Rush Propst is one of the best-known high school football coaches in the country at Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.). He has won two consecutive state titles at Colquitt and won five at Hoover, Ala., including four in a row from 2002-2005.
While at Hoover, he gained national attention and notoriety for his fiery personality in the MTV reality series on the team, “Two-a-Days” and his subsequent resignation at Hoover after an investigation determined that football players at the school received preferential treatment and that Propst had fathered children to a woman who was not his wife (but has subsequently married).
Last week, it was announced that the Georgia Professional Standards Commission recommended he be suspended for a year because of a head-butting incident involving Propst and Colquitt kicker Luis Martinez during the Class AAAAAA state semifinal last fall at Mill Creek (Hoschton). Propst is appealing the suspension.
Here are five things you need know about the case:
1. Propst is allowed to to coach throughout the appeal
The suspension won’t take effect — if it stands — until the appeals process runs its course. Propst’s attorney, Michael Strickland, said he wouldn’t comment on the case other than to say an administrative hearing has been requested, adding he has been in touch with the state attorney general’s office and has been impressed by the fairness of the process so far. Kelly Henson, the executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, said appeal times vary widely. Technically, a case could go all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, though Henson said that has never happened.
2. What is the Georgia Professional Standards Commission?
It is an independent organization responsible for the certification and professional standards for Georgia public school educators, including coaches. It has the power to discipline educators or deny a certificate to educators. Those who receive a sanction such as Rush’s one-year suspension have 30 days to request an administrative hearing. At that point, the GPSC’s investigative file is given to the state attorney general’s office. From there, a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge is set by the Office of State Administrative Hearings, an independent state agency. The Administrative Law Judge will run the hearing and issue his findings, which the GPSC always has adhered to, Henson said. However, if Propst wants to appeal the ALJ’s findings, he would have 30 days to petition for judicial review in Georgia Superior Court.
3. What role does the Georgia High School Association have in the case?
In this particular case, apparently none. While the head-butting incident happened in the Packers’ state playoff game with Mill Creek, the GHSA and Colquitt High did not sanction Propst. While it is unusual that the GPSC would sanction a coach before the GHSA acted, it is not unheard of. Henson said while the GPSC might use information from another group’s investigation, its findings are independent and not connected with the GHSA.
4. What side is public opinion on?
Columnists in several newspapers in Georgia have sided with Propst and a local store in Moultrie is selling “Free Propst” T-shirts. A little background is in order. The last time the University of Georgia won a national title in football in 1980, the late Erk Russell was the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs. Russell, an imposing figure with a shiny bald head, was known to butt heads with his players to get them fired up before games. He continued the practice on occasion when he became the first coach at Georgia Southern. In a unique twist, Martinez is headed to play for Georgia Southern next fall and one tradition at Georgia Southern is players head butt’s Russell’s bronze statute before games.
The day after the game, Propst mentioned Russell in trying to explain the situation.
“Erk Russell used to do it all the time,” he said at the time. “I’ve done it once since 1999. I think I did it once at Hoover. I did it a bunch at Alma Bryant.
“It hit a small little vessel up there. … For us after that incident, in the second quarter, we only gave up two first downs after that, so it got the message across.”
Russell’s son Jay is the assistant executive director at the Georgia High School Association.
“We’re in a different day and time, obviously,” Jay Russell said. “One of the reasons my father did that was not only to excite the players and attempt to teach proper tackling technique. Now, you’re not taught to lead with the head at all, but that’s just the way the game has gone.”
Russell said he attempted to head-butt a player one time when he took his first head coaching job at Barnesville Academy (Barnesville, Ga.) in 1983.
“I did it one time only,” he said. “It hurt too much.”
5. Why is this coming out now for an incident that happened in December?
Since the GPSC isn’t commenting on this specific case, it’s hard to say. The most likely scenario is the investigation of the incident, being one of many handled by the GPSC, takes time to complete. At a May meeting — in which the ethics and rules committee made its recommendation on the Propst matter — 50 probable cause recommendations were issued. Two cases incurred two-year suspensions, four had one-year bans and nine license revocations were listed. The committee report uses numbers rather than names so no educators were identified.