Butch Goncharoff, Bellevue High’s football coach, has been suspended and the team placed on probation after a broad investigation, according to records obtained by The Seattle Times.
Bellevue High School’s decorated head football coach, Butch Goncharoff, has been suspended and the team placed on probation after a broad investigation into illegal recruiting, an offseason conditioning program and other allegations, according to records obtained by The Seattle Times.
School-district officials quietly banned one former coach from district facilities earlier this year before scaling back that punishment, according to the documents. This week, the school ultimately reported two violations: one in which Goncharoff and another coach provided financial support to a player’s family, and another related to the offseason conditioning program.
Bellevue football investigation:
The KingCo Conference has accepted sanctions Bellevue proposed for itself, which include three years’ probation for the team, a two-game suspension for Goncharoff and a three-game suspension for an unnamed assistant coach. The district declined to name the coaches, calling the violations a personnel matter, but sources identified Goncharoff.
Bellevue’s winning program
• 12-time Class 3A state champions.
• Won six straight state championships from 2008 to 2013, all of them under head coach Butch Goncharoff.
• Set state record with a 67-game winning streak, which was snapped at the 2014 state championship game, won by Eastside Catholic.
• Won a “mythical” national title (determined by multiple media polls) in 2012.
• Came onto the national scene in 2004 after snapping a record 151-game winning streak held by De La Salle (Calif.).
Goncharoff, who has led his team to 11 state championships in 15 years as head coach, did not return calls for comment.
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Records obtained by The Times in recent weeks show that the school district had heard of issues surrounding the program since at least last summer.
In August, one district leader met with a local trainer, Tracy Ford, and followed up with a letter expressing concern that Ford was misrepresenting himself as a Bellevue coach — and using his sports-training business, Ford Sports Performance, to recruit athletes to Bellevue High School. Ford in two previous years had served as the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach.
Then in December, a few days after the state title game — in which Eastside Catholic snapped Bellevue’s 67-game winning streak — there was an exchange between Ford and an athlete during a player meeting. Ford used language toward the athlete “that was harassing, threatening and/or intimidating,” according to allegations laid out in district documents.
One month later, a Bellevue High worker reported getting a call from the parent of a football player from Seattle’s Lakeside School. The worker relayed the details of the conversation as reported by the parent: “Tracy Ford said he [the player] should check out Bellevue because they are looking for some big players.”
The district found that the student-athlete was training at Ford’s gym, according to a Jan. 26 letter from a district official to Ford. The district expressed concern that Ford had violated state rules related to illegal recruiting and inducement.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which governs school athletics, states that it’s a violation “to induce or encourage any prospective student to attend or continue to attend any member school for the purpose of participating in athletics. …”
The district initially banned Ford from school district property for one year.
In March, the district sent another memo to Ford, outlining broader concerns. John Harrison, the district’s executive director of schools, said Ford had been accused of directing athletes toward Bellevue “on several occasions over the past two years, contrary to WIAA regulations related to illegal recruiting.”
But the district scaled back Ford’s sanctions, prohibiting him from renting the Bellevue High School facility until 2016 (he had been holding some events on the field there), but saying he could continue to provide strength-and-conditioning training for athletes through a contract with the school’s athletics department.
Ford, a Bellevue alumnus, disputes all the allegations. He noted in an interview Thursday that his company provides training to players throughout the area and said he has never encouraged any players to go to a certain school.
Ford said he was the strength-and-conditioning coach at Bellevue in 2012 and 2013. He said that last year, the district hired his company to continue training at the school’s facilities, but that he was no longer part of the coaching staff.
Ford said some Bellevue players work out at his facility on their own time, but he insisted those visits are never mandatory or encouraged by the school.
As for the harassment allegation, Ford said he has never confronted a kid in a disrespectful manner. He said at the December meeting he challenged one player to become a better teammate, and the player apparently took it the wrong way.
“I coach hard,” Ford said. “I try to teach these kids accountability.”
Regarding the financial support coaches provided to one family, the records don’t provide details.
On Thursday, the district characterized the money as being provided to “a family in need” to help cover necessities such as food and rent.
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 will lose its share of KingCo revenue for three years, through the 2016-17 school year. It was unclear how significant that revenue is to the school.
The district said an initial investigation was conducted by a third party, attorney Shawn Ann Flood. The district then did a follow-up investigation that resulted in the disclosures and sanctions, a spokeswoman said.