Jefferson High School took the field against crosstown rival Riverside last October without the guidance of head coach Dan Marshall. This was the first time in a decade that the Minutemen were not led out of the tunnel by Marshall. The longtime coach built the program into a powerhouse in the 5A division. The coach’s position with the team had been hanging in the balance pending a review by the School Board. This week Marshall met his fate when the Board decided he would be banned from the School District for life. His fall from the pinnacle of 5A football began after accusations that his pregame speech incited violence on the field of play.
Right before Jefferson faced off between the Central Bearcats on September 25th, Marshall gathered his men around him and went through the game plan. They discussed the first set of plays that the offense would run and key players that they wanted to shut down. Then suddenly Marshall began to get fired up. Marshall started speaking to his players in impassioned tones to convey the seriousness of the game. He needed the guys to get fired up and be ready for the physicality of the night. Then Marshall went too far.
“I need you guys to go out there and fight like you never have before. You’re going to have to go out on that field and punch these guys in the mouth. Those Central boys need to know that they’re in a brawl with the meanest dudes in this state. I want you to hit them so hard, they refuse when their coach tries to sub them back in. If we win this game, we lock in a spot in the playoffs. Now go out there and give them hell.”
The game was physical. The Minutemen have prided themselves on a hard- nosed brand of football conditioned into them each summer during camp. Jefferson’s defense was the stingiest in the division last season. They hardly allowed the Bearcats to cross the 50. Over the course of the game, Central’s players were dealt punishing blows from the Minutemen. Jefferson’s halfback, Evan Spencer, is a bruising runner headed to the SEC next year. He cut through the Central front seven over and over, plowing several Bearcats like Hershel’s famed “hob- nailed boot” run. Jefferson went on to easily win the contest and seemed to have another state title run brewing.
The next week everything changed for the Minutemen. Marshall’s speech in the locker room was being shared virally around the area on social media. As with everything else in this era, a student staffer filmed the pregame motivation on his phone. The coaches at Central weren’t immune to seeing the clip, nor were the Bearcat players and parents. Soon the posts were accompanied with outrage. People wanted to know how a coach could do such a thing as to incite his players to violence. Calls for Marshall’s job began to flood into the school and the district.
Tuesday, before the Riverside matchup, Coach Marshall was placed on administrative leave as an investigation was called. The district needed to look into whether the coach did indeed incite his players to violence. Coaches in the area spoke out publicly for and against Marshall. Some called the speech commonplace and pointed out that many coaches get players fired up before taking the field. Others made statements aligned with holding Marshall accountable. They said no one should be going around telling their players to “fight” or “punch another in the mouth.” All of the sudden, a promising season, Marshall’s career and motivating speech were on the line.
Marshall made arguments stating that his speech was in the spirit of hyping up his players and getting the adrenaline going. He stated repeatedly to the Board that he never has the intention for anyone to get hurt, nor encouraged his team to play dirty. He also made the argument discussed by other coaches that pregame speeches get players to rise to the occasion of a physical sport such as football. Marshall then reiterated the point that if he is found to be in the wrong, most coaches will need to drastically change the way they address their men.
This week we learned that Coach Dan Marshall was found by the Board to be guilty of inciting violence in the game against Central. The Board President told Marshall, “Our body has reviewed the evidence and finds your inflammatory speech to be dangerous to the young athletes in our district. By speaking the way you did, your players went forward and engaged Central’s football team with violence and force. Luckily, no one was seriously injured as a result of your language but who’s to say that won’t be the case in the future. We must act swiftly to make sure that you do not ever have the opportunity to cause harm in this district ever again. The School Board hereby dismisses you from your position as head coach of Jefferson High School. We further rule that you may never hold a coaching position within this district for your lifetime.”
There has been no word yet from Jefferson’s administration on the program’s next steps. The team never really recovered from Marshall’s absence last season as it ended with a disappointing first round loss. As for Coach, we can only hope that he is able to find refuge with another program. This is a tough loss for the Minutemen and this season is a strange new environment for the other coaches in the District. How long before the speech police come for them too?