Some Carmel (Ind.) High School girls basketball players and their parents are wrestling with the firing of head coach Tod Windlan last week, and they are demanding answers from the school system. Specifically: Why was Windlan removed one week after parents were informed by the principal that he would stay in the job?
After a school board meeting on Monday night, parents were left in the dark. After multiple players and parents made statements during the meeting supporting Windlan and emphasizing the impact he made on the program and them as individuals, interim co-superintendent Roger McMichael declined to comment further on the process that the board took to remove Windlan.
“The process is there was more consideration given to the matter and the decision changed,” he said. “It’s a personnel matter. I can assure you we made what we believe to be the best decision in the interest of the school district.”
He added that there is no formal appeal process for Windlan to undergo for reinstatement as coach.
“There is not a formal process, although any of our employees can come and meet and talk to anybody they want to,” he said. “With a teacher, for example, they would have a process for an appeal. That’s not the case here. As for anything further on this matter, there’s nothing I can speak to because I don’t know what the future might bring.”
Monday night’s meeting was the latest chapter in what has been several days filled with confusion for the program and a lack of information from decision-makers.
At the season’s end, parents were told that the basketball program would be reviewed, and that the athletic department would interview varsity and junior varsity players about the state of the program as part of the review. Parents were given no reason for the review, according to Tom Leonard, father of a junior varsity player in the program. Leonard spoke on behalf of parents gathered Monday afternoon outside the Carmel Public Library. Parents and players gathered to voice their support for Windlan.
Players were interviewed individually by athletic department staff and then later by assistant principal Karen McDaniel, who took over the review from the athletic department under the guidance of principal Tom Harmas, according to Leonard. Parents were invited to sit in on the interviews if they wished.
Tomi Taiwo, a Carmel senior and Iowa commit, said the questions asked during the interview were all related to Windlan’s coaching style and the environment around the team.
“We sat down with (Karen) McDaniel and she asked us questions like how the environment at practice was, how the games went and how he coached us, about how he acted and his behavior during practice and the games,” Taiwo said. “They asked us the scope of how (Windlan) is in all different settings.”
After the review was concluded, parents received letters on April 13 bearing the names of Harmas, athletic director Jim Inskeep and assistant athletic director Bruce Wolf saying that the review had been completed and that an open-practice policy would be implemented, but that “there will not be a change in the head coach position as part of this plan.”
A week later, on April 20, parents received a letter from the school’s co-superintendents stating that “there is a need to change the direction of the girls basketball program” and that the search for a new head coach would begin immediately.
“Us players and coach (Windlan) thought his position was secure, and all of the sudden it turned around,” Taiwo said. “We were very, very confused.”
Taiwo said Windlan did not speak with players, individually or as a group, about the review. Windlan continues to work at the school as a physical education teacher.
Players who support Windlan organized an action plan on his behalf, which included the rally after school on Monday. Several online initiatives were started during the weekend, including a petition and GoFundMe intended to benefit Windlan. Students at the rally wore a variety of #FreeWindlan shirts.
Parents and players said they were concerned about the reversal of the initial decision to keep Windlan, and secrecy around the process.
“There appears to be no smoking gun,” said Leonard, whose daughter Hannah is a sophomore and played on the junior varsity team this season. “If this behavior was so egregious, why did this have to wait until the end of the season. Why were we not informed of these concerns during the season so we could make informed decisions for the well-being of our children?”
Principal Tom Harmas and athletic director Jim Inskeep did not return multiple requests for comment from IndyStar on Monday. When reached for comment, Carmel Clay Schools community liaison Courtney Taylor said: “I don’t have any other information besides the statement that was given to you on Friday.”
Here is the complete Carmel Clay Schools statement Friday from Taylor:
“For the past month, Carmel High School administrators have been conducting a review of the girls basketball program. During this time, multiple interviews occurred with student athletes, members of the coaching staff as well as parents. On April 13, Carmel High School sent a communication to parents of the girls basketball team stating an action plan would be put in place to guide the program going forward. Upon further examination by the Carmel Clay Schools administration, it has been determined that there is a need to change the direction of the girls basketball program. Carmel Clay Schools is committed to providing our student athletes the best environment to succeed. Effective today, Carmel High School will begin the search for a new girls basketball head coach. We expect to have a new coach in place for the 2018-2019 season to lead our team of outstanding student athletes.”
Leonard said parents are asking the school board to conduct “an open, transparent review, open to the public.”
“We want to know why this decision was overturned, why we were not informed of anything that was transpiring,” he said. “We want a process in place for the future generations to avoid this from happening.
“Ultimately, we are looking for a reversal of this decision, provided that a majority of this community supports that decision.”
Leonard said Windlan’s removal as coach “seems like it was a decision made outside of the process.”
“The school itself has not shared any of that information with us as to what those concerns were, and that itself is a big problem,” he said. “This whole thing cries foul.”
Multiple people contacted by the IndyStar about what prompted the review of the basketball program declined to comment.
For now, many parents and players are in the dark. They hope answers come soon. Leonard said next steps are being formulated among the group of parents supporting Windlan.
“We’re going to send an email to the board based on some of the information that was shared tonight and ask for an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
As for now, the wait continues.
“We’re all curious. We want answers as to why he was removed,” Taiwo said during the rally at the library. “The superintendents haven’t come out with any reasons why he was fired, and we need our questions to be answered.”