Tarpon Springs fired Atif Austin as coach Wednesday for allowing a player who was not medically cleared to throw during practice, Austin said.
Spongers quarterback Louis Pappas showed concussion-like symptoms during last week's game against Dixie Hollins. Austin said he wanted Pappas to throw on the sideline this week during practice in case he was allowed to play Friday against Northeast. According to Austin, the trainer said Pappas was not cleared to participate in any drills. Then Austin and the trainer had a heated exchange before Tuesday's practice in front of players.
"I knew I was going to have to make some adjustments," Austin said. "In my mind Louis was not going to play this week, but I wanted him to be ready. All I was asking him to do was throw a football. There was no physical contact. But I probably went about it in a wrong way and I take full responsibility for that."
About the firing, principal Clint Herbic would only say a safety issue arose that could not be ignored, but refused to name the player.
Austin, a former Spongers player in his second year as coach, finished 7-8 at Tarpon, including a first-round playoff loss in 2010 and 3-1 mark so far this season. He will remain a dropout prevention teacher at the school.
"I'm still in shock," Austin said. "I'm still trying to get used to the fact that I'm no longer the coach at Tarpon Springs. There was a misunderstanding with the trainer. Ultimately it is my responsibility to know what is going on with my players. But to be cut loose completely from the program was kind of severe."
Ronnie Hawn, the defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was promoted to interim coach.
"I didn't see this coming at all. It feels like I lost a family member," Hawn said. "It was a very emotional time when I found out the news. Of course I want to be a head coach, but I never wanted it to come under these circumstances."
Austin, 32, was an assistant at Division I-AA Northern Iowa for five seasons before taking the job at Tarpon Springs, where he starred as a running back from 1995-97, then went on to play four years at Iowa State.
In two years as coach, Austin had a rocky relationship with the community. This summer, Austin wanted to introduce black pants and add black trim around the numbers on the maroon home jerseys. That hit a nerve with alumni, who created an online petition imploring Herbic not to change the school's colors, even though black is included in the band's uniforms, as well as those worn by the volleyball and basketball teams.
Herbic eventually e-mailed concerned parents and alumni, telling them black pants would not be a dominant part of the team's uniforms this season.
"I was probably not the most well-liked coach that's ever been here," Austin said. "I tried to do some different things and make some changes and that was a tough adjustment for a lot of people. But I thought we had this team moving in the right direction."
Pappas said he found out Austin was dismissed when he met with him this afternoon.
"I was completely surprised," Pappas said. "I'm the quarterback and I'm probably the player that has spent the most time with him. He is a great coach and we will definitely miss him."
Herbic met with players before practice to tell them the news. He also said Dondre Daley, a standout receiver who transferred from Anclote, will be sidelined a second week in a row while Tarpon Springs looks into eligibility issues regarding his residency. Herbic added that the Daley situation had nothing to do with Austin's dismissal, but said the school has to take extra precautions because it is on administrative probation with the Florida High School Athletic Association for all sports regarding ineligible players who competed in other sports last year.
"We filed the proper paperwork at the beginning of the season regarding his residency, but some new information has come up that we need to check out," Herbic said."I'm sure there are some detractors that will try to tie all this as to why (Austin) was let go. But this was never a character issue. He is a very good coach who worked under tough circumstances last year. He has a lot of supporters and a lot of kids who were devastated. He just made one bad mistake."