Teaching jobs pay bills for high school coaches

Teaching jobs pay bills for high school coaches

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Teaching jobs pay bills for high school coaches

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A student at Scottsdale Desert Mountain high school approached basketball coach Todd Fazio last year and asked him how many figures were in his coaching paycheck.

Fazio laughed.

“Just barely four,” he replied.

Fazio wasn’t complaining, mind you. He, like every other high school coach in the state, isn’t in it for the money. Most coaches make somewhere between $1,500 and $6,000 a year for their labor and love. A football coach once told me that he counted up all the hours he worked during the season and estimated he was paid 98 cents per hour.

That pittance is why it’s vital for coaches to have full-time, secure teaching positions at their school. A teaching salary pays the bills and allows coaches to work as cheap labor. Without it, well, you get Fazio’s predicament.

After coaching at Desert Mountain for eight years, Fazio had to recently tell his players that he was leaving the school to take the head coaching job at Mesa Red Mountain. The reason: The 15 percent budget override for the Scottsdale Unified School District didn’t pass last November, and Fazio was concerned he’d lose his job as a physical education teacher. He had less seniority than anyone else in the department, and he wouldn’t know until May whether his job was safe.

With a wife and a 5-year-old daughter, the uncertainty was both stressful and unacceptable. When the Red Mountain job opened up and a full-time teaching position was attached, he had no choice but to say goodbye to the school that he loved.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It really has. The last few years have been, to be honest with you. I have a strong connection to the players and a lot of people in the community. You build a lot of relationships over eight years. I’m disappointed I’m leaving, but I’m excited about the opportunity, too.”

Fazio told his players of his decision on Monday and said it was, “One of the toughest things I’ve had to do.”

Some of his players didn’t understand. They couldn’t separate his coaching job from his teaching position. And they wondered why another coach could take the job if Fazio couldn’t afford it.

“I told them if I could work at Dunkin’ Donuts down the street and coach, I would, but I need the teaching job,” he said. “I told them the last four or five years have been pretty hard, not knowing and going through the process each year of wondering whether I could piece together full-time work. I think they had a better understanding after that.”

Sadly, Fazio’s departure also has been subjected to nasty rumors. After all, how could he possibly leave a team that finished 25-6 last season, advanced to the Division I semifinals and next year would have been a preseason favorite with Rolando Rhymes, Mark Andrews, Remy Smith and Will Goff all returning? Something else had to be going on.

“I had a student come up to me and ask if I was fired,” Fazio said. “It’s kind of been disheartening.”

Schools could hold on to their coaches if they treated them as full-time employees. It’s done elsewhere; high school football coaches in the state of Texas, for example, routinely make close to six figures. But given the budget shortfalls in Arizona — set aside the fact high school coaches shouldn’t be treated like royalty — coaches here will have to continue to rely on their teaching salaries to pay the bills.

We’re OK with that. But players, families and fans need to understand that, sometimes, a coach’s commitment to a school is superseded by the need to take care of his family.

“I told my kids the last eight years that life isn’t always fair,” Fazio said. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the situation we’re in.”

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow

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