School superintendent resigns after power struggle with high school football coach

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A battle is brewing in Provo, Utah, over a highly successful football coach and whether any restrictions can be placed upon him. After months of complaints and counter disputes surrounding the fundraising efforts of Provo (Utah) Timpview High football coach Louis Wong, longtime Provo superintendent Dr. Randall Merrill resigned on Tuesday, leading some to believe that he was departing to get away from the kerfuffle that has emerged over the issue.

The Timpview High football program — Facebook
The Timpview High football program — Facebook

It will be hard convincing Timpview supporters and detractors that the superintendent is leaving to pursue other opportunities, as he claims, particularly after all the prior debate that has surrounded the program. At the heart of the matter, Wong's supporters claim, is a sense that Timpview is being penalized for being too successful in a brazen attempt to institute limits on a school's growing football booster program.

Here's how everything unfolded in fairly accurate chronological order (as far as Prep Rally can tell):

First, Provo superintendent Merrill asked Utah state authorities to audit Timpview High's activities budget. The call for an audit followed the installation of a new field and what the Deseret News calls an "impressive new weight room facility," all of which was allegedly built using funds which the Timpview football program and its booster club raised on their own, with all funding initiatives having been researched by a community committee that had thoroughly combed through all fundraising guidelines for Utah and other western public schools.

With speculation about the school's activities budget running rampant, the Provo school district instituted a new set of fundraising guidelines for all schools, a move which was seen -- perhaps rightfully so -- as a direct critique of Wong's program.

In turn, that very perception of district criticism of Wong and Timpview in general led to a psuedo battle royale between Wong and Timpview supporters and the Provo school board itself, with tensions finally coming to a near-head at a school board meeting and a closed-door talk between Wong and Timpview principal Dr. Todd McKee in mid-December.

Timpview football coach Louis Wong — Facebook
Timpview football coach Louis Wong — Facebook

After that meeting between principal and coach, McKee declared that Timpview was committed to keeping the coach at the school. Put together that comment and Tuesday's departure of Merrill, and it appears that in essence, the Provo superintendent who was pushing the fundraising reforms may have blinked first.

"I'm not clear on what happened as far as things that happened that were out of my control," Wong told the Deseret News at the mid-December school board meeting. "I've always done what I've always done … I was left on my own. I feel we've done things the right way."

Merrill spoke to just how disruptive the fundraising uproar has been to the Provo district as a whole, and alluded to the fact that it played a role in his departure.

"When you heard people tonight speak, and they talk about a process that becomes disruptive, no leader would ever not recognize that anything that's disruptive for the school district is not good for us," Merrill said in a Tuesday board meeting. "And so I certainly recognized that this was becoming more and more divisive, I think I had to have this desire to do other things, and with that desire, and with opportunity that actually has come up this week. It made it really easy for me to chase those opportunities."

Whether Merrill's departure will alter the possible adjustments in proposed changes to fundraising for the four-time state champions remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Wong is still in place and the man who initially pushed to investigate the fundraising efforts of his program is not.

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