Three weeks ago Marion County (Jasper, Tenn.) High was the home of a football team that seemed headed toward big things. Now, with the state quarterfinals just two days away, the Warriors are mired in multiple scandals following the departure of four coaches, leaving who will lead the team on Friday in question.
As reported in great detail by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Associated Press, Marion County head football coach Mac McCurry resigned on Wednesday as scandals swirled around his program. On Tuesday, Marion County assistant football coach Joe Dan Gudger also resigned and was charged with vandalism. He joins arrested former coach Michael Schmitt, fellow assistant coach Tim Starkey, who was dismissed on Tuesday, and McCurry as coaches to depart following an incident in which Schmitt and Gudger allegedly spray painted the colors of school rival South Pittsburg on the Marion County field house.
That spray painting stunt was intended to "fire up" the Marion County players ahead of the annual rivalry game. Instead, it led to a comprehensive investigation that eventually tabbed Schmitt on charges of vandalism. By Wednesday, further investigations into the Marion County program had uncovered alleged playbook theft from opposing teams and the use of a former college player in the team’s practices.
According to the Times Free Press, the combination of violations brought to light has led some at the Tennessee Secondary School Activities Association to question whether Marion County should be allowed to have a football program at all.
The violations involving a college player focused on former South Pittsburg all-state running back Raquis Hale, who was allegedly paid to compete at Marion County practices in an effort to help the Warriors gear up for South Pittsburg’s speed. A Marion County assistant also allegedly broke into the South Pittsburg field house and stole the Pirates’ offensive play charts.
"Aside from being a very dangerous liability issue for the players at Marion, it definitely is a violation of TSSAA rules," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress told the Times Free Press. "We will set the appropriate penalty for those violations at the proper time. That will come after the criminal investigation is closed."
The new violations were first discovered in analysis of text messages sent between Schmitt, Gudger and Starkey. In these text conversations, all three assistants refer to McCurry as the man who planned both the payment of Hale and the spray painting incident itself.
While most of the allegations against the program focus on plans surrounding the Pittsburg game, the Marion County staff also allegedly stole play sheets from Sequatchie County High before the district game between those schools. Marion County rallied for an emphatic 52-28 victory in that game.
Sequatchie County Principal Tommy Layne is leading a chorus questioning whether the four men who have now resigned from Marion County should be allowed anywhere near school sports or students ever again.
"If you have no better morals than this, you don't need to be around kids in any way," Layne, who is a member of the TSSAA Board of Control, told the Times Free Press. "I'm just in shock at all of this. I've never, in all my years as an educator and coach, heard of anything as bad as this. It just makes you sick. You feel bad for the kids at Marion for having men like this as their role models."
While it remains uncertain what will happen to the Marion County program or the coaches who drove it off course, all have expressed sympathy for the players who have been dragged into their rampant unethical conduct. Meanwhile, the team itself is still waiting to learn who will be coaching on its sideline come Friday.
"It's all very unfortunate for the community, school and, more especially, for the football players that this has come out again about another coach," Childress told the Times Free Press. "All the remaining coaches on their staff will have to be evaluated once the police conclude their investigation."