Collateral Damage: Why Mullen administrators tried to discredit Dave Logan

 
“There are no allegations and we’re not doing any followup or investigation of Dave Logan at this time.”

 — Paul Angelico, commissioner, Colorado High School Activities Association

June 11, 2012

“Football violations at Mullen,” said the banner headline in the print edition of the Denver Post on Jan. 19, 2012. No question mark. No attribution. A simple statement of fact. Football violations at Mullen. You know, the school that won four state championships in the past nine years under coach Dave Logan, former NFL player and current voice of the Broncos.

The Post managed a qualifier in the sub-head, but it also got in Logan’s name, so let’s call the lower deck a wash on the sensationalism meter. “The recruiting errors were allegedly made by the staff of former coach Dave Logan.”

Nearly five months later, the main headline, “Football violations at Mullen” has yet to be substantiated. About all the Colorado High School Activities Association has documented to date is a breach of protocol by Mullen administrators. Despite twice leaking allegations against Logan’s program to the media, Mullen still hasn’t been specific enough in its reporting to CHSAA to trigger the governing body’s remedial process. The longer this goes on, the more it looks as if Mullen’s charges were intended more for the media than the governing body.

After Mullen’s latest fusillade turned up on the Post web site before its arrival at CHSAA headquarters, CHSAA commissioner Paul Angelico took the unusual step of making the statement quoted above when I spoke with him Monday.

Under any reasonable standard of integrity or fairness, it should not be possible to make unsubstantiated allegations, leak them to the media, then force the target of your attack to sit in limbo while you refuse to be specific enough to permit an investigation. Angelico’s statement makes it clear where CHSAA’s focus lies after Mullen turned it into a stage prop for a public relations campaign against its former coach.

Amid all this stagecraft, you might not remember that Logan was fired in January for reasons unrelated to these retrospective charges, at least as Mullen CEO Ryan Clement explained it to 850 KOA’s Colorado Morning News the following day.

But Clement’s original explanation didn’t fly with many students, parents and alumni. He and principal Jim Gmelich, on the job less than a year, were blowing up the best high school football program in the state for no apparent reason. With a petition circulating among students that called for Clement and Gmelich to resign, the Mullen administrators decided to cast Logan as Barry Switzer. It was desperate, sure, but at that point, what did they have to lose?

More than four months after their initial report, with no effect except Logan’s move to Cherry Creek High School later in January, Mullen gave it another try. Again, it found a willing partner in the Post, which wrote, in the lead paragraph of another front page story, “The storied football program at Denver’s Mullen High School was spinning out of control under then-coach Dave Logan, with lax oversight by an administration that has since taken corrective steps, according to a review commissioned by the school.”

How convenient, as the Church Lady used to say, that Clement and Gmelich had arrived just recently enough to throw both Logan and the previous administration under the bus while taking credit for the “corrective steps” themselves. The Post seemed happily oblivious to any possible ulterior motive.

In fact, the declaration that the vaguely-described violations cited in the report’s summary amounted to “spinning out of control” didn’t pass the laugh test, as the comments section attached to the story demonstrated.

On the other hand, it was the most-viewed story of the day on denverpost.com, which was perhaps the article’s most important attribute.

What follows is a longer look at this story. So far, the narrative has suggested the world was spinning merrily along and suddenly Logan got fired. In fact, the story begins nearly a year earlier, when Clement became Mullen’s new president. Twenty years Logan’s junior and a former Mullen football star, Clement made it clear from the beginning that he wanted influence over the football program, which should not have been that surprising, given his background.

For his part, Logan had done pretty well without administrative interference, winning six championships in the state’s highest classification at three different schools, something no other high school coach in the country has done. He wanted to be co-operative, as we’ll see, but he was not going to surrender control of his staff.

Like a lot of parochial schools, Mullen is struggling. Its enrollment has fallen from over 1,000 to about 800 as of the 2011-2012 school year. It is expected to fall again in the coming school year, a predicament aggravated by a wave of more than 150 student transfers out of Mullen over the past nine months.

Seeking to stem this downward spiral, the school commissioned a consultant to examine the problem. The consultant reported that Logan’s success had given Mullen, originally a Lasallian school for orphaned boys, the reputation of a football school. To the extent that its football reputation obscured its academic and religious aspects, it might be hurting enrollment, especially by students able to pay the full tuition, the consultant reported.

Thinking he could develop a stronger working relationship with Clement by helping to address the school’s financial problems, Logan introduced the young school president to an old Wheat Ridge High School classmate with experience helping academic institutions and other non-profits with development and fundraising. That is where our story begins . . .

The advisor

Charles L. Griffith is a successful business executive who has run Fortune 500 and equivalent firms, served on over a dozen public and private corporate boards and done pro bono work for numerous not-for-profit and educational institutions, including Kent Denver School, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado Leeds Business School and the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He was also Dave Logan’s schoolmate at Wheat Ridge High back in the day.

In the summer of 2011, as Ryan Clement settled into his new job as president and chief executive officer of Mullen High School, Logan asked Griffith to meet with Clement to see if he could help with some of the challenges Mullen was facing — mostly in the areas of fundraising and declining enrollment. Logan thought Griffith’s work as a trustee and head of the annual fund at Kent Denver might be particularly helpful, Kent Denver being known for its fundraising prowess and financial stability.

Griffith met with Clement and Logan at an introductory breakfast on July 29 and subsequently held a marathon session with Clement and principal Jim Gmelich to discuss in detail the issues facing Mullen. He did this, like his other work with educational institutions, on a pro bono (no fee) basis. Following the introductory meeting, the parties agreed to keep certain information exchanged in subsequent meetings confidential. When I spoke with Griffith, he declined to discuss information of a proprietary nature but agreed to discuss subjects raised at the initial breakfast, subjects already in the public domain and his general observations of the situation.

“Ryan was fairly open right away about the issues he was facing at Mullen,” Griffith recalled. “He talked about the challenges they had raising money and, in particular, with enrollment figures down and the number of full-paying students dropping off. Essentially, he said that he had some real financial challenges. He also mentioned at that first breakfast that he was looking for a head of finance, either a CFO (chief financial officer) or a director of finance, and we assisted them with that.”

Clement gave Griffith early indications that he felt Logan’s successful football program and high community profile were not helping him deal with the problems Mullen faced in other areas.

“That first meeting, Dave is sitting there, and Ryan says, ‘You know, it’s not the easiest thing to have a legend, a larger-than-life figure, as your football coach.’ And he kind of chuckled. He said while he understood Dave had a staff and had confidence in his staff, he wished that he would be able to have more of his teachers be assistant coaches. He did mention that early on. He also indicated he’d like to be an assistant coach,” Griffith said.

“The only reason I got together with Ryan Clement, the only reason I spent any time with him, was because Dave Logan asked me to. Dave wanted me to get together with him because he cared deeply about Mullen, he was genuinely concerned about them, and he thought anything I could do to help Ryan and Mullen would be useful.

“Dave and I had talked in previous discussions about a workshop that I held a couple of months prior to this with many of the heads of independent schools in the state except parochial schools. It was at the invitation of (Kent Denver Head of School) Todd Horn on behalf of probably thirty independent schools that are part of the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS).

“Todd Horn also happened to be the president of the overall group at that time. I’d done a workshop for the (Kent Denver) trustees and he asked me to do a similar workshop on long-term strategy, surviving the economy and how school administrators and leaders can best identify and deliver value to their constituencies — students, parents, alumni, their board and others — both as an independent entity and vis-a-vis other schools,” Griffith said.

“So part of the discussion with Ryan later was around a process he might go through to determine priorities, how best to meet the needs of the schools’ constituencies, and how to position Mullen versus other schools, including religious schools such as Regis and Valor Christian.”

In addition to emerging differences over the composition of Logan’s coaching staff, Griffith got the impression at least two other aspects of the football program troubled Clement. One was the relative success of the Mullen End Zone Club, the football boosters, at raising money for the football program while Mullen’s general fund-raising arm, the Mullen Foundation, had been less effective. The other was the number of football players who paid less than Mullen’s full tuition at a time when increasing revenue was a priority. Athletic scholarships are not permitted in high school, but tuition can be adjusted on the basis of financial need.

With respect to the money raised by the booster club, Griffith said Logan offered to make it more widely available to help fund other Mullen sports programs.

“I remember Dave saying at breakfast, ‘Ryan, as I’ve mentioned before, if this is what we think will help Mullen, I’m prepared to discuss with the booster club control of that money,'” Griffith recalled.

Griffith came away with several impressions:

1. At 35 (now 36), Clement was a new and inexperienced educational administrator and CEO faced with problems that more experienced administrators would find challenging.

2. As a former football star at the school, football was one area where he felt comfortable, even enthusiastic, about exerting his influence, but he had a local legend twenty years his senior standing in the way.

3. With issues at Mullen historically common to other parochial schools, including declining enrollment and financial challenges, Clement appeared to believe that the success of Logan’s football program was overshadowing the school’s academic reputation, something important to the future enrollment of full tuition payers.

“It started with the whole idea that they have these background tuition and  financial challenges, of a multi-layered governance and political structure, and Ryan as a new professional educator trying to establish himself,” Griffith said.

“And then you’ve got a feeling that he loves football and he wanted to have more control over the football program. And he’s got this 57-year-old legend who has strong points of view, particularly about assistant coaches, which is where Ryan wants to fiddle. On money, Dave was the ultimate team player, in my opinion.

“But when it comes to firing assistant coaches and bringing somebody on that Ryan is dictating or Gmelich is dictating, that’s a different issue, particularly if you approach it as, ‘This is something you’ve got to do,’ rather than, ‘Dave, let’s have a discussion to see if there might be an opportunity to move people on over time. Obviously, it would have to meet both your and our standards, it would have to work for you, so perhaps that means working together in the next two to three seasons to place some of these other coaches in schools that they’ll be happy with.’

“I think Dave Logan probably understands that there’s the potential that if one of the reasons Ryan Clement or some of his teachers got into teaching or education was also to coach, and they’re at Mullen, that creates a problem for Ryan Clement.  I think that contributed to the change. They couldn’t get what they wanted and they wanted it now. They didn’t want to work on it over time.”

So, I asked Griffith, why not fire Logan, take the public relations hit, and move on? Why the retrospective attempt to paint Logan’s as a rogue program?

“I suspect the reason he abandoned the high road so early is he didn’t anticipate the amount of negative feedback to the decision from students, parents, alumni and the general public,” Griffith said of Clement. “He’s inexperienced. He couldn’t stand the heat.”

The parent

Kairos is an ancient Greek word roughly meaning the right or opportune moment. At Mullen, it is defined as “the Lord’s time” and is the name given to four annual retreats for juniors — two for girls and two for boys — at the Ponderosa Retreat and Conference Center in Larkspur.

Todd Reynolds is the father of two Mullen graduates and a former president of the End Zone Club, the football boosters. He was an adult leader on one of the Kairos retreats during the 2010-11 school year. After school let out last spring, Mullen held a dinner followup meeting for some of the adult leaders, teachers and administrators involved with the program. Wine was served with dinner. Reynolds and Ryan Clement were there, and the conversation turned to Dave Logan’s football program.

“The football program comes up and it kind of started out, one of the teachers was complaining about some of the players hanging out down in the football offices over in the Spirit Center watching ESPN and they needed to be in class and they weren’t doing that well in her class,” Reynolds recalled.

“And I said, ‘Hey, wait just a minute. Listen, you guys are the adults. You can go down there and get your kids back in class anytime you want. Why are you blaming it on these guys? Go down there and make them get their butts back in class.’

“So we kind of went around the table a little bit on that. And then I was talking to Ryan independently. This was after several glasses of wine, and we started talking football. And the first thing he said was, ‘Hey, back when I was there, we won state championships. We don’t need a Dave Logan to win state championships. We can win those.’

“And I’m like, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘No offense, Ryan, but you guys weren’t very good. You were pretty good (individually), but as a team, you guys weren’t very good.’

“I don’t think they even won a state championship, honestly, when Ryan went there. They might have; I don’t remember. I just basically said, ‘You guys weren’t very good. I mean, we win, this group wins consecutive championships. We have a heck of a program.'”

Clement was a four-year starter at quarterback for Mullen from 1990-94 and won the Denver Post’s Gold Helmet Award as a senior (as Logan did at Wheat Ridge High a generation earlier). Mullen won state championships in boys’ track and field and girls’ cross country during that period, but not in football. Mullen has won eight state football championships since its founding in 1928 — 1978, 1979, 1980, 1998, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The first three were in Class 3A; the last five in Class 5A. Logan was coach for half of them, the last four.

“Ryan said, ‘We don’t need Dave. He’s got all those trophies down there in his office. Those belong up in the school,'” Reynolds recounted. “And I said, ‘Ryan, go down and get ’em! Move ’em up in the school. It’s the same thing back with the kids. You guys are the adults. If you want ’em, go get ’em.’

“Really, the bottom line is, I think that whole administration was just a little intimidated. There was nothing wrong with the way that football program was run. I was there four years and it worked, and it worked very well. It goes back to when Dave wouldn’t hire him as quarterbacks coach. That’s what it’s about, in my opinion.”

I asked Reynolds if he came away from that dinner in the summer of 2011 believing Clement had already decided to make changes in the football program.

“I really did,” Reynolds said. “I was uncomfortable because I felt like something was going to happen. They were going to do something. I didn’t know what; I didn’t know that it would be the firing of Dave. I knew there were going to be changes, probably either within his staff or they were going to force him to make some changes. It was uncomfortable. You could kind of see where it was going.”

The tone from Clement, Reynolds said, was dramatically different from the tone he’d gotten from Mullen’s previous president, Robert Regan.

“He always kind of held up the football program as an example of our school — the excellence and success that we had in football,” Reynolds said of Regan. “He wanted to get everything else, the community service and the academics, up to the football level. Because we were good. We had a very good program. And we were successful. He praised the program and praised Dave in a couple of meetings I was at. That we ought to all be like Dave Logan — all of our programs ought to be run like that. All of our coaches ought to be like that. So he kind of held him up as the standard.”

Reynolds also knew Clement from earlier dealings.

“Two years ago, they brought him on to head up the alumni association, kind of his first position back at Mullen,” Reynolds said. “And he failed at that miserably. He couldn’t get that thing kicked off. I had some interaction with him because he wanted to do some alumni things with the football program and I was president for three years of the End Zone Club. So I had some dealings with him. It was off and on. He didn’t ever get that thing really kicked off, and the next thing you know he’s in there as interim president and then he becomes our full-time president.”

In the end, Reynolds believes the conflict over the football program came down to ego.

“I think there’s a problem with Ryan with Dave and just this whole ego thing,” he said. “I think it stems from that, quite frankly. Last summer, he was already talking about it. Just being involved with the program for four years, you could see where he was going. I mean, he was going to make some changes.”

The governing body

The Colorado High School Activities Association operates out of modest offices in Aurora. It has seven full-time employees. They hold an umbrella of rules and bylaws over 120,000 high school athletes in 7,000-8,000 programs. The NCAA it is not. There is no army of field investigators.

CHSAA’s process for enforcing the rules that govern high school sports is a simple one. It relies on member schools to do the right thing. And it relies on them to do it privately.

“Our process is this: A school has an issue, or a parent or somebody determines the school has an issue, and they turn it into us,” said CHSAA commissioner Paul Angelico.

“We’re a self-reporting organization. So we go to the school and say, ‘It appears you may have an issue. Do a self-investigation and let us know what you find.’

“That’s expected to be sent to us in this form: ‘In our investigation we found that we violated bylaw 2232.1’ — I’m just throwing out numbers here — ‘on recruiting, because of . . . ‘ and they list off what happened. And we send them a letter back saying, ‘OK, thank you for finding that out, your school’s on restriction, what are you going to do?’

“But really, the focus of this letter is to determine what you’re going to do to ensure that this situation doesn’t happen again. They put a plan together. They write it back to us, we accept it or reject it. If we accept it, we take them off of restriction, put them on probation and life goes on. And all this happens in a couple weeks, typically.”

Why aren’t there more frantic newspaper headlines blaring about this or that high school sports rules violation? Because all of this happens privately, hundreds of times a year.

“Nobody ever knows all this stuff happens,” Angelico said. “Once it’s all happened, then a school typically will tell their public, ‘Hey, we’re on probation but we’re off of restriction.’ We’ve got a football team up north that’s been on restriction that didn’t get taken off last year. Nobody knows about it. We don’t ever report to the public what we’re doing because these get tangled up into personnel issues as well and they’re not our employees. So we just don’t, as a matter of course, publicize all this stuff.

“In the case of Regis a couple years ago, suddenly their coach was not coaching on the sideline of a football game. People started asking questions. I don’t know how much they told the public, but basically they said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, you’re not seeing him because we have an issue with CHSAA and we’re solving that. That’s part of his penalty.’ So that’s what typically brings that to light and how the public typically knows.”

Mullen turned this process on its head by making charges against the coaching staff it had just fired and leaking them to the Post at the outset. According to multiple sources present at Mullen’s final faculty meeting of the school year on Friday, June 1 — the day the Post’s breathless “spinning out of control” story was posted — Gmelich announced the report would be submitted to the media and instructed faculty members on what to say if they were asked about it.

One teacher raised her hand and asked whether this was something that really needed to be submitted to the media. Mullen gets so much bad press, she said, do we really need to be bringing more attention to ourselves?

Gmelich replied solemnly that the school had a duty to be accountable to the public.

Many teachers were perplexed. They had first heard of this back in January, when Mullen administrators first leaked allegations of recruiting violations against the coaching staff they had fired just a week before. They assumed it would go through the normal, confidential CHSAA process. Why was it coming back up, and in such a public way?

“All of us feel like we’re throwing ourselves under the bus by doing this,” said one faculty member. “That seemed to be the general feeling. Like, ‘Do you really need to drag us through the mud again?'”

“When this broke in January, it was tough on all of us,” said another. “Dave had done a great job here for a long time, and not just winning championships. He impacted those kids and others. But changing coaches happens and while it was tough for a while, everybody had pretty much moved on.

“We couldn’t understand why (it came back up). Hadn’t we answered enough questions? Folks were upset because they couldn’t understand what positive for our school would come out of it.”

Mullen’s public relations campaign also put CHSAA in a bind. The organization couldn’t very well publicly rebuke the school for going public without getting into a pot-kettle problem.

On the other hand, Mullen’s public campaign and CHSAA’s reticence put Logan in a tough position. The Post’s hyperbolic allegations were all over the place and even if Logan knew the allegations were baseless, he was powerless to stop the smear campaign other than to call it that, which he did when local television stations sent reporters to KOA headquarters to get his reaction.

When I mentioned this imbalance to Angelico — that Mullen had made its charges publicly, but CHSAA would make its findings privately — he said he had no problem stating for the record that CHSAA is not investigating Logan for anything. He gave me the statement at the top of this report, and added:

“Dave Logan is not being investigated by this office and/or Cherry Creek High School, and at this point I have no concerns about Dave or what’s going on over there.”

Mullen and its administrators are a different story. Angelico declines to discuss his communications with the school’s administrators, but, as Doug Ottewill first reported in Mile High Sports, Mullen still hasn’t made a report to CHSAA in the form it requires. The report it leaked, prepared by its own lawyers, alleges issues in the areas of player recruitment, misrepresentations about tuition obligations and unauthorized fundraising, but nowhere does it mention specific people or specific bylaws violated. Without such specifics, CHSAA has nothing to act on.

Indeed, sources in Denver’s high school sports community say CHSAA was livid over Mullen’s attempt to use it as a prop in a public relations campaign against its former staff and warned the school privately that it was Mullen’s competitive status that was in question, not that of Logan or his staff, until the school agreed to comply with CHSAA procedures, including the restoration of confidentiality and specificity to its self-reporting.

Angelico declined to comment on those reports, but he did make it clear the ball is currently in Mullen’s court, not CHSAA’s.

“I guess what I’d like to say is I want to see the whole situation be addressed quickly and as normally as possible in terms of, it should be handled the same as all of these kinds of cases. This should not be treated any differently than the hundreds of other ones that we deal with every year.

“I understand that Dave is a high-profile guy and there will be a whole lot more interest in it, but this office is going to have to take the same approach, that it’s between us and the school and it’s up to the school to inform their public after it’s all said and done, after everything is worked out, what they’re planning on doing. It’s really in the school’s court.”

The interview 

Dave Logan was dismissed after nine seasons as Mullen’s head football coach on Jan. 11. The news was greeted with anger and confusion among many Mullen students, parents and alumni. As Mullen was winning three consecutive state championships from 2008-10, Logan was winning thousands of loyalists, many of whom were stunned by the announcement that he was out.

As talk of a student walkout circulated, Clement began giving interviews in an attempt to put out the fire. One was on 850 KOA’s Colorado Morning News on Jan. 12, the day after the announcement. What follows is a transcript of that interview. Only extraneous conversation has been deleted. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.

April Zesbaugh: We’ve heard the words “released,” “dismissed,” “parted ways.” Was this a firing?

Ryan Clement: After lengthy discussions, both coach Logan and the administration here felt it was in both of our best interests that he not return next season. 

Steffan Tubbs: And why is that?

Clement: Coach has a great number of demands on his time outside of Mullen football, including his obligations to the Broncos and various media outlets as well as other entrepreneurial ventures. At the same time, we felt we needed a football coach who was a full-time member of the faculty and the school environment. And so, after discussion, we both felt it was in everyone’s interest that we try to accomplish those goals.

Tubbs: You mentioned the tenure — nine years. Dave’s schedule, at least in my opinion, has not changed that much. He’s been on Channel 9, he has a show here on KOA. So it seems like it’s not just the fact that he hasn’t been able to commit 100 percent to Mullen.

Clement: In our analysis, since we got here, and, you know, schools and other businesses go through an analysis of everything that you do on a daily basis, trying to get better in every aspect, organizationally and otherwise. Part of the issue, certainly, when we looked at the very visible and high-profile position of our head football coach, was obviously the demands on coach Logan’s time, but what would be in the best interests in the school, to have a full-time person in that position. And that was the analysis that we addressed. And these were conversations and analysis that took place over the course of many, many months. It was not a decision that was arrived at lightly.

Zesbaugh: You’ve got your winningest coach ever that you’ve let go from your program. Certainly it’s going to have tongues wagging this morning. Can you put the kibosh on any rumors that there was an ethical violation going on?

Clement: Absolutely not. One hundred percent, not even close. Coach Logan is certainly a man of great integrity and we have the utmost respect for him and for the success that he brought to the school will always be a legacy that will be part of Mullen.

Tubbs: When it comes to high school football, especially over the last decade, arguably there’s no better program than Mullen High School football. What do you say to those parents that are driving into school, maybe some of them taking their kids to school this morning, they’re paying the high tuition, they are supporters, maybe they contribute financially to the program, what do you say to those parents? And then obviously the followup would be, what do you say to the kids who, in about seven minutes, some of them say they’re going to plan a walkout.

Clement: I say that from both perspectives I completely understand. I was a football player here at Mullen myself. My head coach was let go my senior year. But I came here to go to Mullen High School because it was a values-based education that I knew that I was going to get from the Christian brothers, and I certainly did. And I owe my coach a lot from the time I was here. And then as I moved on to the University of Miami, I was recruited by Dennis Erickson and he moved on to the Seattle Seahawks and Butch Davis came in. Coaching changes happen and they are unfortunate and I totally understand where they’re coming from because I understand the feeling completely, 100 percent. It’s painful in my role and the roles of administrators and people who have to take into consideration not just the football program but the entirety of the school community. It’s unfortunate, obviously, when these things happen, but that’s what I would say to them.

Zesbaugh: What does the firing mean to the program, and, bigger than that, mean to the school as far as donations and as far as parents wanting their kids to go there and pay the tuition?

Clement: Without question, all those things were taken into our analysis before we had the initial discussions with coach about these issues. So we feel like we’re in a good position moving forward. We’re excited about the future of Mullen football. This is a wonderful job and the next person who comes here will be a full-time staff member and we’re just really thrilled and excited to be taking our next steps to find that person.

Tubbs: Just wrapping this whole thing up, I can only imagine that there are at least a few people out there going, “It still doesn’t make sense. What? He was there for so long.” The bottom line is Dave’s schedule and not being able to give 100 percent commitment to Mullen and that is it, there’s nothing else?

Clement: Someone wrote very recently that culture’s not something, it is the thing. And having the position, especially at Mullen High School, the head football coach, it’s paramount, it’s imperative, that that person be here on a full-time basis.

Zesbaugh: You mentioned values and culture a couple of times. Dave Logan’s values and culture were in line with the school’s, right?

Clement: Yes.

Logan’s response was to say he was disappointed but respected the right of any school to change coaches. Football coaches, he observed on the radio, get fired all the time. Schools don’t need a reason. He urged unhappy Mullen students, players, parents and alumni to calm down. He repeatedly said Mullen would be fine, and so would he.

“They don’t have a reason,” senior wide receiver Guy Johnson told the Post. “I read their statement, and they didn’t give a good reason.”

Five days after the announcement, a petition demanding the ouster of Clement and Gmelich had attracted 550 signatures. The new Mullen administrators had a full-fledged public relations disaster on their hands.

It was at that point, at a meeting with angry parents one week after the announcement, that Clement first darkly suggested recruiting violations by Logan and his staff. He offered no specifics but the Post ran the uncorroborated story under that front page banner headline: “Football violations at Mullen.”

This new narrative — that administrators were riding to the rescue following the ouster of a rogue coach — had some trouble getting off the ground. All Mullen offered at first was the suggestion that two eighth-graders had stood on the sideline during a game and there might be unspecified other violations. If you’ve ever attended a high school football game, you’re probably aware that sideline security is not exactly up to NFL standards. CHSAA did nothing, awaiting more specifics from Mullen. It is still waiting.

The former president

Robert A. Regan is president of the Urban College of Boston. He was the president and CEO of Mullen High School immediately preceding Ryan Clement. He has also worked for Northeastern University, the Boston Public Schools and the New England College of Finance.

When Regan heard about the allegations against Dave Logan’s football program by his successors at Mullen, he wrote an open letter. That letter is reproduced in its entirety in a separate blog post immediately below this report. The portion of the letter pertaining to Logan is reproduced here:

“From the outset, I was extremely impressed with Dave Logan and the school’s football program. Aside from the several state championships under Dave’s leadership, I was proud of the way Dave managed the program. From my perspective his team was disciplined, totally prepared, totally buttoned up at all times, supportive of each other, and behaved in a manner that brought pride and positive recognition to the school. In fact, I remember receiving an unsolicited letter from a team photographer saying that she had worked with many schools and colleges in Colorado, and the Mullen football team was the most gracious and respectful group of young athletes she had ever dealt with. This was clearly a tribute to the values instilled by Dave and his coaches. As an educator, it was also my distinct feeling that Dave Logan and his coaches took a holistic approach to their coaching responsibilities and focused thoughtfully on youth development, team work, school pride and classroom performance – and not just winning games. I also felt that Dave’s prestige in the Denver community was a powerful asset for the school. Dave himself was generous in offering his personal support and urged me to take greater advantage of the opportunity to engage him in promoting the school to the larger Denver community. And so I did. Dave joined me on two occasions to meet with the President of the Mullen Foundation and helped us secure the largest gift during my presidency – a pledge of $175,000.

“Dave and I did not agree on all matters and on a few occasions had difficult conversations regarding school policy and disciplinary actions. But I never for a moment doubted his commitment to the school and its Lasallian values, or his respect for my leadership. He spoke his peace privately and articulately, and then moved on as a responsible member of the Mullen community. It saddens me to learn of the current accusations against the Mullen football program under Dave’s leadership. As President, I was not aware of any ethical breaches and truly believe that Dave is a person of great integrity, and a tremendous asset to any school. I know the families and players would agree with me.”

The newspaper

According to the Denver Post web site, the story headlined “Mullen reports possible violations during tenure of coach Dave Logan” was posted at 1:57 p.m. on June 1. The voicemail on Logan’s cell phone requesting his side of the story arrived at 2:23. An email containing a similar request arrived at 2:34.

Keep that in mind as we deconstruct the story of a struggling private school and a struggling newspaper co-operating to direct and publicize a series of unsubstantiated allegations at Logan over the past five months. The most basic tenet of fair-minded reporting is to get both sides of the story. In this case, the Post did not do so until after publishing its initial, one-sided account. It did lift quotes from a Logan television interview and inserted them into its story subsequently.

Rather than get both sides of the story, weigh the credibility of each and then synthesize them into a balanced report, the paper accepted uncritically a report furnished by the top administrators at Mullen High School attacking their own football program. By the next morning, the headline read: “Report: Mullen football program was out of control under Dave Logan.”

In order to increase the impact of its scoop, the Post melodramatically overstated the significance of vague, unsubstantiated allegations with the phrase “spinning out of control,” conjuring images of outlaw college football programs.

“I would like to get your response to our report on Mullen High School alerting CHSAA to potential rule violation [sic] in the football program,” reporter Eric Gorski wrote in the email that arrived more than half an hour after the story was posted. As if to document the post facto nature of his inquiry, Gorski kindly included a link to the already-published hit piece.

“Isn’t it standard procedure to ask for a response to a particular story before you post it?” Logan asked by return email at 3:48. “Your e-mail and phone call were 30+mins. after you posted your story.”

“In an ideal situation we are able to make all the phone calls before publishing,” Gorski replied at 4:56. “But it is not unusual for us to post a competitive story and then update it as we get responses. Had you been called out by name in the report, we would have sought your input before publishing.”

So there we have the Post’s rationale for failing to perform the most basic task in reporting: This was not really about Logan. The report prepared by Mullen’s lawyers darkly suggested misbehavior by unnamed assistant coaches, but never by Logan himself.

Of course, the report Gorski authored was all about Logan. It was Logan’s name in the headline, Logan’s program allegedly “spinning out of control.” By the next day, it was Logan’s photograph accompanying the front-page story in the print edition. And yet, Gorski’s thin rationalization for failing to seek his side of the story prior to publication was that the leaked report from Mullen didn’t name him. In fact, it didn’t appear to name anybody.

There is no indication anywhere that this was a “competitive” story. To the contrary, there are plenty of indications of a co-operative arrangement between Mullen and the Post. At Mullen’s final faculty meeting of the year, Gmelich not only told his staff he was releasing the report to the media. He also countered suggestions that he was damaging the school’s public image by telling teachers that if they’d noticed a reporter or photographer at the school recently, they were there preparing a “positive” piece for the Post on all the good things Mullen was up to. It would be appearing soon, he said.

It is no secret that the Post, like Mullen, is struggling financially. It has reduced its staff substantially over the past year with a series of buyouts and layoffs. It recently made national news by announcing plans to drop two-thirds of its copy editors. As advertising revenues from the print product decline, the Post, like many other metropolitan newspapers, is trying to make the transition to the digital age. The emphasis now is to get stories up on the web as quickly as possible. They can be revised and updated later.

Still, it is fair to ask whether the immediacy of the digital revolution justifies posting one-sided, sensationalized stories in the name of attracting the eyeballs that might one day generate enough digital advertising revenue to support a local news-gathering operation. Is it enough to tell Logan that the Post has the right to muddy his reputation in the name of its own survival?

There has been a striking difference between the credulous tone of Gorski’s sensational front-page reports and those of veteran Post prep sports writer Neil Devlin back in the sports section. Four days after Mullen fired Logan, Devlin wrote that the deed left “a nasty odor”:

“While Clement denies our report that he and others from the school were going to be required to be part of Logan’s staff, others inside or close to the school can only laugh. Multiple sources close to the program told us the same thing, that Mullen wanted full-time faculty members on Logan’s staff,” Devlin wrote.

“This is what it has come to — rolling the dice about who’s telling the truth or running their mouths.

“So much for the educational experience.”

Gorski’s big June 1 scoop had a decidedly different tone:

“The storied football program at Denver’s Mullen High School was spinning out of control under then-coach Dave Logan, with lax oversight by an administration that has since taken corrective steps, according to a review commissioned by the school.

“The Catholic college-preparatory school on Friday alerted the Colorado High School Activities Association of several possible rules violations that took place on Logan’s watch, said sources familiar with a Mullen briefing to staff and others.

“Among the potentially problematic issues: improper player recruitment, misrepresentations about tuition obligations and unauthorized fundraising.

“The potential transgressions involve assistant coaches during Logan’s nine-year tenure at Mullen, which included a run of four state championships and ended with his firing in January.

“Logan was not mentioned in the briefing as being directly connected to the possible violations, the sources said.”

Most newspapers, including the Post, have strict rules about quoting anonymous sources. Generally, they must provide information that can be acquired no other way and they must have a legitimate reason for requesting anonymity. For example, teachers at Mullen’s final faculty meeting who reported what went on there requested anonymity because they feared retribution. At the Post, the use of anonymous sources is supposed to be authorized by the editor or managing editor.

In this case, giving Mullen’s administrators the cover of anonymity smacks of an unholy alliance, especially after Gmelich announced to a roomful of people he was releasing the report to the media. By attributing its copy to anonymous sources and labeling its report a “Denver Post investigation,” the Post created the illusion of investigative reporting. In fact, there was no sign of any independent investigation. The paper simply became the vehicle for a public relations campaign by Mullen’s administrators.

However, if eyeballs were the objective, the Post succeeded. Gorski’s June 1 piece was the most-viewed story on denverpost.com that day, according to the rankings listed at the bottom of the electronic version. The print story made a big, above-the-fold, front-page splash the following morning.

To date, none of the allegations in Gorski’s January or June reports have been substantiated.

The coach 

Ryan Clement and Jim Gmelich took over as president and principal, respectively, between the 2010 and 2011 football seasons. Looking back, Dave Logan sees a host of clues that they wanted to make a change in the football program. At the time, he viewed these clues as problems to be solved.

“It’s pretty simple to me,” Logan said. “As I’ve had now several months to reflect on this, I just think they made a decision to go in a different direction. And I’ve maintained right from the start they have every right to make that decision. You have a new president and you have a new principal, and I think they came to the conclusion that maybe football had become too big and possibly was one of the reasons that enrollment had declined.

“Now, I don’t feel that way, but I’ve got no way to prove it. Ryan brought that up to me back last June. In a meeting in his office, he said, ‘I’ve got a rock-star coach and my enrollment’s gone down 241 kids the last three years.’

“That really took me by surprise. It was my first indication there was a problem. So much so that I asked Ryan to lunch the very next day for some sort of clarification. I asked him if he supported me and the staff. He said yes, but the school was struggling financially and everything had to be looked at.

“I knew things were tough everywhere. Our economy has challenged everybody, public schools and private schools. I didn’t have all the answers, but I wanted to play a part in the solution. I told Ryan that I would help him anyway I could.”

Still, a series of incidents last season made Logan increasingly uncertain about the status of his program under the new administration. Among them:

* “My first meeting with the principal was in his office several days before school started. It was a very brief meeting, probably no more than five minutes. I came off the practice field, walked in, took my hat off, shook hands, said ‘Hello, welcome to Mullen.’ We talked briefly. He asked how my experience had been there the last two or three years. I said it had been good.

“And then he briefly got into where he’d come from — Brophy Prep down in Phoenix, he was principal at Regis for three years. What struck me afterwards was the last couple things he said. He said he had walked out on the practice field (at Regis) and watched a practice that Mike Woolford was conducting and he knew after watching that practice that Mike Woolford was not going to be the head coach at Regis. And then he looked at me and said, ‘But what principal in his right mind fires the football coach in his first year?’

“I did find that a bit of an odd comment given it was our very first interaction. My response was, ‘No, I don’t think that would be a smart thing to do.’ But I remember leaving thinking, I don’t think this guy thinks much of me. I shared that conversation with Ryan and Ryan downplayed it. He said that was just kind of Jim’s personality and just to basically move on.”

* “We were having a staff meeting during the second week of the season. The entire staff was present. An administrator came in and said because our game was on ESPN, none of the coaches or their families could park in their usual spots behind our stadium. I was aware of that being the case, but then he said that would be the rule for the rest of the season.

“I said, ‘Are you saying that we and our families can’t park back here the whole season?’ He said that was correct. I asked why. He said that was what Ryan had told him. I remember saying, ‘You mean my mom can’t park behind the stadium the whole year?’ And I got a one-word answer from the assistant athletic director: ‘Nope.’

* “A couple of weeks into the season, an administrator came into the football office and told the players that were having lunch that they were no longer allowed to eat lunch in the football office. It had been a good opportunity to watch some film and just generally interact with the players. When I asked why, he shrugged and said, ‘Jim.’

“Jim was the principal, and if that’s what he wanted, fine, but the lack of any sort of communication concerned me.”

* “I was notified about midway through the season that for the upcoming off-season, the 2012 summer workout program, that because they were instituting summer school, which they had not done at anytime during the previous eight years, and which I think is really a good idea, but that I wouldn’t be able to have contact with players until noon. And then later, noon went to 1 o’clock and then 1 o’clock went to 2 o’clock.

“Normally, we work three or four days a week from about 7:30 until about noon. When I asked when could we work with our players in the summer, I was told, ‘Well, you could bring them in at 5:45 (a.m.) until 7:30.’ Which didn’t make a lot of sense given the fact that kids in the summer live a long way from school, how they get there, transportation from their parents, it just didn’t make much sense.”

Since Logan’s departure, that rule has been rescinded and the Mullen program under new coach Tom Thenell is conducting its normal summer workouts.

* “When we got there, there were no pictures on the wall of the Spirit Center, which is not a football-only facility. There’s classrooms on the second level, there’s a weight room on the second level, the football offices are there. We put pictures of former players, not players that we’ve coached only, but former players at Mullen who’d gone on to college. We put pictures of two old-time Mullen football teams back in the ’30s because we just thought it was a nice way to recognize some of the accomplishments.

“They were going to hold an open house on a Sunday where they invite potential families to go through the school, and we meet Sundays as a staff. So I got an email from Jim Gmelich that said none of the coaches could be in the hall of the Spirit Center, that we could hold our meetings but we were to be behind closed doors.

“I questioned him on the email. I just said, ‘I want to make sure I’m clear. Do you not want us to meet?’ He said, ‘No, you can meet, but I would like you to stay in your offices with your door closed.’ Again, he was the principal, but it seemed a strange request.

“And then I overheard another administrator talking to the student hosts about how to address certain questions. And she said, ‘If anybody asks why are there only football pictures up on this wall, you’re to say this is not a football school and this will change shortly. There will be other sports up there.’

“I went in and talked to her and offered to take all the pictures down if necessary. She said that wouldn’t be necessary. And I asked why she felt it necessary to instruct Mullen students as to how to answer a question that I didn’t think would ever be raised by a potential family and she said, ‘No, you’d be surprised, we get that question all the time.'”

The sum of these incidents was to give Logan an uneasy feeling about his status at the school and that of the football program.

“I felt like there was definitely something wrong,” he said. “It didn’t feel right to me, but I couldn’t figure out what had happened. The staff was really unsettled. My message to them was, ‘Everything is going to be fine. Relax and keep working. Everything will be fine.’ But privately, I was worried.

“I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but I certainly did not think that I was Jim Gmelich’s guy. I had two conversations with him the entire year until my exit interview, which is highly unusual. Every other place that I’ve worked with principals, I’ve talked to them on a fairly regular basis. I didn’t know what, but my sense was something was wrong.”

The thought occurred to Logan that the new administrators were trying to make things uncomfortable enough that he would resign, relieving Clement and Gmelich of the burden of firing a local icon.

“I had that conversation with Ryan,” Logan said. “I’ve coached 19 years. I have a lot of friends that are high school coaches. And I told Ryan that I had heard from a pretty good source that before the season started, Jim had said that this would be my last year at Mullen.

“Ryan downplayed that. His answer was, ‘Dave, we need to have a succession plan. If you leave, we need to have a succession plan. If I leave, there needs to be a succession plan in place.’ And my response to that was, ‘I understand succession plans. This doesn’t appear to be in that particular realm. This is a guy that before he even met me is saying, ‘This is going to be his last year at Mullen.'”

So, did Logan consider doing what the new Mullen administrators appeared to want him to do? Did he consider resigning?

“Any coach that’s ever had to stand up in front of kids, his kids, and tell them that he’s leaving and it’s basically his idea, that’s a really tough thing to do. And up until the last meeting, I held out hope, honestly, that things were going to work out, that I could somehow, some way, make things work out. I really did. But it just didn’t turn out that way.”

What was his reaction a week after his firing when Mullen’s narrative changed from wanting a coach in the building full-time to alleged recruiting violations?

“Shocked,” Logan said. “Ryan had mentioned in our final meeting that was I aware of a couple of eighth graders on the sideline, which, listen, anybody who’s ever coached during a game . . . . I’m specific with my intention. I would tell the head track coach to make sure if there’s any kids on the sideline before the game, make sure they get in the stands.

“But once the game starts, you’ve got a headset on, you couldn’t tell. I don’t even know really, specifically, what incident he’s even talking about. While he did mention it to me in the final conversation, I was shocked that they went there. I was shocked that that became the narrative from the school or those who represent the school. Really disappointed.”

Logan has struggled over the past five months to figure out why Mullen’s administrators chose this tack, why they tried to tarnish his reputation.

“The only thing I could think of was the reaction of the community,” he said. “When the kids walked out and went through all that — you know, kids will walk out over a lot. I sent a mass email out and said please, let’s get back to work. When I met with the team that day, I told them, ‘I want you guys to stay here and finish what you’ve started.’ And then I sent the email out after the community’s response and said, ‘Let’s just move on and let everybody take a deep breath and heal. I appreciate it, but this is not really what I’m trying to accomplish.'”

Logan still believes Mullen’s administrators were entirely within their rights to fire him and didn’t need a reason. Football coaches, he has often said, get fired all the time, for a variety of reasons. Often, it’s just because new leadership wants to bring in its own guy.

“I’ve always felt they had the right to make changes as they see fit in the best interests of the school,” he said.

Afterword

One of the frustrations of a one-newspaper town is the absence of alternative narrative voices. When that single voice gets a story wrong, or becomes a vehicle for just one side of a story, it becomes necessary to find other media through which to tell the untold story.

That’s what I believe has happened in the case of Dave Logan’s firing at Mullen, and why I undertook this alternate narrative. It is certainly true that I am Logan’s friend and that, since January, I have been his on-air partner on KOA’s afternoon drive talk show. It’s also true that I was a newspaper reporter and columnist in this town for thirty years. So while it’s fair to call me biased in his favor — Logan is one of the most honorable people I know — it’s also fair for somebody to provide a rebuttal to the sensational, unsubstantiated narrative put forward by two administrators at Mullen High School with the aid of the Denver Post.

Many of the voices in this piece have not been heard from on this story before. I believe they paint a pretty clear picture. Ryan Clement and Jim Gmelich wanted to make a change in the Mullen football program. You can draw your own conclusions as to their motives. In the end, they don’t really matter. As Logan has often noted, the administrators of any school can replace the coach of any athletic program anytime they like. They don’t need a reason beyond the old staple, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

Obviously, Logan’s unparalleled record of success at Mullen made changing horses a tough sell for Clement and Gmelich. As Clement’s interview with KOA the morning after the firing demonstrates, their first narrative was all about wanting coaches to be full-time faculty members. That didn’t go over well, in part because very few of Mullen’s other athletic coaches met that requirement.

So they needed another narrative and they launched one a week after the fact. It was an ugly one, an attempt to impugn the integrity of a well-known local personality whose ethics Clement himself had said were beyond reproach just a week earlier. For its own reasons, the only daily newspaper in town chose to become a vehicle for this narrative and made very little attempt to acknowledge or explore the obvious ulterior motive that might be at work.

In the end, all that matters is whether Mullen’s charges hold water. To date, five months after that first accusation — “Football violations at Mullen” — they remain unsubstantiated. Indeed, they remain unspecified to the extent that CHSAA is not even capable of investigating them.

It’s always good advice to keep your eye on the ball: CHSAA has not sanctioned Dave Logan. CHSAA is not investigating Dave Logan. Until that changes, Mullen’s vague charges should be seen for what they are — a classic case of embarrassed administrators trying to cover their behinds. They are a poor reflection on the integrity and judgment of those who have tried to tarnish Logan’s reputation.

“It’s ironic that Dave cared so much about Mullen that he worked for virtually nothing, asked me and others to spend time with them, and this is the treatment he gets in return,” business executive Charles L. Griffith told me. “The entire situation is sad and unfortunate.”

-30-

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

2 responses to “Collateral Damage: Why Mullen administrators tried to discredit Dave Logan

  • Debbie Brockett

    Finally, some answers. Thanks! Dave is a friend of mine, too, and I’m so glad you wrote such a thoughtful, detailed, and illuminating rebuttal for him.

  • Russ

    Thank you Dave for writing this detailed account of the Mullen/Dave Logan departure; Mullen is the obvious loser. Thanks also for your success as a sports writer with the Rocky and Post as well as your time with KOA. You are missed greatly from these venues.

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