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Steigerwald: Zmijanac Deserved Better From Gutless Aliquippa School Board



Maybe the Aliquippa school board should have fired a boatload of teachers instead of the football coach.

The 9-person board voted Wednesday night  7-2 to vacate the job of head football coach, which means Mike Zmijanac, who’s had the job for 21 years and is 201 games over 500, with 10 straight appearances in the WPIAL Championship game, is out.

No coach in PIAA history, who has won more than 200 games, has a higher winning percentage.

So, it would appear that Zmijanac is fulfilling one of the major requirements. He wins almost 90% of the time.

Only one of the seven board members, who voted to fire Zmijanac, had the guts to give a reason. Remember, they are elected officials and are supposed to answer to the taxpayers.

You get what you vote for.

Board member Ezra Lowe should have  said, “No comment” instead of this: “What about the kids that are on the corner now from the football team? You use them for your glory, for your self-edification. What about their future? When do they get rewarded?”

We’ll ignore the idiotic use of the word edification and just ask the question – why didn’t the board vacate the jobs of the Aliquippa teachers?

They teach at the 10th worst high school in Pennsylvania.

I know nothing about Zmijanac’s ability as an English teacher but I do know that only 30 percent of Aliquippa students are proficient in reading.

And maybe Ezra and the board should think about vacating some of the math teacher positions. Only 16 percent of Aliquippa students are proficient in math.

According to my math, that means only 185 of the 1156 students are capable of doing high school math.

I’ve never met Mike Zmijanac and the only thing I know about him as a football coach is his won-loss record. But anybody who has paid attention to high school sports for any length of time knows of many cases of coaches losing their jobs because somebody on a school board has an agenda.

And that agenda usually involves a son or daughter who’s not getting the amount of playing time or playing the position that pleases a board member.

Current and former Aliquippa students defended Zmijanac and said the board was making a mistake. Lowe wasn’t impressed.

“What the speakers said was OK, but they didn’t tell everything. He gets the credit for winning the games, but he doesn’t play a down. You see, it’s not about the record. It’s the way the kids get treated. We’re here for the kids.”

Talk about a moronic statement. The coach doesn’t play a down? Really?

How many downs did Vince Lombardi play?

One of Zmijanac’s former players, Matthew Mottes, told the crowd a different story. “I make the suggestion to you that my coach, Mike Zmijanac, who has taught me things that I can never thank him enough for … give the man his last year. I believe he’s entitled to it.”

Board member Aileen Gilbert, who seconded Lowe’s motion to vacate the position, is the mother of Sean Gilbert, who played at Pitt and in the NFL. There has been some speculation that Aileen would like to see Sean get the job.

Maybe that’s true.

Then, say so.

You want to hire a former NFL player, who’s an Aliquippa grad to be the head coach? Nothing wrong with that as long as you think he can win 90 per cent of his games and do a better job of keeping the players “off the corner.”

But doesn’t a guy who’s been there 54 years as a teacher and coach deserve an explanation when he’s fired?

When Zmijanac’s replacement is hired, will the gutless board members endorse him and clarify what improvements they anticipate as a result?

Will the new coach be judged on his winning percentage, how he treats the kids or how many of his former players are on the corner?

The people in Aliquippa take pride in their football team and they won’t care how nice the coach is to the kiddies if the team doesn’t show up for the WPIAL Championship every year.

If you’re a football coach who’d like to take a crack at improving on Zmijanac’s record and making the gutless, clueless members of the Aliquippa School Board happy, here’s another example of Ezra Lowe’s brilliance, as told to Ralph Iannotti of KDKA-TV.

“He had a marvelous record, but like I said, he didn’t do it on his own. He had about eight coaches behind him that did the work. I voted ‘cause it’s time. Listen, 21 years and one state championship. Come on now.”

Ezra – who’s “Here for the kids.” – and the other members of the Aliquippa School Board and the parents of the 1156 students would be a lot better off if they let one of the most successful high school football coaches of all time alone and started asking why there are only nine high schools in Pennsylvania doing a worse job of educating their kids.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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