After a strength trainer allegedly acted in a threatening way toward a Bellevue High football player during a team meeting in December, head coach Butch Goncharoff violated district policy by not examining or reporting the incident, an independent investigator says.
After a strength trainer acted in a threatening way toward a Bellevue High School football player during a team meeting in December, head coach Butch Goncharoff violated district policy by failing to examine or report the incident, according to an independent investigator.
The inquiry is just one of the issues that has surfaced at the state’s most storied football program, winner of 11 state titles in the past 15 years. The school district recently disclosed that the program had violated rules related to recruiting and out-of-season coaching.
In a 21-page report received by the school district last month and obtained by The Seattle Times, outside investigator Shawn Ann Flood described an encounter between strength trainer Tracy Ford and a player at the school.
The player’s father had reported to district officials that Ford, who has previously served as the team’s strength and conditioning coach, had “verbally abused” the player and tried to provoke a fight a few days after the team lost the state title game in December.
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Flood’s report includes differing accounts of the exchange from various witnesses, but it concludes the complaint about harassment was substantiated. The documents say Ford cursed at players and eventually singled out one of them in front of his teammates. Ford and that player ended up in a heated face-to-face confrontation. “I can beat the f— out of you,” Ford told the player, according to the case summary.
The report concludes that “Tracy Ford violated district policy and procedure prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying.”
Ford admitted to a district administrator that his tone was aggressive, according to the documents. He has told the Times in interviews that he was simply challenging the player to be a better teammate and that the player must have misinterpreted the situation. He denied making the threat the investigation assigned to him.
“I said nothing like that — nothing in the realm of that,” Ford told the Times on Wednesday. He noted that the investigator didn’t interview any of the players in the room, beyond the one who complained. Ford also wasn’t interviewed, although the investigative report says “he did not show for two scheduled interviews.”
Ford’s role at the time of the December incident remains unclear. He has said he was a coach in 2012 and 2013 but was working on a contract in 2014 in which his business, Ford Sports Performance, would help the team train.
The school district said Ford was only a coach in 2012 and that there’s no contract on file with the district.
District records show officials have also explored whether Ford, who had played for Bellevue, has been involved in encouraging athletes to attend the school — something he denies.
State rules regulating high-school activities prohibit people affiliated with an athletic program from directing athletes to that school.
Goncharoff, the decorated head coach who has led Bellevue to its remarkable success, was apparently not present for Ford’s December encounter with the player. But the investigator said the head coach received a phone message later that day in which the player’s father complained about the confrontation.
Goncharoff also never talked to the player or his father to investigate the facts or determine their concerns, according to the investigation.
Goncharoff didn’t report the complaint to the school’s athletic director. He told the investigator he informed Principal Scott Powers that Ford had been removed from the team, but Powers did not recall that conversation.
The investigator concluded Goncharoff did not comply with district policies that require a coach to respond in a timely manner to parent complaints or that they obtain assistance from an administrator. The report also concluded Goncharoff violated district procedure requiring staff members to report unresolved and severe incidents to the principal.
Goncharoff didn’t return a call seeking comment.
The report didn’t include a recommendation for punishment. A school-district spokeswoman said she was unfamiliar with the investigative report Wednesday and was researching the matter.
With the team’s previously reported violations related to illegal recruiting and out-of-season coaching activities, Bellevue proposed sanctions for itself that include three years’ probation for the team, a two-game suspension for Goncharoff and a three-game suspension for an unnamed assistant coach.
The recruiting matter was related to Goncharoff and another coach providing financial support to a player’s family.
The other sanctions the school will face include mandatory and ongoing training on board policies and procedures for all football coaches through the probationary period. The school also will lose its share of KingCo Conference revenue for three years, through the 2016-17 school year.