Q: Our football season has ended with a win/loss record of 3-7 and our team did not make the playoffs. The district and community are disappointed in the team’s performance and many are calling for a change in coaching staff. Our head football coach is a long-time employee under a term contract, with no documentation in the file of poor performance. Can we terminate the coach now for the team’s poor record and start looking for a new coach for next season? If not, is nonrenewal an option?
A: No. The Commissioner has stated that a poor win-loss record alone cannot support a termination or nonrenewal of a coach. True performance deficiencies which are documented in evaluations (e.g., UIL violations, not showing up to practice, insubordination etc.) or documented misconduct by the coach (e.g., vulgar language during practice or on the sidelines, rough physical contact with athletes, etc.) could support a nonrenewal or termination depending on the severity of the misconduct. However, a team’s win-loss record by itself is not sufficient cause to terminate or nonrenew your coach’s contract.
In a 1985 Commissioner Decision, Hester v. Canadian ISD, the school district sought to nonrenew the coach’s term contract on the grounds of “significant lack of student progress” following a poor season and the team’s failure to make the playoffs. The Commissioner rejected this reasoning, stating that the failure of the team to make the playoffs was no evidence of student “progress.” In fact, the Commissioner acknowledged that a team can show improvement and progress in ways other than just a “winning season,” stating that “when considered in a vacuum, a poor record does not constitute even a scintilla of evidence that bad coaching was responsible for that record.” The Commissioner went on to state that “too many other factors influence a won-loss record over which the coach has no control, including, for example, the inherent ability of the players, the caliber of the opposition, and injuries to key players.” As such, the Commissioner overruled the school district’s proposed nonrenewal of the coach’s contract.
Because the standard for nonrenewal is lower than that required for a mid-year termination, Hester tells us that a district would not be able to meet either a nonrenewal or heightened standard of “good cause” for termination on the grounds of a win-loss record alone. Documenting specific performance deficiencies or misconduct in evaluations, memoranda and other correspondence will be necessary to end the employment relationship.