An official with the district’s human-resources department notified the coach Butch Goncharoff in a letter that the district is planning to terminate him.
Bellevue High School’s celebrated football coach has been placed on administrative leave as school-district officials call for his termination, a move that follows months of intense scrutiny and a scathing report about the program’s questionable methods.
The district’s recommendation for Butch Goncharoff’s firing will be considered by the Bellevue School Board, according to a letter to the coach.
Goncharoff failed to be “forthright and truthful” with supervisors and district administrators over payments from “outside entities” for services related to coaching, the letter says. He received more than $420,000 since 2009, according to the notice.
In a statement from his attorney, Goncharoff disputed the findings, saying the district is “trying to hang their case on a disclosure policy” that is vague and violated widely in the district.
Bellevue football investigation:
“They want to fire me for coaching out-of-season summer football camps — activities they fully knew about, approved … ,” he wrote. “What’s more, it is a policy they are attempting to apply retroactively.”
Bellevue School District declined to comment.
Jeffrey Thomas, executive director of human resources for the district, authored the letter, which was first obtained by KING 5. He wrote the district superintendent directed him to investigate the coach’s practices after the 68-page report conducted by outside investigators for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). That report found widespread problems in the football program and focused much of its attention on the Academic Institute (AI), a tiny, expensive, for-profit alternative school attended by many football players and regarded by some as a “diploma mill.”
In a news story last year, The Seattle Times found that at least 17 football players in recent years had attended Academic Institute and that Bellevue football boosters had helped coordinate tuition payments. The Times story led the district and the WIAA to start their investigation.
Thomas investigated the following allegations: that the coach “directed and encouraged” Bellevue football players to take classes at the AI; that district officials and coaches “cultivated” a close relationship with that school; and that coaches received excessive payments for coaching.
Thomas determined that the first two allegations were unfounded, but upheld the allegation regarding excessive payments.
“Since 2009, the total economic benefit you have received exceeds $420,000 in compensation from outside entities over a multiyear period for services that were directly related to your employment as head football coach,” Thomas wrote.
The letter also says Goncharoff repeatedly received payments from an outside entity for coaching at the Fort Worden Camp, an annual summer camp for select players that is sponsored by the district.
In his letter, Thomas wrote: “Even more troubling and inexcusable to the district is your numerous, outright denials to your supervisors and district administrators regarding your receipt of payment from the boosters and other organizations until the culmination of the WIAA investigation.”
On Monday, the school district finalized an internal review of the Bellevue High football program and presented the findings to other athletic directors in the KingCo Conference, officials said. Officials did not disclose the district’s findings.
Bellevue School Board members signaled in recent weeks they wanted significant sanctions for wrongdoing.
Goncharoff told KING 5 he will fight any attempt to fire him, and he produced emails that reportedly show that payments from Bellevue boosters had been reported to the district, and no officials had objected.
“I’m going to battle to the bitter end here,” Goncharoff told KING 5, “and whatever the decision, I’m still fighting.”
In the statement from the coach’s attorney, Bob Sulkin, Goncharoff contends that the district plans to use the disclosure policy against other coaches and teachers who are paid “to help kids in the summer,” as well.
“These are good people doing admirable work, and the district intends to punish them too,” he wrote.
Goncharoff has been placed on administrative leave, considering the nature of the letter’s recommendation and district policy, the Thomas letter says. The coach can submit information to Thomas by May 31 and may appeal the final recommendation for termination, the letter says.
In a statement Thursday, the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club said members are “outraged” by the call for Goncharoff’s termination, and that they plan to advocate in his favor.
For months, Bellevue football boosters have criticized the WIAA investigation as too aggressive and wide-ranging.
“He does not deserve the treatment the district is giving him, and we will stand alongside him as he works to set the record straight,” the statement says.
The next Bellevue School Board meeting is June 7, though it’s unclear when members will discuss the coach.
Mike Colbrese, WIAA executive director, said the association does not comment on such issues.
WIAA rules require payments to a coach in excess of “$500 in a season” to be approved by the school board. That rule, which WIAA established in 2008, was prompted by a Bellevue School District investigation that found boosters paid Goncharoff $55,000 in a year. Bellevue school officials then asked the WIAA to put limits on booster-club payments to coaches.
Earlier this month, district leaders rebuked the Bellevue High football program, declaring that there was “evidence of misconduct” and setting up a potential two-year ban for the team’s head coach.
During the past 15 years under Goncharoff, the Bellevue Wolverines became the most dominant team in the state and were ranked No. 1 nationally. The team has won 11 Class 3A state football titles since 2001.