] Ferguson will assistant as we make a transition to make sure things are going smoothly.”

Ferguson was blind-sided by the sudden dismissal of his head football coach.

“I was shocked,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one. Players caught wind of Crittenden’s exodus before he had a chance to tell them himself.

“Players have been calling and have been asking, ‘What are we going to do?’” Crittenden said. “I tell them they’ve been the ones doing all the work. I hate it for [the players]. It was really starting to come together after playing those young kids the last couple of years. It’s not like we’re not doing it the right way.”

One player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Honestly, I did not see this coming at all. He was very well-liked by everyone, I thought. No one around here is happy about it at all.”

As for Crittenden’s replacement, Dewoody said the position would more than likely be filled by a coach already employed by the district.

“We’re trying to fill that need in-house,” said Dewoody, who also said there was no consideration to eliminating the football program, despite curtailing the district’s budget. “We’re seeing if someone on staff can fill that duty as head football coach.”

Crittenden said the new coach would be inheriting 60 kids or more currently in the program.

“I hope whoever they get to take over can take advantage of that,” said Crittenden, who was set to return seven players on offense and eight players on defense in 2014.

With question marks surrounding his foreseeable future, Crittenden said his top priority is finding his wife a job. Once he and his family do that, Crittenden said he can figure something out from there.

“We would like to stay in the area,” Crittenden said. “I’m just hoping to find something for my wife, and then I’ll worry about what I’m doing. If it comes down to it, I’ll be a water boy on someone’s staff, if they want me to.”