Zach Keene does it right.
Notice the word “does.” I didn’t say “did.” Even though the Illini West School Board decided not to retain Keene, voting 4-3 during Wednesday’s meeting against rehiring him as the varsity girls basketball coach, he will be coaching again. Soon. Very soon. A program in need of a leader — it doesn’t matter if it is a boys or a girls program — will turn to Keene in the blink of an eye. It may not even take that long for another school district to snap up an accomplished coach, a passionate teacher and a good person.
The administration at Illini West High School thought highly enough of Keene to recommend he be rehired.
The school board disagreed.
That’s unfathomable and inexcusable.
Why entrust your superintendent, your principal and your athletic director with the responsibility of evaluating coaches if you are going to ignore their evaluations? It’s a waste of their time, talent and experience. Moreso, it’s a complete slap in their face. This should have been nothing more than a rubber stamp situation. Take the recommendation, confirm it and move forward. Instead, the Illini West School Board set itself up for scrutiny. My colleagues — Sports Editor Don O’Brien and Sports Writer Blake Toppmeyer — were working the phones today in an attempt to get answers.
I’ll be curious if any board members speak out. My guess is they won’t, and the “it’s a personnel issue” will be how it is handled.
I realize there are legal ramifications that come with speaking out about personnel decisions, but it certainly would be refreshing for someone who voted against rehiring Keene to stand tall and admit why they voted no. Was it personal? Was it vindictive? What exactly was it? We’ll probably never know. It can’t be for lack of success, not after upsetting state-ranked Havana to win a regional title and finishing off another winning season. It makes you scratch your head.
What I do know is this: The move created shockwaves.
From emails to text messages to newsroom conversations, the most used word today is “What?” No one outside of the program saw this coming. Heck, no one inside the program or the school could see it coming either.
In seven seasons coaching at the Hancock County school — Keene started when it was still Carthage and guided Illini West since the convergence of Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe — Keene compiled a 141-68 record with four regional titles and a third-place finish at the Class A state tournament in 2006. Beyond the court, he did more than coach. He taught. The Illini West girls basketball players took part in community events, participated with Christmas charity work and understood the importance of civic pride. They became more than basketball players under Keene. They were students and community leaders.
This isn’t the first coach blindsided by a school board, and Keene won’t be last.
I wrote that last sentence without hesitation and then paused for a moment. It’s happened enough that we expect school boards to do the wrong thing, abuse their power and let personal vendettas play out.
That’s extremely disappointing.