California principal fires coach for banning players for insubordination … then hires a 72-year-old replacement

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

All Guillermo Salazar wanted to do was improve his chance at a college scholarship. The high school senior, who stars in baseball, football and basketball at Sacramento (Calif.) Rio Americano High, was forced to choose between playing a Friday night football game against Cordova (Calif.) High and taking part in a major baseball showcase in Arizona, where plenty of college coaches would have a chance to see the infielder-pitcher perform.

Rio Americano players stretch before a recent practice — Sacramento Bee
Rio Americano players stretch before a recent practice — Sacramento Bee

Salazar chose the baseball showcase because he felt it had a better chance of bringing a brighter future. Then all living you know what broke loose, leading to a unique showdown where a long-time coach lost his job and was replaced by a 72-year-old who was literally on a golf course when he was asked to return to football.

As soon as Salazar had decided to head to Arizona, longtime Rio Americano football coach Christian Mahaffey told the senior that he could no longer be a part of the team. The coach's logic behind the decision was simple: If Salazar wasn't as committed to his teammates as he was to his baseball future, then he shouldn't be playing football.

Still, Salazar didn't agree with the decision, and many of his teammates didn't, either. After word spread about Salazar's ousting from the program spread, 11 of his teammates walked out of practice in support of their former teammate.

As a result, those players were kicked off the team by Mahaffey, too. The 11 players never intended to sign their own football pink slips, but after kicking off Salazar for lack of commitment to the football program, Mahaffey had essentially painted himself into a corner.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the 11 banned players and Salazar then worked together to fight against their banishment from a program they had long been major parts of; among the 11 players banned was senior quarterback Mark Lyon and a handful of other starters. Eventually, they earned an audience with Rio Americano principal Brian Ginter, who almost instantly changed the entire tenor of the situation.

That's because Ginter found himself agreeing with the players, and decided that they were right to seek a place on the team. Ginter set up a meeting with Mahaffey, where he told the coach that he had to reinstate the 11 players who had walked out on the team after they all served a one-game suspension for "insubordination." Mahaffey refused, and then was dismissed by Ginter. His two assistant coaches followed him out the door shortly thereafter.

For a coach who had spent the prior 17 seasons with the Rio Americano program, the past four as head coach, that was a stunning turn of events.

"He felt he couldn't be able to coach effectively if that happened and that he would not do that," Ginter told the Bee. "So at that particular time, I had to let him go."

To give Mahaffey plenty of credit, the coach handled his stunning dismissal with what the requisite class and gravitas it deserves, telling the Bee that while he didn't agree with Ginter's decision, he respected it nonetheless.

"That's what a principal does," Mahaffey said of his firing. "There is no animosity. Sometimes, coaches get fired."

The man who Ginter hired to replace Mahaffey, 72-year-old Max Miller, has a long pedigree at the California school. He was the head coach of the Rio Americano football program from 1974-1980 and was also previously the school's athletic director. And while he is "well seasoned,"to couch his experience in a more positive light, that age is also part of what pulled him back to Rio Americano; his grandson is a member of the current squad.

"The whole situation, I was disappointed in the way it ended, the way it got out to the media," Salazar told CBS Sacramento. "This situation, the way it was going to turn out, some side was going to be unhappy, and the other side was going to be happy."

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