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Longtime Bremerton track coach let go, but why?
A longtime coach who openly criticized the Bremerton School District for its handling of a facilities improvement project at Memorial Stadium was not invited back to coach for the first time in 13 years.
Lloyd Pugh, 73, Bremerton High School’s second-longest tenured coach and a member of the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame, will not coach Bremerton’s track and field team in 2011.
He learned his one-year contract would not be renewed during a meeting last week with Bremerton Athletic Director George Duarte, who confirmed the move Tuesday.
“I’ve been told I need to turn my keys in and get out of there,” said Pugh, who planned to return for his 14th season and looked forward to working with the student-athletes. “I’m going to miss them.”
Pugh believes his dismissal resulted in part from disagreements with Duarte, which went beyond criticism of the stadium and included what Pugh thought was neglect of the track and field program, a sport that regularly draws some of the largest numbers of student- athletes at Bremerton.
Duarte declined to detail the decision-making process, but did say the track program sheds about half of its participants by the end of the season.
Pugh was not a classroom teacher. He earned a stipend of $4,349 in 2010, according to the district.
The coach’s departure comes in the wake of a now-complete $650,000 project for upgrades to the track and field facilities at Memorial Stadium. Pugh publicly criticized the district for its planning and execution of the job, which was completed behind schedule after errors were discovered with the preliminary work.
The project was a point of contention between Pugh and the district, Pugh said, as was a ruling at the end of last season that made one of his athletes academically ineligible for a postseason meet.
Duarte, who joined the district in 2006 and was named Olympic League Athletic Director of the Year in 2009, would not elaborate on his decision to let the coach go, saying it was a “personnel decision.” However, Duarte did say the choice was made based on “improving” the track and field program.
“I certainly cannot comment on that other than to say it was a personnel decision,” Duarte said. “Lloyd has done a great job, but in the overall scheme of the program it was time to move on.”
Superintendent Lester “Flip” Herndon deferred the same question to Duarte, saying the athletic director is solely responsible for the hiring and letting-go of coaches.
“That’s why we’ve got an athletic director, to look at all those pieces,” said Herndon, who became superintendent in July 2009. “What I try to do is support our administrators.”
Pugh coached in Kitsap County for 41 years, logging 28 seasons with the South Kitsap School District prior to arriving in Bremerton. The 1,600-meter race at the annual South Kitsap Invitational is named “The Lloyd Pugh Mile” in honor of his work.
Some of those who know Pugh call him a straight-shooter, a person who calls things as he sees them, a personality trait Duarte said “made him good.”
“Lloyd is one of those old-school coaches, there’s no sugar-coating with Lloyd,” Duarte said. “It’s all about business with Lloyd.”
Added friend and nationally recognized track and field referee Lane Dowell, who has competed with and against Pugh: “He’s the type of guy where if he isn’t putting a bur under your saddle, then there’s reason to be worried. That means he doesn’t care.”
Bremerton has sent track athletes to the state championships each of the past three seasons — sprinter Jacki Hill and the 100-meter relay team of Jamaree Wells, Chris Fleming, Jamiere Abney and Alex Griffin in 2008; sprinter Jarell Flora in 2009; and javelin thrower Kyle Kennedy in 2009 and 2010.
Dowell called Pugh one of the best track and field coaches in the state and wonders if there’s a better replacement.
“You’re not going to find a coach who is more knowledgeable and cares more about the kids than Lloyd Pugh,” Dowell said. “He is a phenomenal coach.”
Flora, who graduated in June and now plays Division I basketball at Seattle University, said Pugh pushed him to become a better person on and off the track.
Pugh’s message to athletes, Flora remembers, was to “just push yourself and have fun.”
“I learned a lot,” Flora said. “He helped me with my work ethic and pushed me to be better a athlete and a better student.”
The 18-year-old turned out for the track team as a junior because his father encouraged him to do so, but he decided to skip his senior season after earning a full-ride scholarship to Seattle U. His dream has always been to play basketball, so when he landed a full-ride, the decision was easy to focus solely on basketball.
That decision, Flora said, had nothing to do with Pugh’s coaching style.
“He was a good friend and a good coach,” Flora said. “He helped me get to where I am today.”
Hill, who currently is a member of the track and field team at Washington State University, was a member of Bremerton’s team for three years.
She reached the state championships as a senior.
“Coach Pugh is an amazing coach and I was sad to hear that he will no longer be coaching at Bremerton,” she said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Turnout rates for track and field have been around 60 athletes at the beginning of the past few seasons, Duarte and Pugh said, but the final tallies have been closer to 30.
One of his priorities as athletic director, Duarte said, is to encourage students to turn out for sports — and stick with their chosen teams. The attrition rate for football, which drew about 50 athletes this year, and other sports has been less severe, Duarte said.
“I think in order for us to sustain viable programs, that is a goal, once we get the kids, to keep them,” said Duarte, who wouldn’t say whether attrition rates factored directly into his decision to cut ties with Pugh.
This season the football team has a total of eight coaches and four paid positions, Duarte said, while the track team last season had three coaches.
The track team has enjoyed success under Pugh, but winning has eluded the school’s football team, which has a record of 7-44 since 2005.
When asked why the football coaches still have their jobs, yet a hall of fame coach has lost his, Duarte replied: “I’m not going to answer that. I take each program and evaluate it independently. I don’t make any comparisons. We make decisions based on what’s in the best interest of each program.”
Herndon said it’s not fair to judge athletic programs solely on “wins and losses” because there are other ways to measure success, such as athletes’ individual progress over the course of a season or career. Sometimes, he said, progress doesn’t translate to victory.
“We want them to be students first,” Herndon said.
Pugh attributed the attrition rate in track to the coach-to-athlete ratio. There were never enough coaches on-site to hold the interest of the students, Pugh said, something Duarte could have done more to help with. Pugh had two assistants for his final season.
“He’s never been supportive of the track and field program. He never set foot or paid any attention to our practices,” Pugh said. “He says he supported us, but his actions spoke louder than words.”