By Miguel A. Melendez
PASADENA – Nearly two months since Muir High School fired him, longtime track and field coach Michael Knowles was asked to re-apply for his job.
Knowles, who has coached the storied Mustangs program in some capacity or another for 28 years, including the last 10 as girls head coach and six as the boys head coach, said the entire situation has been mind-boggling.
In a meeting in late November, Muir High School vice principal Charles Park informed Knowles of his dismissal as track coach. The meeting was initially set up for an overview of the junior varsity football program which Knowles coached as a favor for varsity football coach Ken Howard.
“I’m very disappointed,” Knowles said. “They really haven’t given me a reason except for saying they want to go in a different direction. That’s what Park has been telling me the whole time but I don’t know what direction that is.”
Muir athletic director Milica Protic referred all questions concerning Knowles’ firing to Park, who was at a conference in Porterville and did not return repeated calls at his school office. He also did not return repeated messages left on his district-issued cell phone.
Muir principal Sheryl Orange did not return repeated messages and when a reporter arrived at her office Tuesday morning she cited a busy schedule and initially scheduled an interview with the Star-News for later today.
Orange called back three hours later and granted an interview but only after the Star-News went to the Pasadena Unified School District seeking comment.
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“One of the things we’re looking at this year is looking to re-evaluate our sports program,” Orange said. “I looked at ineligibility. We had some issues (with) track last year … when you have coaches that are also teachers you are committed beyond their capabilities of being an athlete. You get students before athletes; we’re really trying to change the mindset, and with that comes a new direction.
“That’s nothing against coach Knowles, and if he happens to be the best candidate than so be it.”
When asked how many track athletes were ineligible last year Orange would not elaborate.
“I want to look at kids who don’t end up going to college,” she said, “and mainly it’s due to their academic performances.”
“I don’t think that’s true on the track program,” Knowles said. “They haven’t done their homework to see how our athletes’ grades are. If you look at the four athletes being recruited this year they are not only being offered athletic scholarships, they’re all being offered academic scholarships.”
Last season there were three ineligible athletes on the boys team “out of 35 or 40 athletes,” according to Knowles. There were no athletes ineligible on the girls team, according to Knowles.
“I haven’t done anything wrong that warranted the firing,” Knowles said. “I can understand if they say you’re going down hill or something, but most scholarships come from track than any other sports probably combined over the last 10 years.”
Under his guidance, Knowles led Muir to nine CIF-Southern Section championships, three CIF State championships and one mythical national championship.
Knowles coached several Olympic gold medalists in his tenure and has sent numerous athletes to major Division I schools, most recently Jalissa Williams (Washington State) and Kiani Profi (Maryland).
In a letter sent to PUSD superintendent Edwin Diaz, Knowles stated over the last 10 years his teams have maintained a 2.9 GPA or better.
“We’re looking for qualified people who share our vision,” Orange said.
When asked if Knowles did not share that vision, Orange replied: “I’m not sure the overall mission is the same. But I don’t want to make that claim until we have seen the people that are out there. I have a right to look at people who are qualified and if it turns out (Knowles is) the best person for the job we’ll hire him back, and as a matter of fact (Knowles) was encouraged to apply. It’s about us really looking at how do we solidify a strong team.”
According to Knowles, the position was offered to a female teacher on campus but she turned it down.
“I’m not aware of that,” Orange said. “That’s Dr. Park’s area. that’s why I wanted to you to speak with Dr. Park.
“I can’t say it’s been offered to a teacher. I don’t know where that came from.”
In an e-mail obtained by the Star-News, Park asked Knowles last week to e-mail his resume to be included in the interview process.
“I don’t think I’m going to re-apply,” Knowles said. “To me it comes down to respect and that to me is saying, `We’re going to fire you and if we don’t find anybody that can replace you we’ll take you back.’ To me that’s the ultimate insult.”
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