A huge game for the Miller football program took a turn for the bizarre Wednesday night, as Rebel head coach Jeff Strycula was removed from his position via a phone call as a response to an apparent hazing incident involving three of his players.
Those players – quarterback Eric Shufford, defensive end Sean Chaidez and linebacker Jamal Wilson – were held out of the first quarter of Miller’s 21-7 loss to Redlands East Valley Thursday night. Details of the incident have yet to be released, but the punishment that Strycula received for it was far more severe.
“I got a call at 10:35 Wednesday night from the principal (Heather Griggs) telling me I was fired,” Strycula said. “I’ve been an absolute wreck. I went to the hospital last night because I was vomiting, dry-heaving, had high blood pressure, wasn’t eating. This whole thing has just taken a toll on me and my family. I think it’s weird that the players involved were held out a quarter while I was removed from my job.”
Miller was in a win-or-go-home situation against REV, as a win would have given them a Citrus Belt League title while the loss eliminated them from playoff consideration. Assistant coach Mike Farnam, who has worked alongside Strycula both at Miller and at Fontana High School, was made the interim football coach Wednesday night and was given the uneviable task of trying to deal with the chaos.
“You wouldn’t have known what the kids were going through based on the way they played, because they played their hearts out, but last night was stressful,” Farnam said. “There were several different rumors going around and it seemed like everyone had heard something else. To deal with that before a game was terrible. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to go through because of my friendship with Jeff and my love for these kids.”
It’s a situation that might not be completely resolved either. Rumors have surfaced that Strycula wasn’t fired and that his removal from the proceedings Wednesday – he was banned from being at the school in any capacity Thursday – was more a suspension than a firing. Neither Griggs nor Miller athletic director John Romagnoli were available for comment Friday. Strycula is treating it as a firing.
“I was told that I was being relieved from my duties as football coach Wednesday night and could not return to school until Monday,” said Strycula, a physical education teacher at Miller. “I haven’t heard anything since then, so I’m assuming that I’m not the Miller football coach.
“I really don’t know if I can even come to work Monday. The stress has already hospitalized me once and I just don’t know if I can deal with teachers and students asking me about what happened and why I’m not the coach. I feel the worst for the kids and their families – I had a good group of kids and had a great time coaching them this year.”
The incident which set in motion this chain of events, which neither Strycula or Farnam would divulge details of due to Fontana Unified School District policy, is the second hazing incident that the Miller program has dealt with in just over a year, as several players were disciplined in 2009 for an incident that was labeled hazing.
While the past 48 hours have been hard on Strycula, there was a glimmer of positivity for his family. His oldest son Andrew, a senior tight end at Redlands East Valley, caught a 21-yard touchdown pass for the game’s final score Thursday, something that Strycula believes that REV coach Kurt Bruich made a point to do.
“I feel that Kurt planned that,” Strycula said. “We’ve been friends for a long time and I had talked to him on Thursday before the game and I’m very happy that Andrew was able to get that opportunity. He’s a good kid who has really had a hard time with this whole situation and I’m glad he was able to have that moment, though I would have loved to have had a chance to shake his hand and tell him ‘good game’ on the field after the game.”