Gilbert Principal Christopher Stroud responded to an e-mail inquiring why Leland Rodgers was dismissed as football coach after one season. Stroud, who was asked if a parent’s allegations led to the move, responded with this:
"We have the highest expectations for all of our athletic programs at Gilbert High School. We not only want to build a competitive spirit within our students but also build positive personal characteristics.
"We are proud of the hard work our student-athletes put in each and every day, and each and every season.
"During this past season, the Gilbert High football program has had too many distractions in order to maintain those standards.
"Accordingly, we have decided to go in a different direction with Coach Rodgers. We thank him for his service, and we wish him all the best in his future pursuits."
Before the last game of the football season, the school’s strength and conditioning coach, Jared Baker, was dismissed.
Baker said Saturday that it wasn’t football-related, but he was never given specific reasons why he was let go.
"There was a mistake made on my part when it came to some of my responsibilities, mismanagement on my behalf," Baker said. "Other than that, I don’t know."
Baker was a frequent hospital visitor for five weeks when junior varsity quarterback Cody Middleton slipped into a coma two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis when he had contracted viral encephalitis. He spoke on the family’s behalf during a TV news report in October on Gilbert not allowing the team to wear Middleton’s jersey number 12 on the back of the players’ helmets, because it was reserved only for those who have died.
Baker said that interview did not get him in trouble with the school.
Cody Middleton, 15, who was released from the hospital Nov. 13, said that he was shocked that Baker and Rodgers were both fired.
"I thought they were good coaches," Middleton said. "I never practiced with Coach Rodgers. Coach Baker and all of the other coaches, there was never anything out of the ordinary. They were tough on us, but it’s high school football. I’m just surprised to see that.
"Coach Baker came to the hospital every day. He would always say, ‘Just keep fighting and don’t stop.’ ”
Shelli Middleton, Cody’s mother, said she didn’t feel either coach deserved to lose their jobs. Rodgers still is a teacher at Gilbert. Baker is no longer with the school.
She said she felt some parents were upset that there was a rise in the cost of playing the sport under the new regime with a summer camp and atheltic fee. She said she felt that escalated with Rodgers’s demanding approach.
"I don’t want to degrade the coaches who were there before, but football is a disciplinary sports and we didn’t really have that," she said. "Leland and his group stepped in. It was the opposite end of the spectrum."
Middleton said she has had sons at Gilbert who played for Jesse Parker, and respecded the legendary coach’s tough, no-nonsense approach.
"You’re going to get yelled at and be forced to do up-downs," Middleton said. "It’s football. Not band. That’s my feeling."
Follow me on