Propst admits financial struggles, denies misconduct in more detail

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

Former Colquitt County football coach Rush Propst, fired March 14 by his school board, defended himself a second time in two weeks on Friday afternoon, releasing another statement calling accusations against him ‘’misleading half-truths meant to damage my reputation.’’

Propst addressed the allegations more specifically this time and denied that he interfered with the hiring of the school’s principal, lost control of his team, committed financial misconduct regarding hotel stays or dispensed medications to student-athletes.

An investigation led by Colquitt County Schools superintendent Doug Howell concluded last month that Propst committed ethics violations related to legal compliance, conduct with students and students and dishonesty.

Said Howell in the report: “Let it be said that, in my opinion, the totality of the evidence and facts in this case support the conclusion that Rush Propst has not upheld the dignity and integrity of the education profession that the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators demands.’’

Propst acknowledged financial struggles but said that the investigation’s claim that he owed more than $440,000 in federal and state taxes were ‘’massively inflated’’ and irrelevant to his work.

‘’Like many people, my family obligations and other life choices mean I have personal debts, including owing back taxes,’’ Propst said. “At the end of the day, I am honest about my debts, and I work every day to repay my obligations.’’

Another allegation concerned the behavior of the football team after the 2018 state-championship game against Milton at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December. According to the investigation, most players did not stay on the field to shake hands with Milton players, one starter left for the locker room before the game ended, and another argued and cursed with an assistant coach heading into the tunnel. Milton won 14-13.

‘’Yes, some of our kids went to the locker room,’’ Propst said. “But to assert that the entire team showed a lack of sportsmanship based on the actions of a very limited number of very disappointed kids is simply wrong. … If Mr. Howell had honestly witnessed the post-game or taken the time to watch the post-game video of the State Championship game, he or anyone else would have seen me and a number of our players and coaches on the field congratulating Milton and being interviewed.’’

Howell’s investigation also accused Propst of insubordination and stated that he set up a meeting with high school principal Jamie Dixon before Dixon was hired. Propst said that Dixon requested the meeting and that he merely obliged.

Propst denied, but declined to comment specifically, about allegations that he dispensed medications to players. He said that the matter was being investigated by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and that he remained on paid leave pending that probe.

Propst defended his style of coaching and pointed to his success in winning games, bring Colquitt County to national prominence in football and helping get student-athletes into college on scholarships.

‘’I coach young kids, sometimes greatly undisciplined kids, in football and life,’’ he said. “Some of our kids come from very solid homes with great parents, extensive support networks, and solid academic abilities. Some of our players don’t have any of these advantages. And, helping them – guiding them – is one of my greatest challenges and our greatest rewards.’’

Propst’s firing ended one of the more successful runs of a Georgia head coach in the highest classification. Propst’s record at Colquitt County was 119-35 in 11 seasons. His teams won state titles in 2014 and 2015, each time with a 15-0 record, and was the Class AAAAAAA runner-up the past two seasons.

Propst’s statement:

I continue to be overwhelmed by the many kind words of support and encouragement that I have received from the Colquitt County community. It has been a true blessing to me and my family as we sort through this inexcusable attempt to smear me, my career, and my service to the students and families of Colquitt County.

I am also grateful to those in the community that have simply kept an open mind. I greatly regret how this situation has been used by some to divide this wonderful community. The people of Colquitt County deserve much better from their educational leaders than what they have had to endure in this situation. I certainly know this from my personal experience. Please do not let these ridiculous actions by Superintendent Howell divide our community.

Approximately two-weeks ago, I stated that I looked forward to addressing the many false and misleading allegations made about me by Mr. Howell. That is exactly what I intend to do in this statement.

First, I still believe this entire process has been unfair to me. Mr. Howell engineered an investigation to support his pre-determined conclusion that would result in my termination. I was never interviewed by Mr. Howell and didn’t learn of the allegations, despite requests, until I read them in the newspaper. The allegations by Mr. Howell were misleading half-truths meant to damage my reputation in order to justify dismissing me as head coach from one of the most successful and highly regarded high school football programs in the nation. He was certainly reckless in the way he chose to do this.

I was hired by the school system in 2008 with the express direction to restore and rebuild Colquitt County football. In the years since, with the help of dozens of assistant coaches and hundreds of players, I have consistently worked to do just that. Over the years, my requests for better equipment, facilities, nutrition programs, and medical support have been consistent. With the support of past principals, superintendents, and school board members, these improvements were made and resulted in a winning program.

One of the allegations made against me by Mr. Howell seems to involve his somewhat odd and unhealthy interest in my personal finances which have nothing to do with my performance as football coach. I will be the first to admit that I have struggled financially. Also, I know that I have too often allowed my obsession over our football program to leave me neglecting regular day to day obligations. Like many people, my family obligations and other life choices mean I have personal debts, including owing back taxes. At the end of the day, I am honest about my debts, and I work every day to repay my obligations.

The truth is that I informed Mr. Howell about my tax issues. Stefnie and I are working on them, and I want to assure everyone that the dollar amounts cited by Mr. Howell are massively inflated. What I owe and what is claimed are two different amounts. I do not know why he chose to misrepresent my personal finances other than to smear me personally.

Mr. Howell also suggested that I attempted to interfere in the hiring of Principal Jamie Dixon. This is expressly and categorically false. During his interview process, Mr. Dixon contacted me and requested we meet to discuss the school and its football program. I was simply being courteous when I agreed to meet with him. I did not do so to interfere in any formal selection process. Mr. Howell could have avoided making this false statement against me, and embarrassing Mr. Dixon, if he had shown me the courtesy of discussing this accusation before recklessly and falsely including it in his report.

Additionally, Mr. Howell made a broad and sweeping series of disconnected accusations regarding my general coaching abilities, the discipline and morale of the players and coaches, my recommendation to hotel the team on the night before games, and my decision to coach students on their individual athletic abilities and how they might best obtain a college scholarship.

I will begin by being less than modest. I have been blessed to be a very successful coach. Together, we built one of the best and most highly regarded high school football programs in the nation. Our team’s records speak for themselves. But I also know that coaching is a lot more than playing and winning football games. I coach young kids, sometimes greatly undisciplined kids, in football and life. Some of our kids come from very solid homes with great parents, extensive support networks, and solid academic abilities. Some of our players don’t have any of these advantages. And, helping them – guiding them – is one of my greatest challenges and our greatest rewards.

Football is a game that challenges the discipline and composure of every student on the team – even coaches. It requires great physical exertion, mental sharpness, and perfect execution of physical and mental skills with a clock-ticking over their heads. It is easy for any athlete – even coaches – to lose their composure in a game – especially, at the high school level. As coaches, we help students stay focused and composed. But we are not always successful. Every practice, every class, every game is a learning moment in coaching.

I like to hotel my kids the night before every game because I want to know that they are going to get a good meal. I can’t begin to thank all the people in our community who served our team meals over the years. I want my players sleeping in a good bed the night before a game. I want to know that they are in bed at a certain time. I want them to have discipline in their lives before a game and remove outside distractions. I will not apologize for trying to do the best for my kids. This is coaching. This is wanting to provide each of our kids the opportunity to be successful. Mr. Howell decided none of the above mattered.

It has been reported to me that during my tenure as coach, our program created more scholarship opportunities for players than for all past Colquitt County football teams combined. I do know what colleges look for in a student athlete. I did coach a multi-sport student athlete about focusing on football. I believed that student had the possibility of being a High School All-American and getting a Division 1 football scholarship if he focused on his football skills. I wanted that student to have his best shot at getting a scholarship and going to college. What I did is called coaching. If I had not informed this young man of this possibility, I would have done a great disservice to him. What I told this young man is that he had a chance. A chance to get to be an All-American, to earn a full scholarship and play football. He also had a choice. He could continue playing other sports and take a chance, or focus on football and give himself the best odds to achieve his goal. That decision was the player’s decision to make, not mine or Mr. Howell’s. The truth is that I encouraged all student athletes to play other sports. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, we had 6 to 8 football players play Varsity basketball or wrestle. I wanted them to be their best. I can’t count the number of our football kids that played other sports at Colquitt County.

And, I worked to inspire my players and coaches. Every coach does. Sometimes you use inspiration, sometimes you use directness and determination, and sometimes you use your faith in them and their ability to do better. What I did is called coaching. I would not accept anything less than their best and they did not expect anything less from me.

It is clear that Mr. Howell is using my coaching – which has been successful coaching – and my caring for great, challenged and undisciplined kids as a battering ram for his reckless accusations. It is to his shame that he was so petty and so willing to use any reckless accusation and misleading rumors to remove me from coaching.

Yes, I missed time from school though usually, this was not during the season. Mr. Howell knows full well I have endured health issues. If Mr. Howell had concerns with my schedule, I would have thought he would have simply shared his concerns with me. Every other superintendent and principal met with me on a recurring basis throughout the season and school year to discuss the program, the student athletes, and to outline things I needed to work on. I may not have always agreed with them, but I always appreciated their honesty. Under Mr. Howell, I have never had monthly, quarterly, or even annual review meetings.

Concerning the alleged “fraud” of a request for reimbursement, Mr. Howell’s allegations are wrong, and the documents he collected confirm the same. The truth, which he would have learned if he had asked, is that Stef and I stayed at the Marriott Northwest at Galleria on the night of December 1st. This is the same hotel the team has stayed at on numerous occasions when playing in Atlanta. On the morning of December 2, I was required to be at a 7:30am GHSA meeting for all teams participating in the GHSA State Championship. Most school systems pay for a coach’s hotel room the night before to keep the coach from having to travel so early. This room was not supposed to be charged to the Colquitt County account as I elected to stay at the Marriott out of convenience. Instead of charging to my personal credit card, Marriott inadvertently added the night to the Colquitt County account. As documents show, when the email regarding the account was sent, Colquitt County had an outstanding balance on the team’s stay. I only learned later that Marriott had included my stay on the team’s account. As soon as I learned of this issue, it was immediately resolved. This could have been addressed in a simple meeting or phone call with Mr. Howell.

As for the allegation that I “lost control of” the “team and some of the coaches,” this simply isn’t true. Everyone was upset after the Milton game. Yes, some of our kids went to the locker room. But to assert that the entire team showed a lack of sportsmanship based on the actions of a very limited number of very disappointed kids is simply wrong. I am proud of the men I have worked with as assistant coaches over the years. We had one goal; prepare the student athletes to be the best they could be. If Mr. Howell had honestly witnessed the post-game or taken the time to watch the post-game video of the State Championship game, he or anyone else would have seen me and a number of our players and coaches on the field congratulating Milton and being interviewed.

There is one final accusation that I am unable to comment on at this time. Based on Mr. Howell’s complaint, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission is investigating his accusations concerning my dispensing a medication to students. Because of the ongoing nature of the state investigation, I am not able to comment at this time. However, I will say that I am very confident the evidence presented will demonstrate clearly that this accusation by Mr. Howell is also a false, unfounded smear just like the other accusations I have addressed in this statement.

We built a program of the highest quality that competed every year for state and even national championships. I am very grateful to the people of Colquitt County for allowing me to coach your children. It has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. The confidence that you have given me is humbling. I only get to coach your children for a few short years, but I try to give them lessons, examples and opportunities that last their entire lives. I greatly appreciate your continuing confidence and support.

Mr. Howell’s March 15, 2019 letter to me confirmed that I would remain on paid leave pending the outcome of the PSC investigation.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

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