- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - The Springfield School District has rehired Bill Wagner as Springfield High School’s girls basketball coach, less than three months after choosing not to renew his contract amid complaints from a parent.

Wagner was allowed to reapply for the job after agreeing to meet with an outside coaching consultant hired by the school district. A nine person search committee recommended Wagner for the position following interviews with other candidates.

“I’m very appreciative of the support, not only from my current players, but all my ex-players - not only the girls I coached at Springfield, but kids I coached at North Eugene,” said Wagner, who coached both boys and girls programs at North before taking the Springfield girls job in 2010. “That was reinforcement to make sure that I continued to get better at what I do and fight to continue to coach.”

In an interview Thursday with The Register-Guard, district Superintendent Susan Rieke-Smith didn’t express regret about the initial decision not to renew Wagner’s contract, saying it provided “an opportunity for us to take a pause and look across our system.”

After receiving input from parents, community members and other coaches, Rieke-Smith decided Wagner could reapply if he agreed to participate in a training program that will be offered to coaches district-wide.

“If we offer that, in this case to Bill, would he access that?” Rieke-Smith said. “Yes, he did.”

The district investigated Wagner last year after receiving a complaint from Saul Patu, a former University of Oregon football player whose daughter played on the Springfield varsity team.

Patu accused Wagner of using language that was verbally abusive and culturally insensitive. Wagner was allowed to return after the district ruled that his conduct, while failing to meet expectations, did not constitute harassment. That decision was upheld following an appeal in May.

Rieke-Smith became interim superintendent in June and, within a week, announced that Wagner would not return as basketball coach - though he would be allowed to retain his job as the high school’s dean of students. The decision sparked protests from players and parents, and Rieke-Smith said it led other coaches to step forward with concerns.

“Based on the input I was hearing from other coaches, there was this (sentiment) that, ‘You know, I might be guilty of some of this stuff,’” Rieke-Smith said.

The district hired consultant Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching to help coaches understand and adhere to the district’s standards. Brown’s program emphasizes teamwork, positive reinforcement and character development, Rieke-Smith said.

“It’s a fundamentally different way, rather than, ‘I’m going to drill and kill, I’m going to make you run stairs, I’m going to yell at you, I’m going to throw things at you, I’m going to intimidate you to perform well,’” she said. “It’s 180 degrees different.”

Wagner, who coached Springfield to state championships in 2011 and 2012, said he recognized the need to evaluate his coaching methods. Though he doesn’t anticipate wholesale changes, he said he will adjust his approach after meeting with Brown this summer.

“There are some minor tweaks that we need to make,” Wagner said. “Every coach has their coaching style and do things that work for them. The thing about coaching is, we’re always learning and always evolving. We can always do things better.”

With clear standards and better training, Rieke-Smith said, there should be no ambiguity about what the district expects from Wagner and its other coaches.

“It’s about building the capacity before I hold you accountable,” she said. “Once we build capacity and you agree that’s where we’re going, now let’s see you do it, because I have the expectation you’re going to shine.

“And I do. I have every expectation that this is going to be a great year.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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