WHITWELL, Tenn. (WDEF) — The firing of Whitwell football Coach Travis Olinger might have come as a surprise to Olinger and the student body. However, it was not a decision made hastily.
Sources have confirmed that Principal Teena Casseday held behind the scenes meetings with booster club leaders and former assistant coaches. Those sources say the goal was to oust Olinger and install a new coach — all prior to Casseday asking Olinger to resign.
After graduating most of their starters from the state championship team, the Tigers finished the 2019 season 3-9.
Despite the losing record, the team is fully backing Coach Olinger and is begging Principal Casseday to rehire him.
“The coach we want is Coach O, because we’ve already planned everything out, and if we get a new one, we’ll have to restart,” quarterback and team captain Brandon Hamill said.
“The coach we want is Coach O.”
In fact, some students have organized a peaceful protest during school hours Monday morning to show their support.
“They treated us like family, and I didn’t really have that really, so they made me feel wanted,” lineman Antuan Winchester said.
“He invested his entire life here and he sold his house, went to a smaller salary, I mean, brought his family here. It’s just, and he gets treated this way, and I don’t like it,” said senior Kendra Ledford, who is organizing Monday’s protest.
“The decisions that have been made, that wasn’t the best for us. Maybe for them and money wise, but not for us,” starting quarterback and team captain Brandon Hamill said. “It didn’t matter if we had Coach O or Nick Saban, we wouldn’t have done any better than what we had did, and if we just restart, they shouldn’t expect more than another 2-8 season.”
As of now, there is no official word on who Olinger’s replacement will be.
However, sources close to the situation tell News 12 that a former assistant coach is the front-runner.
Griffith says no names have come across his desk just yet. However, he believes the rumored replacement would not qualify due to a previous criminal incident and lack of teaching certificate.
Either way, Principal Casseday’s replacement candidate will have to be approved by Griffith and the Board of Education.
This will be Whitwell’s fourth coach in five years, the eleventh in 16 years. Despite the losing record coming off a state championship, the team and community are urging the administration to allow some stability for the program.
“I don’t understand why our boosters and why our principals don’t keep a coach longer than this,” senior running back Trenton Stockwell said. “We can’t stay stable like this, constantly swapping coaches year after year.”
“We can’t stay stable like this.”
“They do need stability,” Marion County Schools Superintendent Mark Griffith said. “I was hoping for stability. I think Coach Olinger’s a great guy. But if the administration feels like they want to go in a different direction, I will support that.”
One of the biggest criticisms of this past season was not the inability to repeat an undefeated season, but the continued failings to bring in more than two regular season wins after coming off five straight years of 6 or more wins and two straight winning seasons.
However, the team said they understood 2019 was a rebuilding season for the Tigers. Students said Coach Olinger should not take the blame for a young, inexperienced and injury-ridden team.
“Certain people have to understand that last year we lost a really great coach and the majority of our starting players were seniors,” Ledford said. “This year was just basically rebuilding.”
“They obviously don’t know football or our program too much,” Hamill said. “The people saying that doesn’t know what’s going on or what a football team needs.”
As far as Olinger is concerned, he will not lose his teaching position at Whitwell.
“He’s an outstanding teacher, outstanding guy. He’s going to be with us in that capacity 110 percent,” Dr. Griffith said. “I regret the status, the coaching status at this time, but like I said the administration wanted to go in a different direction.”
Principal Teena Casseday refused to respond further to the new information or the students’ protest. She said her statement made on Wednesday will be all she will say on the matter.
Casseday also added that she doesn’t want to lose momentum after winning state in 2018. She wants someone to come in, overhaul the Whitwell football program from youth to varsity, and bring winning back to @WhitwellHigh.
— Angela Moryan (@SidelineStormer) February 6, 2020